William Dunlop (pictured above) knows his helmet is all that stands between him, the pavement, and the hundreds of racers who have lost their lives in the International Isle of Man Tourist Trophy (TT) motorcycle race, known infamously as the most dangerous race in the world.
The 37-mile-long course swerves through the narrow roads that wind around the UK island—around lampposts, over bridges, and between flanking rock beds—all while regularly exceeding 200 mph. Each year, at least one racer loses his life during practices and competitions, totaling over 220 lives since the first TT in 1907.
The 28-year-old Bell Helmets racer could not be more keenly aware of his sport's danger. His father, Robert Dunlop, and uncle, Joey Dunlop, both suffered fatal wrecks during past motorcycle races. Still, Joey is considered one of the best motorcycle racers of all time, winning 26 TT titles; the most successful rider at the TT is awarded the "Joey Dunlop Cup."
"Racing's bred into you," William says in his thick Irish brogue. "You don't back down because it's dangerous." His matter-of-fact demeanor makes it clear that, as far as he's concerned, suiting up and risking his life on May 26 for his eighth go (in 2009 he scored third place in the Man TT 125cc division) at the TT is a given. It's just what he does.
The same goes for his 25-year-old brother, Michael. The two compete against each other every year in the TT and in countless other races. While Dunlop commends his younger brother for being a "very clean racer," he jokes that he's not a very good loser…or winner.
However, at least during the TT, the brothers are never truly neck-and-neck. The race sends riders across the starting line one at a time in ten-second intervals, meaning the contenders race against the clock, not necessarily the alongside other bikers.
But with 12 full days of racing, chances are that both brothers will take home a few accolades. Will that include their namesake Joey Dunlop Cup? We'll see when the race wraps on June 6.