Our third “double interview with road racing couples” is with two well-known road racers: Melissa Kennedy & Gary Dunlop. Melissa is the only woman to have ever won an Irish National Road Race, at the 2019 East Coast Racing Festival in the 125/Moto3 class. Her fiancé, Joey Dunlop’s son, got a third place in that same race.
Melissa and Gary’s relationship is quite recent, yet very solid: their wedding date is already set! You could easily spot them together in the paddock under the same tent before their relationship started, though, even if they raced for separate private teams; they usually race in the same class at the National Road Races.
In person, Melissa is very thin, very nice, with a smart make-up, but once she gets on the bike her determination can do envy to many “boys”! She got to know the road racing world following her brother’s races. Then, at 14 years-old, she got her first bike as a present from her dad. Starting road racing seemed a natural transition for her, in a land where racing on the streets is as common as racing on short circuits. A land that gave birth to legends like the Dunlop dynasty, which Melissa’s fiancé Gary is a worthy exponent of.
Joey’s son approached road races quite late, in 2016, focusing his efforts on the “wee bikes” only. Before that, you could easily find him in the paddock helping his cousin William. Gary runs his own team, called Joey’s Bar Racing, needless to say in yellow colours, and raced himself alongside riders like Derek McGee, Sam Wilson and Paul Robinson; he also won the 2019 Irish Road Racing Championship 125/Moto3. However, a few months ago he announced his retirement, as well as quitting his job as a barman at Joey’s Bar.
The married life is waiting for him now: how’s like to be in a relationship with a pure road racer, though? We found out more in our chat with Melissa and Gary.
Date and place of birth
Melissa: 26th June 1991, Florencecourt, Northern Ireland.
Gary: 27th May 1983, Ballymoney, Northern Ireland.
When and where did you meet your partner?
Melissa: I’ve first seen/met Gary at a motorbike show in my home County Fermanagh, where he had brought one of his dad’s bikes to. He complimented my Ohlins forks on my Honda 125 GP at the time. No compliment for me lol.
Gary: The first time I’ve ever met Melissa in person was at a motorcycle show in Irvinestown, just outside of Enniskillen, in 2015.
When did your relationship start?
Melissa: We don’t have a specific date but it was the end of 2018.
Gary: End of 2018.
Do you ever call your partner with a nickname? If you can tell it!!
Melissa: I have many haha.
Gary: I call her Izza, she initially didn’t like it so I just kept cling her it haha.
When did you start with road racing?
Melissa: I started road racing in 2013, the Ulster GP was my first ever one. It was mental.
Gary: I’ve obviously been about road racing all my life, but I’ve only done my first road race in 2016, which was the Mid Antrim.
What’s your favourite track?
Melissa: Armoy is a favourite of mine. I have had some ups and downs there, but what race doesn’t have them. I got my first podium there in 2018 which was amazing!
Gary: Favourite track is easily Dundrod, but Tandragee is absolutely fantastic as well
When you’re on the grid, do you prefer having your partner on your side or not? (If he/she is not racing at the same time!)
Melissa: We are both on each other’s side no matter if we are on track or not, it would be horrible going out racing if Gary wasn’t on my side!
Gary: We’re always on the grid together cause we both participate in the same class. But if I don’t race, I’m always there beside her and her dad.
What do you feel when your partner is racing? Do you actually watch the race?
Melissa: I haven’t had many races that I haven’t been in with Gary but there’s been a time or two and I just watch with proudness to be honest. And of course a little bit of worry but I know he knows what he’s doing.
Gary: I’m terrible, it turns me into a nervous wreck. I’d rather be out racing so I haven’t as much time to worry about her.
Have you ever battled against your partner in a race?
Melissa: Yes!! All the time. We have a healthy competitive relationship, we slag each other if we beat one another.
Gary: Yeah, we’ve been together on track a few times. It’s weird because it scares me watching her but I still like being able to see she’s ok.
Do you ever argue about your racing career?
Melissa: No we just get on with it. I wouldn’t listen to Gary if we did argue lol.
Gary: No, not once.
Do you live together?
Melissa: Yes we do, we have just recently moved into a lovely new house just before Christmas and we love it!
Gary: Yes, we live in our first home together in Ballymoney.
What’s your everyday job?
Melissa: My everyday job at the minute is applying for jobs, since moving to Ballymoney.
Gary: I’m a self employed courier driver.
What do you do during your spare time?
Melissa: Since moving into our new home, I’ve recently turned into Mrs Hinch. I love spending time with family and friends too.
Gary: I don’t have much spare time these days, but I’m a massive golf fan and try to get a round in when I can.
Would you ever ask your partner to quit racing for any reason?
Melissa: I don’t think I ever would, as I would be a hypocrite for doing so. But thankfully I won’t have to as Gary has took retirement from racing for the foreseeable future.
Gary: I wouldn’t officially ask her to, but I would make sure to point out that theres much more to life than risking your life racing bikes most weekends.
Who’s your racing hero and why?
Melissa: My brother Wayne. I watched him race for years before I started racing and just thought he was the coolest thing since sliced bread. He just made everything look so easy and made us all very proud!
Gary: Obviously my dad, but I had a soft spot for Dave Leech when I was young too!