King of the road forever
A legend who had time for all
Dunlop's record 26 TT victories
The career of an all-time great
He couldn't stop winning - both trophies and hearts and minds
THERE are many who call Joey Dunlop the most incredible rider there
has ever been. All agree there has seldom been a motorcyclist with whom
the word legendary sits more easily.
William Joseph Dunlop, 48-year-old publican,
father and husband - and a man who just three weeks ago was riding faster
than he'd ever ridden before at the Isle of Man TT.
a 25-year career there, his very last lap around the famous Mountain course
was the fastest he'd ever done in his previous 97 TT races. He clocked
a 123.87mph lap in the Senior race, taking third overall.
The result wasn't quite what he was
after, but the disappointment was easier to take because that week he'd
completed the third TT hat-trick of his long and distinguished career,
with success in the Formula One, Ultra-Lightweight and Lightweight races.
The victories took his wins tally to
a staggering and probably never to be surpassed 26. It's 12 more than
the next best man - and next best in this case is Mike Hailwood.
Joey lapped the TT course at more than 110mph on over 250 occasions and in 98 starts rode close enough to the winning speed to claim a silver or bronze replica in 80 of them.
Dunlop wasn't ready to hang up his leathers.
The question of his retirement had been raised and dismissed over and
over for years.
was the original King of the Roads - as one poignant floral tribute read
outside his pub, Joey's Bar, on Sunday night. But his early career showed
little sign of the greatness he would go on to achieve and will now be
There was no history of road racing
in Dunlop's family, despite the huge popularity of the sport in his native
Ulster. His love affair with bikes started at Megaberry in 1969 on a £50
Triumph Tiger Club.
didn't set the world alight and was a virtual unknown when he turned up
to his first Isle of Man TT in 1976 to ride a 350 Yamaha. Like many novices,
he had to be told which way the course went and only learnt by following
other riders round.
finished all three races and notched up a respectable 16th place in the
Junior. A year later he turned up and won the 1977 Jubilee TT riding what
at best can be described as a shed of a 750 Yamaha.
Archive footage from those early days
show Joey and his faithful crew prepping bikes in cow sheds and then blasting
them flat-out down soaking-wet public roads to see how they ran.
From 1983 onwards, when he scored the
first of six successive Formula One victories, Dunlop hardly ever failed
to chalk up a victory at the Isle of Man TT. Only in eight years of his
25 in racing did Joey fail to notch a victory.
And during his glorious TT spell, he
also won five Formula One world championships. Until this year his last
big-bike victory had come in the 1995 Senior and many thought it was beyond
him to score another. But he rolled back the years again last month to
pull off a shock Formula One success.
His tally of 26 TT wins could easily
have been more had it not been for serious injuries he sustained in a
1989 crash at Brands Hatch that forced him to miss that year's Island
Dunlop admitted that, like everybody
else, he got scared when riding, particularly at such an unforgiving place
as the TT, or at countless other road races he contested and often dominated,
run on nothing more than country lanes.
have close shaves every time I race. You've just got to keep them to a
minimum. After a few minutes you've forgotten about them. But once you're
beat, you're beat," he recalled before the 1999 TT festival.
Competing against those less than half
his age, Joey needed every ounce of his expertise to beat their youthful
became the ultimate TT tactician. Back in 1996 in the Ultra-Lightweight
race, Dunlop was neck-and-neck with Gavin Lee at Ramsey Hairpin on the
last lap. Dunlop opened a near four-second advantage through treacherous
banks of mist on the Mountain. He even knew the weather well enough to
know where the fog would thin, and where it would demand he slowed.
was a similar story en-route to his 22nd victory in 1997 in the Lightweight
250. Again Dunlop was under severe pressure but, unlike rival Phillip
McCallen, he refused to change tyres at a pit stop.
McCallen lost time and, while pushing
to make up lost ground, crashed. Meanwhile Dunlop, nursing a viciously
sliding rear tyre in the closing stages, went on to win. He said his gut
feeling told him not to change rubber - more likely it was a brilliant
and clear perception of his rival.
One of his most remarkable TT wins came
in the 250 Lightweight race in 1998. He'd been written off as a no-hoper
after breaking his left hand and collarbone, cracking his pelvis and losing
a finger on his left hand at the Tandragee 100 races less than a month
before TT practice started.
Showing bloody-minded toughness and
a dogged spirit, instead of pootling around, Dunlop won his 23rd TT in
Even in his debilitated state, he had
pulled a flanker on his rivals. The race was due to be run over three
laps because of the bad weather. That meant making a pit stop.
While most pitted after the first lap,
Dunlop had seen conditions like this before. He reasoned they were going
to get worse and that would mean the race would be cut short. So he took
the gamble to carry on, with the plan of pitting after two laps if the
race did continue. It paid off. The race was indeed cut to two laps, leaving
Dunlop with the victory.
Winning at the TT requires more than
just pace - it takes sharp thinking, too. Dunlop was able to get the best
out of a wide variety of machinery, from a 125 to the WSB-powered VTR-SP1
he took his seventh Formula One race on only last month.
Dunlop also fettled his own bikes. There
were no flash awnings around him at race meetings all over his native
Ireland. Instead, you would see Dunlop spannering out of the back of a
van, often making final tweaks just moments before he'd go out and race.
"I've always worked on the machines,
especially the 125 and 250 which are really difficult to set up," he said
prior to his last TT.
well as his sheer speed, circuit knowledge, machine know-how and tactical
sense, Dunlop's make-up also included Herculean physical and mental toughness.
But more important than anything else
was his love of bike racing. Before the tragic events in Estonia unfolded
on Sunday, Dunlop was as passionate about his racing as he was when he
was training every day and spent over a month readying himself for this
season with a gruelling fitness programme in Australia. The once-famous
post-race shots of Joey with a cigarette in one hand and pint in the other
were long banished to the archives. He quit smoking five years ago and
confined a pint mainly to post-race celebrations.
distinguished champion on the track, he was the people's champion off
it. Thousands took him into their hearts as a real down-to-earth man who
was as happy pulling pints as he was riding a superbike at 175mph on the
fearsome TT Mountain course.
Dunlop was a phenomenon. Beneath the
star status he was afforded, he was a modest, quietly-spoken, deep-thinking
man from Ballymoney.
would accept the applause, honours and accolades with shy embarrassment:
The OBE and MBE and the equivalent of a knighthood from the Isle of Man
But he would always sign autographs,
would travel to the Island on the ferry and was never too busy for a chat.
Dunlop was also a regular on mercy missions
to Romania to ferry aid to poverty-stricken orphans. It all started by
chance in the early '90s after a woman walked into Dunlop's Ballymoney
pub with a package which she needed to get to her daughter who was working
in orphanages in Romania.
She mentioned the cost of postage being
twice the cost of the contents of the package, and in a moment Dunlop
had offered to take it himself. Three days later he left with a three-ton
truck full of equipment, clothes and food and the man affectionately known
as Yer Maun made several other trips to help those less fortunate.
also made trips to Bosnia, handing out food parcels and clothes from the
back of his race transporter. He said of his trips into troubled areas:
"One or two trips were a bit scary. Soldiers had me at gunpoint on one
trip and locked me in my van all night." But he went back for more.
Dunlop had been with Honda for 20 years.
Without him they would have been also-rans on the all-time winners list.
He was also Arai's longest-serving rider, keeping his distinctive bright
yellow helmet with the same brand since 1982.
The legend that Dunlop became at the
TT will for ever live on. His death has sent shock waves throughout the
racing world. His beloved Northern Ireland is in a state of mourning this
Everyone who knew of him, even if they
had never met him, felt they had been touched by the magic of a man who
commanded the admiration and respect as much for his wonderful and generous
personality as his mercurial exploits in racing.