Monday, 2 July 2012

‘The World’s greatest living sportsman’Joey Dunlop RIP

The words from the title are a quote from Ireland’s famous commentator Big D about 'the greatest' motorcycle racer Joey Dunlop who died on this date, 2nd July in 2000. Joey, who inspired generations of riders to take to two wheels, is still sorely missed by all true fans of motorcycle racing and will never be forgotten.

Start as you mean to go on

Joey’s racing career began humbly in 1969 when he started messing about on a Triumph Tiger Cub for fun. Having got the motorcycle bug, and finding that he had a talent, he went on to start racing and entered his first TT in 1976. Although he had never even driven the track before and was not sure of the way (!!) he managed to finish all the races he entered and the following year, in the 1977 Jubilee race, he went from zero to hero and beat all the other entrants to take the title on a TZ 750 Yamaha.
From then on his career went from strength to strength and in 1980, on a Yamaha again, he won the 1980 classic 1000cc race.

Joining Honda

In 1980 he was spotted by the works Honda team and joined them in what was to be a 21 year connection. Although he was a brilliant rider his scruffy image did not go down too well at Honda and they made various futile attempts to tidy him up. These attempts all failed miserably and Honda gave up eventually, realising that he would win for them if supplied with bikes but he would never be smart. Joey was a true character and had to retain his own inimitable style whatever.
Win after win
Whatever he looked like, his talent was obvious from the start and he won countless races for Honda. He began to win TT races in 1983 after first cutting his teeth on the Ulster GP and the North West 200. Just as an indication of the man’s genius, he began a winning run which lasted from 1983-88 and was F1 world champion 5 times during this period. His final grand total of wins at the Isle of Man TT was 26 which has never been beaten by one racer, and he was still winning races in the year he died so who knows what he would have achieved had the tragic accident in Estonia not taken him away.

Tragedy in Tallinn
Joey died on July 2nd 2000 in Tallin in Estonia on the Pirita Kose Kloostrimetsa Circuit – he’d gone to race there to escape from thoughts of the tragic death of his long standing friend and sponsor Andy Mcmenemy, who had recently taken hjs own life due to business problems. It was wet in Tallinn, with the track soaking wet for the Sunday Superbikes race but Joey, equipped with his usual talent and full wet tyres won the race anyway. Then, three laps into the125 race, the crash happened. While coming round a left hand bend, Joey’s bike began to slide, he corrected it but there was no space left and as he came off the road he left the bike, which wedged itself into a tree, but he hit a tree himself and died instantly.

Joey Dunlop ‘yer maun’

Joey will always be remembered for being a humble unassuming man, and a brilliant racing superstar, although his own words say a lot about him: 

I never really wanted to be a superstar, I just wanted to be myself. I hope that’s how people remember me.”

As well as a fantastic racer he was also a really good man who gave endlessly to charity, travelling round in an old van collecting donations from local people and then driving to Romania, Bosnia and Albania to distribute the aid his own personal generous way.
He was a quiet family man with five children, happily married to his childhood sweetheart Linda.

Some of his achievements:

  • Three hat tricks at the Isle of Man TT
  • 26 TT wins
  • Ulster Grand Prix 24 times
  • Nw200 13 times
  • Awarded MBE 1896 for services to motorcycling
  • Awarded MBE 1996 for humanitarian work helping children in Romanian orphanages

In memory of Joey

There are many things in the world of racing which are still here to remind us of Joey Dunlop. The best racer in the TT races is now awarded the ‘Joey Dunlop Cup’. The Isle of Man has a statue of him sitting on his Honda over looking Bungalow Bend at Snaefell and the 26th milestone area of the TT course has been named ‘Joey’s bend’. There is also a memorial statue of Joey in his home town of Ballymoney in Northern Ireland.

The only consolation to those who loved him and loved to watch him is that he died on a bike doing what he loved best on the way to winning yet another race.
Sweet dreams, ride on and rest in peace Joey Dunlop.

Joey Dunlop

25 Feb 1952 – 2nd July 2000

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