Joey Dunlop - King of the Roads

Joey Dunlop at Signpost Corner, 1995 Formula 1 TT
Signpost Corner, TT '95
© Simon J Evans

Joey Dunlop, King of the Road Racers, died in a racing accident on 2nd July 2000. There are any number of pages of tribute to him on the internet. His enormous popularity derives from his personality as well as his racing achievements. Over 45,000 people were at his funeral, in his home town of Ballymoney, Co. Antrim in Northern Ireland, including 13,000 bikers who had ridden from Dublin. Like many others, I only wish I could have been there to pay my respects to a hero and a legend.

The following Tribute to Joey Dunlop OBE MBE was written by veteran motorcycle journalist Norrie White and originally published in BikeSport News. It has been reproduced on this site with the full authorisation of BikeSport News Limited.

Joey Dunlop tribute by Norrie White

This is the story I never wanted to write yet occasionally feared I would have to at one stage. Joey Dunlop started out racing a Triumph Tiger Cub at Magherabouy in Northern Ireland in 1969. He was one of the boys in those days. After two races, he sold the Cub for 50 and bought the first of his seven Minis.

He died on July 2 when he crashed his 125 Honda and struck a tree on the 3.7-mile public roads circuit at Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. When he died, he was still one of the boys!

In between those 31 years William Joseph Dunlop had crammed in 26 TT wins in 25 years, 24 Ulster GPs wins, 13 at the North West 200, 11 at the Steam Packet post-TT meeting and 31 wins at the Southern 100. Add in another 24 Killinchy or Dundrod 150s, 15 Skerries, 17 Tandragees, ten Cookstown, 15 Mid-Antrims, six Killalane, five Temple 100s, six at Fore and victories at every major circuit in Britain and Eire.

He won a total of 119 Irish National road races and 37 international road races in Ireland plus 23 Irish road and short circuit championships. Plus five Formula One championships and an MBE and an OBE for his services to motorcycling and to his humanitarian missions to Bosnia and Rumania when he travelled alone carrying a van-load of food, clothes and toys for the hard-hit kids of the area.

He was the King of the Roads. Nobody remotely challenged him for that title. Only a month before his fatal crash at Tallinn, where he was a regular visitor, Joey had won his 26th TT and taken his third TT hat-trick. Earlier in the Tallinn meeting, he had won the 600 and superbike races. In pouring rain, he crashed on the second lap of the joint 250-125 race. He was lying second overall and leading his class when he fell. The meeting was abandoned immediately after news of his death broke.

Though he won races on short circuits and public road venues, Joey will be best remembered for his exploits on the Isle of Man. His TT statistics are frightening: 26 wins in 25 years; lap records in the F1, Senior, 250 and 125 classes; three TT trebles - one more than Mike Hailwood (1961 and '67), Steve Hislop ('89 and '91) and David Jefferies ('99 and '00). Only his Ulster rival Phillip McCallen won four times in the same TT week. Joey had competed in 98 TT races, had lapped the 37.73-mile Mountain Circuit 257 times at more than 110mph, won 80 TT replicas and his best ever TT lap at 123.87mph set in this year's Senior made him the fourth fastest rider in TT history.

He had a legion of fans at home and abroad that was equalled only by Barry Sheene. Unlike Sheene, who worked very hard at gaining his stardom, Joey never set out to be a legend. He was definitely one of the boys - or to be truthful one of the Armoy Armada - when he won his first TT, the Schweppes-backed Jubilee in '77. He rode John Rea's 750 Yamaha-4 and had to hold on to his petrol tank as the retaining strap broke early on the first lap. In the early days of race sponsorship, Schweppes had a uniformed flunkie on the entrance to the hospitality tent at the rear of the TT grandstand. I had an invitation. Joey and his crew, the race winners, hadn't. So entrance barred. I got to the boss and Joey and his thirsty team were soon admitted. That was the start of a friendship that took us through highs and lows all over the world, supping with royalty and drinking with the heavy Ulster accents.

Like Sheene, Dunlop was wonderful with kids. He and his wife Linda had five - Julie (24), Donna (18), Garry (16), Richard (13) and Joanne (10). He would stand for hours to sign autographs and to pose for photographs. When Joey and Sheene last met at the Scarborough Gold Cup anniversary meeting, they shared the biggest cheers from a 40,000 crowd. The riders they 'beat' included Phil Read, Giacomo Agostini, Jim Redman and the likes. That Joey had such a following was simply down to him and his success on the track. He never felt entirely at home with the fame. He was still one of the boys. And that's why the fans loved him. They could recognise themselves in him.

The early straggly hair had been replaced in recent times by a tidier short cut. He had cleaned up his act. But his approach to racing didn't alter. He loved every moment of it, especially in the early days when as a privateer he put it across the works opposition. In recent times, he did all the work on his 125 and 250 Hondas. But he always missed the buzz of spannering on the works Honda superbikes. He loved tinkering with engines, though at times his methods seemed casual. Mechanically, he was a lot more cute than most people realised. It may have been Team Chaos at times, but for Joey it worked

Dunlop was 48 when he died. He had for some years combined racing as a career-hobby with running The Peg - lately called Joey's Bar - on Ballymoney railway station platform in Co Antrim. The annual tradition of bikers and race fans visiting Joey's pub has been a highlight of the North-West 200 for years. A glimpse of their hero was a bonus. A quick word with him had them talking about it for months.

Like Hailwood, whose TT record of 14 wins he equalled in 1992, Joey Dunlop will be often remembered. A hero, a top-class racer, a family man, a friend, a drinking mate, Ulster's best-known sportsman since George Best, Joey will be remembered by me just as a thoroughly nice human being who lived, loved and died for road racing. I'll have a wee swallow now after finishing the toughest story I've ever tackled.

Copyright © BikeSport News Limited 2000.   Reproduced here with permission.

Joey at the 2000 North West 200 photo by Roland Brown

Joey at the North West 200, May 2000.
Photo © Roland Brown
Everyone who watched him and those who raced against him knew it. When conditions were marginal at the TT every other rider knew that Joey would be odds-on to win, since his knowledge, roadcraft and determination put him in a class of his own. Here are what some of his fellow racers said on hearing the news:
"Joey was a legend and a hero to most bikers in the world - he was like an invincible force who just had more talent to ride a bike than anyone else. He was a friend as well as a rival on the track and his death is a massive loss."     - Phillip McCallen.

"I can hardly talk about it. Joey was an absolute hero to me and words can't express how much of a loss it is"     - Carl Fogarty.

"He was one of the last true gents left in the sport - he never signed a contract because everyone knew his handshake meant more. His heart and soul were completely involved in racing."     - Neil Tuxworth, Honda WSB Team Manager.
His popularity extended beyond the boundaries of motorcycle racing. He had many fans in Northern Ireland. There was a minute's silence at the Irish gaelic football final, and Northern Ireland politicians David Trimble and Seamus Mallon issued a joint statement:
"Everyone in Northern Ireland, not just fans of motorsport, has followed Joey's glittering career with tremendous pride and satisfaction. In particular, his recent string of successes in the Isle of Man have us all something to be proud of. He was a brilliant sportsman, a true man of the people and a wonderful ambassador for our country."
Grands Prix 500 racer Jeremy McWilliams dedicated his 3rd place at the following Sunday's British Grand Prix to his fellow Ulsterman and hero.
"Joey was THE MAN. He was the one every other rider looked up to, and all the other road racers wanted to beat. Some people just wanted to be able to say 'I raced against Joey'. He was so cool, so laid-back and he did it his way. It's one thing to be known by everyone, but it's another to be respected by everyone, and that's what Joey had - respect."
His success was not the only reason for his popularity. Joey raced and lived, quietly, without the attention-seeking antics often enjoyed by successful riders. He never felt at home with the fame, he was still one of the boys. Interviewers often found their questions answered by the briefest of responses - he just wanted to get on with it. And that was why the fans loved him.

Not content with just his racing and running a pub, Joey took the cause of Romanian orphans to his heart after hearing of the plight of the children there. His idea of helping out was not restricted to giving a helmet to a charity auction or some other high-profile gracious gesture. Only three days after first hearing about the orphanages, he loaded a truck with essential items and drove over himself. He also made trips to Bosnia, handing out food parcels and clothes from the back of his vehicle.

Joey's funeral took place in Ballymoney on Friday 7th July. The roads of the small country town were lined with friends, locals and a massive population of fans who had made the journey to pay their last respects to the King of the Roads. A convoy of 13,000 bikers had ridden from Dublin, and the roads were packed with motorcycles. The service in the small chapel was relayed to the 45,000 who were standing quietly outside while a TV news helicopter hovered overhead. The funeral was one of the biggest ever seen in the province and was relayed live on Ulster TV, such was the universal respect in which he was held. You may like the read a BBC news item describing the event.

On the Isle of Man flags on official buildings had flown at half-mast all week, and hundreds turned up to listen to a radio commentary broadcast at the TT Grandstand in Douglas.

Joey's TT victories and F1 titles

1977 Jubilee Classic
1980 Classic
1983 Formula 1
1984 Formula 1
1985 Formula 1, 250cc and Senior
1986 Formula 1
1987 Formula 1 and Senior
1988 Formula 1, 250cc and Senior 1992 125cc
1993 125cc
1994 125cc and 250cc
1995 250cc and Senior
1996 125cc and 250cc
1997 250cc
1998 250cc
2000 Formula 1, 250cc and 125cc

TT Starts: 97. Silver replicas: 70. Bronze replicas: 7.
Formula 1 World championships: 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986.

A complete list of his race wins and other achievements can be found at this page on the Southern 100's website.

He features on the cover of a book chronicling the history of the TT. I cannot endorse the book as I don't have a copy, but I like the cover shot. It shows Yer Maun giving the RC45 a big handful on the V4's last appearance at the greatest circuit of them all. It is also available through Amazon UK.

Parade lap of TT circuit

Five thousand bikers took part in a closed roads lap of the Mountain Course as part of the Joey Dunlop Celebration of Life on Manx GP Sunday. Ron Haslam led the procession, riding an SP-1 Honda bearing the number 3. Joey's brother Robert rode the same 125 Honda with which he took victory in the previous weekend's Ulster GP. Joey's widow Linda unveiled a plaque dedicated to Joey near the TT startline, alongside a similar plaque in memory of Mike Hailwood.

[Note: the Manx GP is regarded as the 'amateur' TT, and no disrespect is meant in this description. While a smaller event, it is still popular, and run over the same Mountain Course as the TT. Many entrants are there because they love the course and the event, and are often unsponsored. Click the TT link at the bottom of the page for more on racing at the Isle of Man.]

Joey wins 2000 MCN Man of the Year

"Voted the overwhelming winner by readers of MCN with an astounding 85 per cent of the votes, Yer Maun deserved the accolade more than anyone did."  Quoted from Motorcycle News. Read the story.

There was a service in Dublin on November 18th in memory of Joey, followed by a rideout to the Skerries road race. Linda Dunlop was presented with a special award at the Irish Motorcycle Show in Belfast on Sunday 26th November, after Joey had been voted Irish Motorcyclist of the Year by Irish racing fans.

Joey replica helmet announced

Joey Dunlop replica Arai 18/11/00: Arai revealed it has made a limited number of its Quantum F helmet in the yellow and black colours of one Joey Dunlop. Individually numbered replicas were to be sold at 379.99 until December 22, after that they will be unavailable. All proceeds will go towards the fund for his family. The lids will be delivered in June, when you'll have to decide whether to wear it, or put it on display.

Update (October 2001): Arai has donated 100,000 ($150,000) to the fund from the sale of the helmets.

Books and DVDs

A number of books about Joey have been published since his death. While some may view this as profiting from his untimely demise, one has to recognise that books on Dunlop were inevitable - it just would have been nicer if he was still alive.

MacDiarmid's authorised biography   Haynes have published an "official" biography (i.e. sanctioned by Honda UK and the Dunlop family), written by veteran journalist Mac McDiarmid. Despite the the cancellation of the 2001 TT races, McDiarmid's biography was launched in Douglas on June 1st.

Having had a chance to read it, I can highly recommend it. It covers Joey's career in depth, and has many snippets and quotes from people who knew him well. It also features many excellent photographs by top motorcycle racing photographers such as Don Morley and Phil Masters. Andrew English of the Telegraph said:
"it's a moving read, not just a race account. The photographs are superb and it fills in at least some of the gaps in a great man's life, which ended far too soon."
You can buy a copy at Amazon in either UK Pounds or US Dollars.

Amazon UK also stocks the following:
Stephen Davison Photographer Stephen Davison's pictorial tribute.
Ray Knight's tribute Ray Knight's book was researched over 10 years and is sanctioned by the TT Riders Association. Ray brings to this book the insight of a fellow competitor.
Duke video tribute A tribute video from Duke, the top name in motorcycle racing videos. Available in DVD and VHS video (PAL format)

This video contains some of the material in the Road Racers film (see books & videos page), and goes some way to explaining the story of Joey's racing career.

Duke Video have re-released the stunning on-bike video V-Four Victory, visit the books page for availability and formats. By using links on these pages to buy books and videos you are directly supporting this website. Any monies received will be used to add content and improve the site, an entirely voluntary effort.

More accolades... and Isle of Man stamps!

In December 2000 Joey was posthumously awarded the Belfast Telegraph Sports Star of the Year. He was also honoured at the annual Texaco awards which were announced in Dublin in January. In August he had also been honoured with a Lifetime Achievement award by the mayor at Belfast City Hall, while in September Linda received an award on his behalf at the annual Irish Post Awards in London.

In the Spring of 2001 the Isle of Man Post Office issued a set of Joey Dunlop stamps and postcards. They were officially launched at the North West 200 in Northern Ireland on 17 May 2001. A donation was to be made to the Joey Dunlop Injured Riders' Fund for every Deluxe Folder sold.

Isle of Man Post Office stamps
IoM Post Office stamps

Joey and brother Robert had featured previously on Ireland stamps in 1996, along with other TT winners Stanley Woods, Artie Bell and Alec Bennett.

Joey Dunlop desktop wallaper

02/07/01: One year on, and ttwebsite.com has made available some well-produced JPEGs for your PC desktop. Sizes: 640x480, 800x600, 1024x768. Go to the page.

26th Milestone to become Joey's

08/10/01: The Isle of Man TT co-ordinating committee have decided the 26th milestone is to be renamed in memory of the greatest road racer of them all. The number three will not be run in 2002, and a trophy in memory of Joey Dunlop will be presented to the rider with the best overall performance in the Formula 1 and Senior races.

A life size statue of Joey Dunlop is being commissioned in time for the 2002 TT Races, and will be sited at the Bungalow area of the Mountain Circuit.

Honda to sell Dunlop replica RC51?

10/01/02: Rumours in the press suggest Honda is thinking of selling a limited number of Joey Dunlop RC51 replicas, assembled by Russell Savory's company RS performance. Honda are likely to make just 26, matching the number of TT wins Joey had on the Isle of Man. You can be sure it will be mentioned here if they do.

Dunlop replica RC51 is go!

28/01/02: The rumours are true - Honda have commissioned RS Performance to build just 26 bikes. The first one made, No.26, is up for auction between now and the 2002 TT festival in June. The other 25, priced at 14,300, will be sold through just one shop, Tippetts Motorcycles of Surbiton. Each has a plaque on the top yoke inscribed with " Commemorating 2000 F1 TT ", the edition number and Joey's signature.

Specification:
  • Anodised aluminium billet gold coloured Oz wheels, weighing 2.2kg less than the stock items.
  • Top spec. WP rear shock.
  • A carbon hugger helps keep it that way
  • Steel braided brake lines
  • Rear-sets
  • Twin high-level Laser exhaust pipes and a Power Commander. As a result, power is up from 124 to 130bhp.
  • If you need to return the bike to standard, each will be supplied with all the road going kit that has been removed. Tippetts can be contacted by telephone on 020-8399-2417. The result of the auction will be published in Motorcycle News July 23, 2002.

    Update: The last of the Dunlop replica bikes was auctioned during 2002, after an announcement at the Roadracing show in January. Proceeds were to go to the Dunlop family. The winner, who bid £16,000 for the last of the replicas, also had the bonus of a one-off Vimto paintscheme.

    Dunlop TT calendar

    28/02/02: The 2002 Joey Dunlop calendar runs from June 2002 to May 2003. Proceeds will also go to the Joey Dunlop Injured Riders Fund. Available by mail order only from www.ttprogramme.com

    Isle of Man statue unveiled

    The statue of Joey, sponsored by helmet manufacturer Arai, was shown to the public during the 2002 TT week. Some who saw it expressed concern that the sponsor's logo was prominently displayed on the plinth. The text reads:
     

    In memory of Joey Dunlop 1952-2000
    "King of the Mountain"
    26 times TT winner


    This statue has been donated to the Isle of Man to honour Joey
    and to respect the connection between Ballymoney and the Isle of Man.

    Unveiled June 2002 by Ferry Brouwer, CEO of Arai Helmet (Europe) BV
    and Hon. David Cretney M.H.K., Minister for Tourism and Leisure.

     

    Below this is a rather large Arai logo, which I must admit I find a little obtrusive. However, Joey was Arai's first and longest serving sponsored rider. There is a photo of the statue at Manxscenes.com.

    Linda Dunlop receives replica RC51

    January 2003: one of the Dunlop replica bikes last year has been presented to Joey's widow Linda at his bar in Ballymoney, Northern Ireland.

    Memorial Garden in Ballymoney

    There has also been constructed a Joey Dunlop memorial garden in the centre of Ballymoney, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It too features a statue of Joey Dunlop.

    LRMCC raise money in Joey's honour

    20/01/04: The Lost Riders Motor Cycle Club made a journey to Estonia to mark the third anniversary of Joey's death, following a route the great man had taken. They delivered relief aid to five orphanages along the way, and with the help of the Dunlop family, had raised 20,000 for the Joey Dunlop Injured Riders' Fund and also 162,000 worth of relief aid for the orphanages.

    A BBC film crew accompanied them, and a documentary of the journey was aired on BBC1 Northern Ireland last week, called A Lap of Honour in the footsteps of Joey Dunlop.

    Below are photos of the Joey Dunlop memorial garden in Ballymoney and the trackside memorial at the corner where Joey died. Click each image to see a larger version.

    Joey Dunlop memorial garden, Ballymoney - click for larger image       Joey Dunlop trackside memorial, Tallinn - click for larger image

    Photographs © Derek Mason (aka Big D)

    Dunlop replica Arai Corsair helmet

    Joey Dunlop replica Arai RX7 Corsair November 2005: Crossan Motorcycles Limited (thevisorshop.com) announced the production of 500 limited edition RX7 Corsair Joey Dunlop Replica helmets. Each £499 handmade replica will be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity, signed by Mrs. Linda Dunlop and hallmarked with a number that will match the helmet. In 2001 a Joey Dunlop replica was made in the Quantum F model (see item further up this page). This is the first time Arai have produced a Joey Dunlop replica in the top of the range Corsair model that was worn by Joey.

    Update: the 500 helmets were at Crossans in early May and sold out soon afterwards, many to customers who had ordered on reading the news months earlier.

    Joey Dunlop Foundation news - July 2006

    The Joey Dunlop Foundation, set up after Joey's death in 2000 and originally called the Joey Dunlop Injured Riders' Fund, is in the process of constructing a holiday complex of 5 units providing specialised facilities for disabled people.

    The latest news on this project was posted here on the Isle of Man TT site. The foundation's website is at www.joeydunlopfoundation.com.

    Linda Dunlop interview - August 2006

    Six years after Joey's death his widow Linda, still managing the famous bar in Ballymoney, gives a rare and touching interview to the Belfast Telegraph newspaper. [Update: the article is no longer available].

    Robert Dunlop dies at NW 200

    Sadly Joey's brother Robert died on 15 May 2008 during qualifying at the North West 200. Almost as well known as Joey and hugely popular, Robert enjoyed many successes in the Irish road racing scene and at the TT. He held the record for the most wins at the NW200. His son Michael won the 250cc race the same weekend and dedicated it to his father, wearing a helmet reminiscent of Robert's distinctive black and white design.

    Robert spoke at a fundraising event in my local town in 2006 with Ian Lougher and Guy Martin. All three came across as great characters yet so very different. I was struck by Robert's direct, honest manner, in particular his strong views on what changes could be made to improve race safety on road circuits.

    Joey and Robert. Two great icons that brought so much to racing. Another much-loved star of Irish road racing, Martin Finnegan, died racing at Tandragee in the same month. It's a cruel sport, but these men were dedicated and knew the risks they took. November 2008: Road racing specialists Pacemaker Press, have published a book about Robert's life and career, ISBN 9780717145966. Available at at Amazon UK and other outlets. A 2006 Duke DVD is available here.

    Joey in top 3 greatest ever Irish sportsmen - January 2010

    On the Republic of Ireland's RTE television channel on 31 December 2009, Joey was voted third greatest ever sportsman in a public poll, behind rugby star Brian O'Driscoll and golfer Padraig Harrington. His popularity was a small suprise to some pundits as he was from Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK.

    The top 10:

    1. Padraig Harrington
    2. Brian O'Driscoll
    3. Joey Dunlop
    4. George Best
    5. Roy Keane
    6. Sean Kelly
    7. Sonia O Sullivan
    8. Christy Ring
    9. Vincent O Brien
    10. Paul McGrath

    Joey Dunlop anniversary 18-month calendar - February 2010

    To mark the 10 year anniversary of Joey's death road racing photographer Stephen Davison has produced a special commemorative 18 month calendar that runs from July 2010 until December 2011. Available from Duke Video while stocks last.

    The cover shows Joey in action on his way to winning the 2000 Formula One TT aboard the factory Honda SP-1.

    Motorcycle Racer magazine - 'Joey special' - February 2010

    The March 2010 issue (no. 127) of Motorcycle Racer magazine, on sale from 12th February, features a look back at Joey's career on the approach to 'that' anniversary. A portrait photo of him, wearing his yellow and black helmet, is used on the cover.

    June 2010 - Joey Dunlop Foundation house opens

    On 6th June, Mad Sunday of the 2010 Isle of Man TT, 15 times TT winner John McGuinness and Joey's widow Linda Dunlop opened the foundation's heir disabled holiday accommodation on the TT course at Braddan Bridge. The building has two ground floor flats and a larger first floor flat that has a balcony overlooking of the TT course. Brief BBC News video item (1min 40sec) here.

    The renovation work was carried out by volunteers, whose dedication and hard work made the project a success. Linda Dunlop spoke to the Ballymoney Times, her local paper about the house, you can read the news item here.

    2010 Joey Dunlop Ride Out Lap - 2nd July

    At 7pm on Friday the 2nd July there will be a Joey Dunlop Memorial Tribute Ride Out Lap. It costs 10. To book your place please contact Kevin Quirk at kevinquirk@hotmail.com with your name, address, vehicle registration and t-shirt size.

    Although I won't be able to be there I think I'll break out my DVD of The Roadracers ~ V-Four Victory that evening to mark the occasion.

    DVD / video download: 'Joey Dunlop - No Ordinary Joe'

    Released in December 2011, this 101-minute DVD features archive footage, family photos and material that didn't make it into the BBC production 'Joey Dunlop Remembered'. More info on the content here.

    Such is the enduring popularity of Joey Dunlop, Manx DVD publisher Duke and Northern Irish producers Waldovision presented a cheque for more than 2,600 to The Joey Dunlop Foundation in April 2012. full story here.

    You can purchased the DVD or HD-quality download via this page on the Duke Video website. It is also available on iTunes and there is a short preview on Youtube.

    External links

    IoM TT database entries with photos: Joey Dunlop, Robert Dunlop.
    The official Joey Dunlop website
    Photographs of the legendary pair in a flickr group.
    A brief outline of Robert's career.
    Irish Independent report on Robert's funeral, May 2008
    Robert Dunlop: Obituary by Julian Ryder - text saved here as no longer available on The Independent's website
    The Joey Dunlop Foundation
    Wikipedia pages for Joey and Robert.

    © www.simonevans.co.uk/v-four/