William Joseph 'Joey' Dunlop (1952 - 2000) was a quiet, unassuming man. His greying hair belying the fact that he was one of the fittest sportsmen around and one of the greatest competitors ever. As well as his many sporting accolades, including five World Tourist Trophy (TT) motorcycling championships, he was awarded an MBE1 for his motorcycling exploits and an OBE for charity work, especially in the orphanages of Albania.
Many people will not know him because he shied away from the controlled and cautious environment of the grand prix circuits and instead raced in the road races that occupy the Irish summer months and June on the Isle of Man2. He held numerous records at all these events.
On the Isle of Man, Joey was considered the King of the Mountain3 because of his many exceptional examples of racing there. He holds the record for the most wins in the various Isle of Man TT classes (26 in total4). He also holds the record for most laps over 110mph. He has notched up a hat-trick of three wins in a week on several occasions, the last being in 2000.
For the millennium season, Joey put in a special effort, training especially hard in the winter months to be super fit for the North West 200 on the Portstewart-Coleraine-Portrush circuit and the Isle of Man. With hindsight, his machines were not up to scratch for his final North West race. However, with the support of Honda's Formula 1 race team the bikes were primed for the assault on the Manx Mountain Course5. He finished the week with three wins and another podium place. He was never placed outside the top four all week which is a sterling achievement for a man of 48 in his 25th year of racing the 37-mile course.
Ironically, Joey had taken all his Isle of Man memorabilia over to the Isle of Man for the millennium event. All his trophies, leathers, helmets and bikes were on display along with various photos of him tackling the course through the years. Maybe he sensed this was to be his last time at one of his favourite circuits.
Joey Dunlop was killed while racing in Estonia in 2000. In a sport so often filled with such tragedy, he will be remembered as a legend. As is fitting for a great champion, Dunlop had already won the 600cc category the day before his death. In fact, he also won the Superbike category less than a hour before he crashed off at a corner on the first lap while leading the 125cc race. He hit a tree which killed him instantly.
Northern Ireland's First Minister David Trimble paid Joey Dunlop the following tribute;
Everyone in Northern Ireland, not just fans of motor sport, has followed Joey's glittering career with tremendous pride and satisfaction. In particular, his recent string of successes in the Isle of Man TT gave us all something to be proud of.
Five times world champion, Joey was a brilliant sportsman, a true man of the people and a wonderful ambassador for Northern Ireland.
It will be hard to find his like again. We send our deepest condolences to his grieving wife Linda, his children, brother Robert and other members of his grieving family circle.'
Joey Dunlop was a family man and left his wife Linda and five children Julie, Donna, Gary, Richard and Joanne. His brother Robert held the record for the most number of wins at the North West 200 with 15, having fought his way back to competitive racing after very serious injuries at the TT in 1994, those injuries limiting him to racing on 125s. He retired in 2004, but could not keep away, and returned to action in the following year. Sadly, Robert was killed during a practice lap of the North West 200 in May, 2008.