Farewell Joey .....

from the book Joey Dunlop - His Authorised Biography by Mac McDiarmid
(published by Haynes Publishing & used their their permission)

When Joey Dunlop died on Sunday 2 July 2000 at an obscure road race meeting in the pine forests on Estonia’s Baltic coast, it was a multi-dimensional tragedy. The loss belonged to the Dunlop family, to Joey’s friends, to racing and to the whole of Ireland. But the context in which it occurred was also desperately cruel.

The Estonian road races are held on the 3.7-mile ‘Pirita-Kose-Kloostrimetsa’ circuit, a couple of miles up the coast from the medieval walled city of Tallin. Joey turned up for the meeting a week early and spent the interlude based in the igloo tent provided by the organisers, chilling out. Saturday, the first race day, was mainly dry, but Joey won the 600 race in a rain shower. It was the first time John Harris, who’d flown in for the weekend to watch, had seen Joey win an international event on one of his bikes. Joey had encouraged him to go, then secretly paid for his flight from the UK.

Joey Dunlop O.B.E., M.B.E.

February 25th 1952 - July 2nd 2000


"I just knew him as Joey, round and about, you know. It wasn’t until he was gone that I realised what a star he’d been."
One of Joey’s fans in Ballymoney

It was again wet – ‘water bouncing off the track’ – for Sunday’s Superbike race. Using full wet tyres front and rear, Joey won again.

When the bikes lined up for the 125cc race 15 or so minutes later, the track was drying rapidly. In such circumstances tyre choice is always tricky, particularly on such a long track where conditions may vary considerably from place to place. Joey opted for a full wet front and an intermediate rear, nodding to John Harris after the parade lap that the combination seemed OK.

The crash happened three laps into the race, just as it began to rain again. Eye witnesses described the 125’s rear wheel stepping out part-way through the last corner, a left-hand bend where the surface is quite flat and water tends to lie. Joey corrected the slide, but was by then running out of room. This was deep in the pine forest where there was no run off, and a crash was inevitable. Joey got rid of the bike, which wedged itself between two trees, snapping in two. Parts of the machine struck two spectators, but their injuries were mild. Joey struck another tree. He died instantly, although attempts at resuscitation were made as a matter of routine.

When checked out later, there were no indications that the Honda’s engine had seized – an obvious suspicion in such an accident. Evidently no solo rider had been killed on the circuit since 1961. Wet or dry, you’d have put your house on Joey not being the next.

People have asked, angrily, ‘what was he doing there?’ and a few may be looking for someone to blame. It was typical of the man that he should race – as he had several times before – at such a backwater. Some years ago I visited the circuit. The local bike racing club was a poverty-stricken crowd enthusiastically racing anything with wheels – not unlike a grubby young fella from Ballymoney, on a battered old Tiger Cub, 31 years before. They clearly adored Joey, and he had seemed at home there: no fuss, just his bikes, a track, the fans, and something to contribute. As to blame, I imagine that the man would be horrified at the suggestion that responsibility lay with anyone but himself.

Joey’s start money in Estonia was £1000. So he certainly wasn’t there for the wealth, but when was he ever? He was there to get away.

The previous month, Joey’s long-standing sponsor Andy McMenemy had taken his own life, following business problems. This was the most bitter of tragedies. A good and dear friend was dead. We can only imagine how Joey felt, but John Harris was with him when the news reached them the next morning. ‘He was stunned … just couldn’t take it in. Why? Why? he kept asking.’

‘Joey took his 125, John Harris’s 600 and an RC45 lifted from the ceiling of Joey’s Bar where it had been on display,’ remembers Sammy Graham numbly. ‘The bikes were loaded, with spares, a new primus stove, and tins of beans, because when Joey got going he wouldn’t stop, just make himself something in the van.’

Davy Wood remembers with the same quiet horror "‘the last time I spoke with Joey. It was in a pew at Andy’s funeral. He said he didn’t want to be talking about Andy, so he was pissing off away for a while. I remember Andy stepping in for Joey when everyone else thought he was finished, and I’ll always be grateful for that."

What Harold Crooks in the Irish Sunday Life called ‘a summer of tragedy’ continued on 13 August when a pile-up at the Monaghan road races claimed the lives of Gary Dynes and Andrew McClean. With road racing already in crisis, no sooner had September’s Carrowdore races got an eleventh hour go-ahead than Eddie Sinton crashed fatally, joining Ray Hanna – killed at the 2000 TT – on Tandragee’s roster of woe. This was barely a year after the loss of Donnie Robinson at the North-West, and Owen McNally at the Grand Prix. Ireland grieved.

As so often, it was left to the widow to try to make sense of it, but no amount of waiting and worrying leaves you prepared, as Linda explained a few months later: "‘When it happens to some other racing wife you wonder how they can cope. You have the worry at the TT … if they break down and go missing for a few minutes, you feel sick. This year, with him winning the three, you get back home and think that’s your worry over for the year."

"You can be angry now, but you can’t be angry for the past 30 years, because the past was good. Joey picked his sport. Unfortunately it took his life, but it gave him and us 30 great years. What makes me really angry is people who try to use his death to destroy the sport he loved."

On the world scale, motorcycle road racing is pretty small beer, yet Joey transcended that. His death was global news. The story was carried prominently on TV, on radio, in the Washington Post, Las Vegas Sun, and countless other newspapers across the planet.

At Dublin airport, a crowd greeted the aircraft returning Himself from Tallin. As the hearse bearing Joey’s body arrived at the undertakers in Ballymoney in the small hours, the Town Hall bell struck three – his race number. Or so it is said. But, even if fanciful, the tale is no less moving for that.

Joey was buried at Garryduff Presbyterian Church where, just a couple of years before, he and Linda had re-taken their marriage vows. A state funeral in everything but name, the occasion was broadcast live on Irish national television, and attended by government ministers from London, Belfast and Dublin. Even at the sectarian battleground of Drumcree, a truce was declared whilst the protesters remembered ‘Yer Maun’.

Garryduff Road is a typically straight country lane undulating across the North Antrim countryside. It runs from Ballymoney, past Joey’s old school and the leisure centre later named after him, by the Dunlop bungalow, on past Garryduff Church towards where the infant Joey first lived near Dunloy. On this same road Joey illicitly tested racing motor-cycles. On 7 July 2000, as the cortège bore the coffin slowly by, it was tempting to imagine the ghostly wail of a racing two-stroke, but the murmur of mourners was the only sound.

Joey Dunlop Grave


It seemed like all of racing, and half of Ireland, gathered around the little church that day. Over the hastily-erected public address we heard Joey’s daughter Donna read her poem of "‘… the yellow helmet shining bright …" and people wept.

Fifty thousand of us said goodbye. And thanks.

Mac McDiarmid

from the book Joey Dunlop - His Authorised Biography by Mac McDiarmid
(published by Haynes Publishing & used with their permission)

Joey Dunlop - The Authorised Biography

Joey Dunlop - His Authorised Biography.

Extracts of this book by Mac McDiarmid and published by Haynes Publishing are used throughout this website.

Recommended retail price: £25.00

ISBN 978 1 84425 940 3

Many thanks to Mac & Haynes Publishing.





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