book Joey Dunlop - His Authorised Biography
by Mac McDiarmid
(published by Haynes Publishing & used their their
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.
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.
Dunlop O.B.E., M.B.E.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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."
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."
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
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
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.
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.
of us said goodbye. And thanks.
the book Joey Dunlop - His Authorised Biography
by Mac McDiarmid
(published by Haynes Publishing & used with their