On February 25, 70 years ago, William Joseph Dunlop was born in Northern Ireland, a boy who would become an icon of the street racing scene, revered around the world long after his death.
William Joseph Dunlop was undoubtedly a man who today would be called a “character”. Incredibly calm and reserved off the track, he was like another person riding a racing car. Whether on a small 125cc motorcycle or a superbike with over 200hp, the Northern Irishman was the measure of all things until old age. His fatal accident in a non-championship race in Tallinn, Estonia plunged an entire country into collective mourning. At his funeral, which was also broadcast live on television, more than 50,000 people followed his coffin.
After Dunlop had already won all the races in his closest homeland, Northern Ireland, he first took part in the Tourist Trophy on the Isle of Man in 1976. To memorize the more than 60 kilometers of Snaefell Mountain Course, he wedged himself in the wake of his seasoned competitors and learned many secrets. While he retired early in both the lightweight and classic TT races, he finished 16th in the TT Junior and 18th in the TT Senior.
In the second year, the shy and modest Dunlop caused a surprise. For the first time in the Classic TT, he managed a lap under the magical 20-minute barrier, even though he had to make a short stop for repairs. However, it was enough for seventh place. He caused even more amazement in the “Jubilee Classic” race. Ahead of George Fogarty, father of four-time Superbike World Champion Carl Fogarty, he crossed the line as the winner and cashed in an astronomical prize pool of £ 1000 by his standards.
Another 25 victories in the Tourist Trophy would follow before his fatal crash on 2 July 2000 in Estonia. King of the Mountain knighted Dunlop, also scoring hat-tricks in 1985, 1988 and 2000.
The 1985 TT was remembered not only for its triple success, but also because its hopelessly overloaded fishing boat ran aground on a reef while crossing from Northern Ireland to the Isle of Man and sank not far from Portaferry. All 13 crew members were rescued by the Coast Guard. Fortunately for the heavy smoker, his official bikes weren’t on board, but the cars owned by his brother Robert and compatriots Brian Reid, Noel Hudson and Sam McClements were recovered the next day. Incidentally, all motorcycles could be used in TT racing.
The list of his victories seems endless. He has finished a race in first place more than 200 times. He still tops the all-time list at the Tourist Trophy and Ulster Grand Prix with 26 and 24 wins respectively. At the North West 200, he has been on the top step of the podium 13 times. From 1982 to 1986, superstitious Dunlop won the TT F1 World Championship on the factory Honda five times in a row. Back then, he proved several times that he can be successful not only on street circuits, but also on permanent circuits such as Assen or Hockenheim.
Joey Dunlop: Also an off-piste star
In 1986 Queen Elizabeth II awarded Joey Dunlop the “Member of the British Empire” (MBE) for his sporting achievements. The father of three daughters and two sons and the uncle of Michael and William Dunlop, who also died in an accident, were also known for his social commitment. For years he has collected toys, food and clothes for needy children in Romania, loaded them into his rickety racing transporter and delivered them to orphanages there at his own expense. In 1996 he received the Official British Empire (OBE) award for it.
A few weeks after his memorable triple at the Tourist Trophy, the 48-year-old took part in a race in Estonia. Instead of starting a race in his home country as originally planned, he wanted to gain some distance after his former sponsor Andy McMenemy recently committed suicide. The superbike race that Joey won took place in the wet. Shortly before the start of the eighth liter race, the course dried up and Dunlop decided to fit a rain tire on the front and an intermediate tire on the rear. On the third lap the rear wheel of his Honda slipped off when it started raining again. He managed to intercept the slide, but the crowd favorite went off the track, crashed into a tree and died at the crash site.
His final resting place in the small cemetery “Garryduff Presbyterian Church” and “Joey’s Bar” in Ballymoney are still places of contact for his countless admirers today. Life-sized statues were erected in his honor in the Memorial Garden of his hometown and in the Bungalow section of the Isle of Man. Two years after his fatal fall, the 26th landmark of the Snaefell Mountain Course area was renamed “Joeys”.
Five-time Formula 1 TT world champion
Tourist Trophy – 26 wins
Ulster Grand Prix – 24 wins
North West 200 – 13 wins