William Joseph (Joey) Dunlop’s love of motorcycle racing ultimately cost him his life on July 2, 2000. But what a life it was.
Dunlop, who was born in Ballymoney, Northern Ireland on Feb. 25, 1952, was affectionately known as ‘Yer Maun’ and ‘King of the Roads’ for his amazing racing exploits.
To many racing fans Dunlop was one of the best – if not the best - motorcycle rider ever and his accomplishments certainly help back that argument up. While he may not be well known by the younger generation of racing enthusiasts, those who saw him ride still regard him as hero and a down-to-earth, inspirational man. Dunlop was a man who shied away from the limelight and didn’t race for the attention and fame.
Dunlop started his bike up simply for the thrill of competition and love of the sport.
Dunlop started racing for the fun of it back in 1969 as a teenager when he paid 50 pounds for a Triumph Tiger Cub. It was several year later before he started winning events on a consistent basis though. But once he experienced the rush of it he never really looked back.
Dunlop’s first TT race came in 1976, when he completed two of his four races. He first tasted victory at the 1977 Jubilee TT. However, he didn’t win another event until capturing the Classic 1000cc race in 1980 and didn’t finish six of his 10 races during 1978 and 79. Nineteen-eighty also saw Dunlop join the works Honda team and owner Bob McMillan promised him motorbikes for life if he stayed with them, which he did for the next 21 years.
From then on Dunlop started to win numerous road races in Ireland, including the North West 200 and Ulster GP. He began to ride to first-place TT finishes with Honda in 1983, starting with the F1 event, which he won six years in a row from 1983 to 88. He was also crowned the F1 World Champion five times during that period.
Dunlop was awarded the OBE for his ongoing charity and humanitarian work in Albania, Bosnia, and Romania.
The Northern Irishman was one of the most versatile riders ever and was just as comfortable and successful on a 125cc machine as he was on a 1000cc. Dunlop’s record speaks for itself. He won the North West 200 a total of 13 times along with 24 victories at the Ulster Grand Prix, and many other domestic events and lap records.
His greatest achievement though was his world-record 26 TT victories at the Isle of Man, which will probably never be broken. Dunlop won 119 Irish national and 37 international road races in Ireland as well as 23 more Irish road and short circuit titles to go along with his five F1championships.
But there was much more to the man than his exceptional racing skills. He was awarded with Britain’s MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 1986 due to his exceptional services to the sport of motorcycle racing. However, Dunlop was prouder of the OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) which he was honored with in 1996.
This is because he was awarded the OBE for his endless charity and humanitarian work in Albania, Bosnia, and Romania. Dunlop was known to travel around his hometown region collecting clothes and food from local residents and took off with the donations to help out those who were less fortunate, especially children and orphans.
Joey Dunlop tragically lost his life during a race in Tallinn, Estonia at the age of 48. He was such a loved figure that an estimated 50,000 people attended his funeral, with 13,000 motorcyclists making the trip from Dublin and thousands of others from across Europe. While racing fans and millions of others were deeply saddened by his sudden death, those who knew Dunlop closely said he wouldn’t have wanted to go any other way than on the saddle of his Honda, doing what he loved most.
Dunlop was honored with several types of memorials after his death including six tribute postage stamps in his homeland.
Sadly, Joey’s younger brother Robert died at the age of 47, also racing a motorcycle on May 15, 2008. Robert Dunlop was laid to rest beside Joey in his hometown of Ballymoney.