from the 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
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
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.
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.
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
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.’
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
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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
Dunlop - His Authorised Biography.
Extracts of this book by Mac McDiarmid and published
by Haynes Publishing are used throughout this
Recommended retail price: £25.00
ISBN 978 1 84425 940 3
Many thanks to Mac & Haynes Publishing.