Road Racing Maverick : Joey Dunlop


There is good reason why a statue of road racing legend Joey Dunlop astride a Honda overlooks the Bungalow Bend from the highest point on the Isle of Man at Snaefell and the 26th milestone area of the infamous TT course has been renamed “Joey’s”. Joey Dunlop, with his record setting 26 victories at the Isle Of Man TT, easily dominated the championship as he blazed past the circuit donning his hard-to-miss yellow Arai crash helmet and straddling on to racing bikes stickered with his favourite number three. Overshadowing even the rich history of this championship, his is a name that is now synonymous with the tourist trophy. Take a bow for the greatest motorcycle road racer to have ever lived – Joey Dunlop.




Born on 25th February, 1952 as William Joseph Dunlop in the small town of Ballymoney in Northern Ireland, Joey developed a bond with racing and victories at a much later stage in life. Being born in an average family with 6 other siblings and no history in motorcycle racing, it wasn’t likely that he would develop a passionate bond with motorcycle racing. But his love for machines gradually increased as his father was a motor mechanic by trade and practice, and this helped him get closer with messing about engines. It was only in 1968, when he went to see a motorcycle racing event with his to be brother-in-law Mervyn Robinson, that he developed an immense fascination for the need for speed.




The game changer then was when he borrowed a 50cc Itom racer from a well-wisher Brendon McMullen, and took his first bite of motorcycle racing. In 1969, he went on to own his first race motorcycle which was a Triumph Tiger Cub with a simple 199cc push-rod single cylinder engine that released about 10 horses. Over the years, he religiously worked towards establishing himself as a regular winner. In 1973, he then got his first full sponsor, Danny McCook, who supported him with a 350cc Ameracchi. But he failed to get off the starting line after breaking the chain. Joey then joined Rea Racing Team and gradually began to achieve success in local races. He then won his first road race in the 500cc class at Temple 100.




He entered his first IOMTT race in 1976 and earned his first medal at the circuit which was a bronze for the best newcomer. The following year, still a virtual unknown at the TT, he beat all the favourites to take the 1977 Jubilee Classic TT aboard a privately-entered TZ 750 Yamaha. A few barren TT years followed before he won the 1980 Classic TT 1000cc race, again Yamaha-mounted. And since then, he never had to look back. In 1981, he debuted for the Honda team and started winning TT races for Honda in 1983, beginning a winning run in the Formula I TT event that was to last for 6 consecutive years from 1983-88. In 2000, he had another triple win at TT, pushing his tally to 26 and for recognition of this astonishing feat, he was presented with Mann Sword Of State. By 2000, he accounted for Honda’s 23% of TT victories. Over the course of his career, he even took a podium in World Superbike Championship and was victorious in 24 Ulster Grands Prix, 13 North West 200’s and countless other races in the domestic series. He is also the only rider to have three Isle Of Man TT hat-tricks to his name with victories in 1985 (Formula I, Senior and Junior), 1988 (Formula I, Senior and Junior) and in 2000 (Formula I, Lightweight and Ultra Lightweight).




Joey and victories were inseparable. But as they say, all good men stay less. In a tragic accident on 2nd July of 2000, Joey Dunlop was instantly killed on the spot while racing in Estonia. He had already won the 600cc and 750cc, and was leading the 125cc race on Pirita Kose Kloostrimeta Circuit, when he lost control of his bike in the wet conditions and had a fierce impact with the trees. His untimely death was an abominable tragedy beyond words. It was the end to a fantastic era in motorcycle racing.

A true racing legend, Joey Dunlop’s success in the mountain course is something that will live forever and it is incredibly doubtful whether anyone will ever come near his amazing record haul of 26 victories which all came in his twenty-four years of racing at the TT, from 1976 to 2000. Full of records along the way, he was and and will remain, a hero to hundreds of thousands of road racing enthusiasts in every corner of the world. But the ‘King of the Roads’ wouldn’t dream of it and never wanted the limelight, the fame or the attention as the supreme and all time master of the treacherous circuit. He just wanted to race bikes and to win. No wonder, his record on the pure roads circuits will probably never be bettered.





Joey has lapped the Isle Of Man course at over 180kmph in races 256 times and has more 190kmph plus laps to his credit than any other rider in the history of the races. Altogether Joey’s 26 TT wins include 7 Formula I TT, 4 Senior, 3 Junior, 5 Lightweight and 5 Ultra Lightweight Races, plus the 1977 Jubilee Race and the 1980 Classic 1000. In fact, he only crashed once in a TT race, at Sulby Bridge, after a leaking fuel cap let fuel onto the front tyre in 1986. But the genius of Joey Dunlop extends much further than his many wins. Joey would come around lap after lap, on the same line every time, totally at one with the bike, be it on a 125cc pocket rocket or a 1000cc monster. Equally at home on any bike from 125cc-1000cc, Joey was easily the most versatile rider of his generation. In fact, how many of today’s WSB or GP riders can do a 192kmph lap of the TT course on a 1000cc V-Twin, jump straight off that onto a 125cc bike, and pull off another 171kmph lap? None.


Through out his career, Joey was highly superstitious. He always wore a red T-Shirt below his leathers, wouldn’t write with a red pen, always put on his left glove and boot first, wouldn’t turn back if he forgot something, always wore the yellow coloured Arai crash helmet and wouldn’t walk under a ladder.


Apart from his racing career,Joey is recognized for his tireless charity work and humanitarian deeds which was done without drawing public attention to himself. He would often load up his race transporter and deliver clothing and food to the trouble spots of Bosnia, Albania and Romania on his own. Joey was awarded the M.B.E. in 1986 for his services to the sport, and in 1996 he was awarded the O.B.E. for his noble humanitarian work and good deeds. Dunlop even stated that his proudest award was his OBE for Charity than any achievement in his very successful racing career.


In the 1980’s when his mate Frank, Mervyn and Tom died within a span of 12 months, he had briefly considered retiring from the sport. Co-incidentally, Joey too had a close encounter with death in the winter of 1985/86. Joey Dunlop was aboard the M.F.V. Tornamona in transit to the Isle of Man when the sea vessel struck St. Patrick’s Rock and lost its rudder. Dunlop and other riders were aboard with several bikes and equipment for the TT Races. After losing its rudder, the ship went off course spearing into St. Angus Rock where it sank. Fortunately, all the members aboard were rescued by a Portaferry Lifeboat. Diving efforts recovered the bikes shortly after. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2010 after the accident in Estonia. As a mark of respect for his untimely death, the Estonian Government’s official website was replaced with a tribute to Dunlop within hours of his death. Live coverage of his funeral were telecasted, where more than 50000 of mourners attended the memorial service at the Garryduff Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland. And for his recognition at the Isle of Man TT, the most successful overall rider at the annual TT races is awarded the Joey Dunlop Cup. A memorial statue was also erected in his hometown and in Isle of Man at Snaefell.


The name Joey Dunlop® is now trademarked by the family. The name is used under license to manufacture several official merchandises for his fans.


A race outfit worn by Joey Dunlop was sold for £13,000 at Sotherby in London by Graham Budd Auctions. The most successful rider in Isle of Man TT history had worn the leathers, boots, gloves and trademark yellow helmet during his 23rd TT victory in the 1998 Lightweight race. The outfit was also used to model a statue of the TT star, which now stands at the Bungalow on the Isle of Man TT course.

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