Joey Dunlop: 1952-2000

Motorcycling lost one of its greatest champions and most popular characters when Joey Dunlop, winner of five Formula One world championships and a record 26 Isle of Man TT races, died on Sunday, July 2.

Dunlop, who was 48, crashed while dicing for the lead in a 125cc race at Tallinn, Estonia, in northeastern Europe, and died instantly after hitting a tree.

Dunlop earned his unofficial title of "King of the Roads" by becoming by far the most successful rider on the road circuits of his own country and in the Isle of Man. Only a few weeks before his death he had won three more TT races. His last lap of the 37.73-mile circuit was his fastest ever, at an average speed of 123.87 mph.

Dunlop began racing in 1969 on a Triumph Tiger Cub, and first raced at the TT in 1976 on a Yamaha TZ350. He finished 16th in that race, and came back to make his name the following year when he won his first TT, the Jubilee Classic, by beating the established stars on a TZ750 four.

Most of Joey's success came through a long association with Honda, on whose RVF750 V-4s he dominated Formula One racing in the mid-'80s. In recent years he had been more successful on smaller 250s and 125s, but at this June's TT he proved he was still competitive on big bikes when he won the Formula One race on a factory-backed RC51.

After this year's TT victories, Dunlop was given a civic reception on returning to Ballymoney and toured the town in an open-topped bus in front of large crowds. Yet, the owner of Joey's Bar in Ballymoney disliked publicity, and was rarely happier than when relaxing and talking about racing over a pint of beer with friends.

His achievements on bikes were recognized by the British government in 1985, when he was awarded the Membership of the British Empire (MBE) for services to motorcycle sport. Ten years later, he received a higher award, the Order of the British Empire (OBE)-not for racing, but for charity work, after risking his life on several occasions to drive supplies to needy people in Albania, Bosnia and Romania.

It was typical of Dunlop that when he died he was taking part in a low-key race meeting for enjoyment rather than big prize money. Retirement had been discussed, but Joey loved bike racing too much to give it up. He is survived by his wife Linda and their five children. -Roland Brown