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Joey Dunlop Tribute from the TT Website

As Reported in The Guardian

A race too far for Ireland's quiet man
Pete Nichols pays tribute to Joey Dunlop, who died yesterday

Joey Dunlop's name was synonymous with one event. In the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy races all the records, bar one, belonged to the publican from Ballymoney. His first victory came in 1977 in the Jubilee Classic - his second year racing on the island - and for the next 23 years he continued on the greatest victory roll in motorcycle sport.

In all, he took the chequered flag in 26 TT races. Three were added last month when he was three months or more into his 49th year. It was a measure of how far he was above the rest that the next best tally was a mere 14 wins and belonged to Mike Hailwood, the imperious rider who once won seven world titles in a row.

But it was a race too far for Dunlop yesterday when he was killed in a road race in Estonia, a non-championship meeting which had begun the day before when he had won the 600cc supersport event. Yesterday he won the 750cc superbike race before fatally crashing on the second lap of the 125cc event. Typically he was leading the race.

In the Isle of Man the only record that Dunlop couldn't claim was the track record. That belongs to Carl Fogarty, who once memorably rode the snaking course around Snaefell mountain - from Douglas through Peel and Ramsay and back to Douglas - at an average speed of 123.61mph. But as Fogarty once said: "When I raced in Ireland the fans used to say, 'You'll not beat Joey,' and most of the time they were right."

Dunlop starting racing on a 199cc Tiger Cub for which, in 1969, he paid £50. It was the beginning of a passion that would rule his life. His first two TT victories came on Yamahas, but Honda would be the ally from 1983 on, the plain yellow helmet a beacon to the supporters who idolised the Irishman.

His passion mirrored theirs: in 1989 he arrived at the island on crutches ready to race, but the organisers gave a blank refusal.

Another man might have chosen another sport, or at least another venue to make his name, for there can be no more fearsome challenge in mainstream sport than the 37-mile circuit which swoops down dales and up hills and is bordered by stone walls, lampposts, sheep fencing, houses and sheer drops.

On a conventional racetrack you can slide off into the gravel and walk away. On the Isle of Man the secret is to stay on the bike. "It's a dangerous track. You have to be cautious. If you do that it's the most exciting fortnight of your racing career," he said.

His mastery of the island course was such that it seemed to hold back time. Two years ago he had arrived for the week of racing severely bruised and beaten by a tumble in the 100-mile Tandragree road race, the fall breaking his pelvis, collarbone and costing him the third finger of his left hand.

The wedding ring had to change fingers. Yet still there was a race to be won, and Dunlop duly took the lightweight TT by the cosy margin of 47 seconds.

Last summer on the Isle of Man was disappointing; tyre problems and untimely tumbles left him winless and the mumbles from others that, at 47, he might retire got a little louder. They were silenced in no uncertain fashion last month when an inspired Dunlop rattled off three superb victories; in the formula one, the lightweight and the ultra-lightweight classes.

Dunlop's performance in the lightweight TT was extraordinary for he finished over a minute clear on the field at an average speed of 116mph.

There were honours off the bike, too. In 1986 he was awarded an MBE for services to motorcycling. Ten years later he was elevated to an OBE, this time for his services to charity, including solo drives to Romania, Bosnia and Albania in a van packed with food, clothes and medication. There was no song and dance about the charity work, any more than about his track achievements.

Dunlop was an absolute pragmatist. "With me being mechanically minded and working on my own bikes, you get to know things that break, things that go wrong," he said.

In 93 years of TT racing, almost 180 riders have lost their lives on the island. Dunlop survived the dangers for so long that it seems sadly ironic that he should lose his life in a race where fatalities are hardly known.

Like the Isle of Man, the Pirita-Kose-Kloostrimetsa in Tallinn, the Estonian capital, is a circuit adapted from pub lic roads, but there have been no fatal accidents there since 1961, when the race was in its infancy.

But in his final race yesterday Dunlop came off the bike, crashed into trees by the roadside and died instantly.

"I never really wanted to be a superstar," he said before last year's races in the Isle of Man.

"I just wanted to be myself. I hope people remember me that way." They will.

All of us at TT Website wish to extend our sincerest and deepest sympathy to the family of William Joseph, The Legend who's accomplishments will live forever.

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