Born into a family of motorcycle enthusiasts, Joey Dunlop began tinkering with bikes when most kids were learning to walk and talk. That is perhaps one reason Dunlop became one of motorcycle racing’s greatest, garnering him the well-earned nickname “King of the Road.”
He became a record-maker and a record-breaker, and he is a legend of the sport who will never be forgotten. Passing away at the early age of 46 in 2000, Dunlop held five TT Formula One titles, 26 Isle of Man TT wins. In addition to well over 150 other major title wins, Dunlop burnt out fast. Still, he will never fade away and will always be a man to inspire others in the motorcycle racing world.
King of the Road William Joseph Dunlop was born in Ireland on February 25, 1952. To say he was born into a modest family would be an understatement. His childhood home was without running water, he was the eldest boy out of seven children, and he lost a sibling when the child was six months old.
He had a stubborn determination and was typically considered a good kid overall, a reputation that would follow him throughout his lifetime.
While the family was poor, Dunlop recalls that they were rich in other ways. They spent time as a family, which was worth more than valuable baubles to the Dunlop children. They would often go to the countryside to spend time on weekends or spend time around the family hearth telling stories or playing games.
Dunlop loved to tinker in his spare time, taking things apart to see how they worked and then putting them back together. He was well known for having multiple projects laid out and ready to be reassembled at any given time.
Dunlop wasn’t the greatest student in high school, but he got by. In retrospect, his classmates find it odd that they never recall him speaking of bikes or his love of riding.
What Dunlop was known for was staying close to his roots. He lived as a child and was buried as an adult on the same road. That says a lot for a king to stay that close to his childhood home for his final resetting place when it could have been anywhere in the world. He was also known to visit his hometown, bringing back his trophies and prizes to share with the people.
His queen was even his childhood sweetheart from his hometown. He was a true king to the town of Ballymoney, Ireland.
Known as the Greatest Northern Irish Sportsman of all time, Dunlop’s career officially began in 1969 in Ireland while riding a ten-horsepower 199 cc Triumph Tiger Cub he bought with money he borrowed from a friend. Still, no one can say that to be 100% accurate.
However, another friend is 100% sure that he DID participate in a race in Kirkstown, Ireland, during an Easter celebration in 1969. He placed a modest 16th in that race, but that was just the beginning of an illustrious career.
Though it took him a couple of years to become a real competitor in the racing industry, Dunlop would run into some of his most significant competitors during his early years.
Dunlop was known to be a creature of habit, and he was very superstitious when it came to racing. Once he started winning and making a name for himself, he always wore a yellow helmet that had pictures taped onto it, frequently not well-fitting. He would often have to add padding to the inside of the helmet to keep it from wobbling or falling off.
He also always wore a red undershirt under his gear, and his bike was always number three; however, we will soon see that not even the most religious practices of superstitions can work 100% of the time.
While Joey Dunlop’s racing record and career speak for themselves, there is no denying that he lead an exciting life off the track, as well.
Once he made a name for himself as a racer and began to obtain enough money, he became a benefactor to many Romanian orphans. He did this very subtly, so as not to draw attention to himself for his good deeds. Many of today’s celebrities could take a cue from Dunlop’s charitable ways. It is noble to give back simply for the sake of doing so.
He was also known for traveling across Europe in order to donate clothing and food to the less fortunate, as well. He was thought to be one of Europe’s most generous ambassadors.
In 1986, Dunlop was granted the title of a member of the Most Excellent Order of the Brtish Empire (MBE). Its members would be considered knights of yesteryear, as they are known for their chivalrous, charitable works. This is the third-highest honor given by the British Empire.
He was also given the second-highest honor in the British Empire: The OBE. He was given this honor for his solo ride to some of the poorest areas of Europe to deliver aid such as food, clothing, and medical supplies.
On a boat ride from Ireland to the Isle of Man for his annual race, the ship he was aboard hit an enormous storm and began to sing. Luckily for Dunlop and all 13 passengers, they were rescued from an almost inevitable tragedy.
During the Estonian Road Race held on July 2, 2000, Dunlop met a tragic end from which no superstition could save him.
Though the road conditions were safe when the race started, by the third lap, it began raining, making the road incredibly slick as the oils came to the surface. Dunlop saw the inevitable loss of control on a turn and attempted to ditch his bike. Unfortunately, Joey Dunlop, one of the greatest motorcycle racers in history, crashed into a tree and died instantly.
A great athlete, a man of altruism and giving, was lost that day. It was a sad day not for just Ireland and Brittan but the world abroad.
Joey Dunlop was absolutely one of the finest racers ever to hit the motorcycle circuit. But he was much more than just a guy who accumulated trophies and win after win. He was a man who gave back to the world and tried to make it a better place than how he found it.
Always staying close to his humble roots, he was able to be a great racer that little boys and girls the world over wished to be; he was also a kind, giving man that, if ever one adopted his charitable ways, we would no doubt live in a much brighter world.