Rider Of The Week looks at the career of a famous motorcyclist and examines how they have developed. Many riders have left their mark on the industry, and Joey Dunlop deserves to be called one of the greatest of all time. Hailing from Northern Ireland, Dunlop was voted the second greatest motorcycling icon by Motorcycle News in 2016, one behind Valentino Rossi. Dunlop accomplished a great deal in his career and is considered a true working class hero by motorbike fans.
Dunlop was born on the 25th February 1952 in Ballymoney. Characterised by a quiet confidence, Dunlop joined the motorcycle world after his brother-in-law Mervyn Robinson encouraged him to give racing a try.
The future ‘King of the Roads’ had his first race at the age of nineteen. He made his Isle of Man TT debut in 1976 on a 250 Yamaha. The next year he finished tenth in the Junior race and started making a name for himself. After winning the first of his record setting 26 TT victories, Dunlop almost retired in 1980. His mentor Robinson had been killed at the North West 200 and Dunlop decided to cancel all his entries except the TT.
Dunlop persevered and continued to race, winning five consecutive TT Formula 1 World championships from 1982 to 1986. This earned him his King of the Roads title. Dunlop also did well in the Ulster Grand Prix, scoring wins in 1980, 1983 and 1985.
In 1985, Dunlop was involved in a shipwreck when travelling to the Isle of Man. He was aboard a boat called the Tornamona and strong currents pushed the vessel onto St Patrick’s Rock. He and other riders were rescued and Dunlop competed in the TT.
In addition to his successful racing career, Dunlop dedicated himself to giving back to the community. For example, he regularly travelled to Romania to deliver food and resources to orphans. In 1986, he received an OBE for his humanitarian work.
In 2000, Dunlop raced on the Pirita-Kose-Kloostrimetsa circuit in Tallinn, Estonia. He’d been leading the 125 cc race when he lost control of his motorbike and collided with trees, dying instantly. The Estonian government replaced their website with a tribute to Dunlop hours after his death.
Dunlop’s funeral, held at Garryduff Presbyterian church, was attended by fifty thousand people. A statue was built in his honour on the Isle of Man and the ‘Joey Dunlop Cup’ was introduced at the TT. It’s awarded to the most successful overall rider every year.
Dunlop will always be remembered by motorcycle fans for his talent and success. Most of all, he’s remembered for being a decent human being.