William Joseph Dunlop OBE, Northern Irish motorcyclist, is born in Armoy, County Antrim, near Ballymoney, on February 25, 1952. His achievements include three hat-tricks at the Isle of Man TT meeting (1985, 1988 and 2000), where he wins a record 26 races in total. A curve at the 26th milestone on the Isle of Man is named in his honour. During his career he won the Ulster Grand Prix 24 times.
Dunlop marries on September 22, 1972 at the Ballymoney register office. He is the proprietor of a pub in Ballymoney and is highly superstitious, always wearing a red T-shirt and his yellow crash helmet when racing. He is presented with the Freedom of the Borough by Ballymoney Council in 1993.
Dunlop helps orphans in the Balkans, driving a van loaded with supplies to orphanages in Romania, Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina before the annual racing season begins. In 1996, he receives an OBE for his humanitarian work.
On the night of May 23, 1985, Dunlop is traveling from Northern Ireland to the Isle of Man for the annual TT races by sea, onboard the Tornamona, a former fishing boat. The vessel departs from Strangford, County Down with Dunlop, other riders, racing bikes and equipment onboard. Strong currents into Strangford Lough push the Tornamona onto St. Patrick’s Rock where her rudder breaks off in a crevice. The boat sinks and all 13 passengers and crew are rescued by the Portaferry Lifeboat. The bikes are later recovered by divers.
In 1986, Dunlop wins a fifth consecutive TT Formula One world title. Initially based on one race at the Isle of Man TT after the loss of World Championship status from 1977-onwards and organised by the Auto-Cycle Union, the title is eventually expanded to take in more rounds in other countries.
Dunlop is awarded the MBE in 1986 for his services to the sport. He is featured in three documentary films regarding his career: V Four Victory (1983), Joey – The Man Who Conquered the TT (2013) and Road (2014).
Dunlop wins his third hat trick at the Isle of Man TT in 2000 and sets his fastest lap on the course of 123.87 mph in the Senior race, in which he finishes third.
Dunlop dies in Tallinn, Estonia, on July 2, 2000 while leading a 125cc race on the Pirita-Kose-Kloostrimetsa Circuit. He appears to lose control of his bike in the wet conditions and dies instantly on impact with trees. As a mark of respect, the Estonian government’s official website is replaced with a tribute to Dunlop within hours of his death. Northern Ireland television carries live coverage of his funeral. Fifty thousand mourners, including bikers from all parts of Britain and Ireland and people from all backgrounds in Northern Ireland, attend the funeral procession to Garryduff Presbyterian church and his burial in the adjoining graveyard.
Following Dunlop’s death, the Leisure Centre in his hometown of Ballymoney is renamed from the Riada Centre to the Joey Dunlop Leisure Centre. Also, a memorial statue is erected in his hometown. The Joey Dunlop Foundation is initiated, a charity that provides appropriate accommodation for disabled visitors to the Isle of Man. In 2001, the Joey Dunlop Memorial Garden is established in the Dunlop family’s hometown, and in 2010 the tribute is extended to include the Robert Dunlop Memorial Garden to honour Joey’s late brother, Robert Dunlop.
The most successful overall rider at the annual TT races is awarded the “Joey Dunlop Cup.” On the Isle of Man, a statue of Dunlop astride a Honda overlooks the Bungalow Bend at Snaefell and the 26th Milestone area of the TT course is named “Joey’s.” A memorial stone is installed at the crash site in Tallinn as well. Irish publishers the O’Brien Press produces a full-colour pictorial tribute to Dunlop following his death. Northern Ireland band Therapy? records a song in memory of Dunlop called “Joey.” It appears on the album Shameless, released in 2001.
On January 30, 2015, Dunlop is voted Northern Ireland’s greatest sports star by readers of the Belfast Telegraph newspaper. In 2016 he is voted through Motorcycle News as the fifth greatest motorcycling icon ever, behind Valentino Rossi.