Belfast Telegraph

William Dunlop: A dynasty with road racing in the blood... but success has come at a terrible price

 

By Laurence White

In 1977 four friends from north Antrim became known as the Armoy Armada. They were motorcycle racing fanatics, their skills honed in part by riding around the back roads of their home village.

Their names were Joey Dunlop, perhaps the most famous rider ever to throw a leg over a motorcycle in Northern Ireland, his younger brother Jim, his brother-in-law Mervyn Robinson and friend Frank Kennedy.

Brothers Robert and Joey Dunlop
Brothers Robert and Joey Dunlop
William aged 16 with his father Robert. William rode his dad's 125cc Honda for his first taste of racing
William Dunlop and his partner Janine
William and Janine at their home with daughter Ella
Robert Dunlop with sons Michael and William
Joey Dunlop died in 2000
Robert Dunlop died in 2008
William Dunlop (right) with brother Michael (left) and mother Louise after their father, road racing champion Robert (second from left) is made a Freeman of the Borough of Ballymoney, his home town

Within three years, two of them were dead after crashes at the North West 200 races: Frank in 1979 and Mervyn the following year.

Joey died in 2000 at a race in Estonia. Jim is the only survivor, having retired from the sport.

It seemed the Grim Reaper had a personal grudge against the Dunlops. In 2008 Joey's youngest brother, Robert, who had come to the sport later, died on the North West track, and, just two days ago, Robert's son, William (32), was killed in a crash during practice at the Skerries meeting outside Dublin - a circuit he had won at numerous times.

There is scarcely a road race circuit where locals cannot point out where some rider has died.

To say it is a dangerous sport - no matter how many improvements are made - is a huge understatement.

Riders top speeds of 200mph as they hurtle between stone walls, telegraph poles, trees and other natural hazards. These circuits can never really be safe.

So why do people like William Dunlop - and his brother Michael who was also competing at the Skerries track on Saturday - continue to race?

He gave probably the most candid explanation when interviewed for a film made about his famous father and uncle. "Most definitely we are selfish," he said. "It's a great life being on the edge all the time. I don't care; I guess that's what it is."

Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on sunday for road racer William Dunlop
Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on sunday for road racer William Dunlop Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 09/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on Monday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 09/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on Monday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 09/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on Monday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 09/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on Monday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 09/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on Monday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 09/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on Monday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 09/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on Monday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 09/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on Monday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 09/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on Monday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 09/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on Monday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 09/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on Monday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 09/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on Monday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 09/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on Monday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 09/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on Monday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 09/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on Monday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on Monday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 09/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on Monday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 09/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on Monday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Flowers left in the Dunlop Memorial Gardens in Ballymoney for road racer William Dunlop who died following a crash during practice for the Skerries 100 race in Fingal, County Dublin. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Flowers left in the Dunlop Memorial Gardens in Ballymoney for road racer William Dunlop who died following a crash during practice for the Skerries 100 race in Fingal, County Dublin. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Flowers left in the Dunlop Memorial Gardens in Ballymoney for road racer William Dunlop who died following a crash during practice for the Skerries 100 race in Fingal, County Dublin.
Flowers left in the Dunlop Memorial Gardens in Ballymoney for road racer William Dunlop who died following a crash during practice for the Skerries 100 race in Fingal, County Dublin. Flowers were left for the 32-year-old from Ballymoney at a memorial for his father Robert who also died during a road race in 2008. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on sunday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on sunday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on sunday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on sunday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on sunday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on sunday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 8/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on sunday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 8/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on sunday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 8/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on sunday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 8/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on sunday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 8/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on sunday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 8/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on sunday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 8/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on sunday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 8/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on sunday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 8/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on sunday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 8/07/2018 Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on sunday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Flowers left at the Dunlop Memorial garden in Ballymoney on sunday for road racer William Dunlop, Who was killed during practice event on Saturday at Skerries. William's legendary uncle Joey Dunlop died in 2000 whilst racing in Tallinn, Estonia and just eight years later tragedy struck again when his father Robert was killed during a practice session at the North West 200. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

But there are those who care desperately about their men - they are the partners, the wives, mothers and grandmothers.

William recognised that family means more than even racing when earlier this year he left the TT races on the Isle of Man to come back home to his pregnant partner, Janine. A scan at 20 weeks had caused great concern and William knew he had to be by her side.

The health scare, which fortunately was resolved satisfactorily, made him even reconsider his future in the sport but, sadly, didn't make him end his participation.

In that same interview about the film, he said: "Maybe if I had a kid that might change me. But I can't see it."

He and Janine had a daughter, Ella, and another child on the way. But William didn't change as he suspected and now there are women left to grieve for him.

There is his mum, Louise, who will now follow the funeral cortege of a loved one taken in tragic circumstances for the third time - brother-in-law, husband and son. Then there is Granny May Dunlop who has lost two of her three sons and a grandson to racing accidents.

They know too well the dangers of road racing, but even they could not have expected to endure such hardship, such sorrow and such life-changing events delivered in a trice and often when least expected.

That was very much the case when Joey lost his life.

Michael Dunlop in his best-selling book 'Road Racer: It's In My Blood', described Joey as The Man. He was the racer who never crashed, who never had any of those hairy moments that every other rider has and who never made mistakes.

PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 23/8/2017: William Dunlop on the start line for practice at the Classic TT.
PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 23/8/2017: William Dunlop on the start line for practice at the Classic TT. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
William Dunlop racing during practice at Skerries today. Pacemaker
William Dunlop racing during practice at Skerries today. PACEMAKEER BELFAST 07/07/2018
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 7/7/2018: William Dunlop in action on the Temple Golf Club Yamaha during practice for the Skerries 100 today. William died in crash during the session. PICTURE BY DEREK WILSON
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 7/7/2018: Gardai at the scene where William Dunlop suffered a fatal crash during practice for the Skerries 100 today.
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 9th May 2017 Vauxhall International North West 200 practice sessions. Pictured: Paul Jordan and William Dunlop. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Northern Ireland- 13th August 2014 Mandatory Credit - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com William Dunlop in action on board his superbike at practice for the Dundrod 150 and Ulster Grand Prix road races.
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 2010: Michael and William Dunlop in their father Robert's Memorial Garden in Ballymoney, Co. Antrim. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 20/3/2017: William Dunlop with his Caffrey International R6 Yamaha he will race in the Supersport class in 2017. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 25/8/2017: Michael and William Dunlop at Classic TT practice tonight. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 17/5/2014: William Dunlop celebrates after winning the opening Superbike race at the Vauxhall International North West 200. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
William Dunlop and his partner Janine arrive at the Adelaide Motorcycle Awards in Belfast in 2014. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 17/1/2014.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 03/06/13: Brothers Michael (MD Racing Honda) and William Dunlop (Milwaukee Yamaha) in the winners enclosure after finishing first and third in the opening Monster Energy supersport race on his MD Racing Honda at the 2013 Isle of Man TT PHOTO BY STEPHEN DAVISON/PACEMAKER
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 23/1/2015: That's my boy! William Dunlop, winner of the Race of the Year category at the Adelaide Motorbike awards with his mother Louise. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
William Dunlop at the Armoy Road Races in 2016. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th April 2017 Cookstown 100 Road Races. Pictured: William Dunlop. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 1/5/2015: William Dunlop during Tandragee 100 practice. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER BELFAST 12/05/2015 William Dunlop (Tyco BMW Motorrad Racing) during Tuesday's practice for the North West 200 Road races. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 24/7/2015: William Dunlop (CD Racing Yamaha) celebrates winning the opening 600cc race at the Armoy road races on Friday evening. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 30th May 2017 Isle of Man TT Practice Week Pictured: William Dunlop. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Mandatory Credit: Rowland White / PressEye Motor Cycling: Tandragee 100 Venue: Tandragee Date: 1st May 2015 Caption: William Dunlop
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 10th August 2016 Practice sessions for the Plant Lubrication Dundrod 150 and the MCE Insurance Ulster Grand Prix get underway. Pictured: William Dunlop. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 12th May 2017 Vauxhall International North West 200 Pictured: William Dunlop with fans. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 07th June 2017 Isle of Man TT RL360 Quantum Superstock Race Pictured: William Dunlop. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 10th August 2017 Dundrod 150 Gym Co Ultralightweight / Lightweight Race Pictured: Paul Jordan and William Dunlop. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 09th August 2017 Ulster Grand Prix & Dundrod 150 Practice Pictured: William Dunlop. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Mandatory Credit: Rowland White PressEye Road Racing: Cooktown 100 Venue: Orritor Date: 30th April 2016 Race: Supersport 2 Caption: William Dunlop celebrates
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland- 3rd June 2013 Mandatory Credit - Brian Little/ Presseye William Dunlop (Milwaukee Yamaha) at Creg-Ny-Baa during Monday's Royan London 360 Superstock Race over the Mountain Course during the IOM TT 2013.
Northern Ireland- 13th May 2014 Mandatory Credit - Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Tuesday practice. William Dunlop Tyco.
©Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland 26th April 2013 - Mandatory Credit - Picture by Matt Mackey/presseye.com Cookstown 100 road races practice evening. Ballymoney rider William Dunlop.
PACEMAKER BELFAST, 9/5/2006: Robert Dunlop is the most successful rider in the history of the North West 200 with 14 wins and as he goes for win 15 in 2006 he will have strong competition from his own sons Michael and William. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER, BELFAST,2007: The Dunlop family enjoyed a winning day at teh Mid Antrim 150 with Michael, Dad Robert and William all winning a race apiece. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 2008: Robert Dunlop and his three sons Daniel, Michael and William. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON

But whatever happened on that July 2, 2000 - the crash occurred on a part of the track in Estonia where there were few spectators - Joey's bike left the road and hit some of the pine trees lining the route. Joey had parted company with the bike and hit another tree, dying instantly.

Joey's wife Linda was later to recall: "When it happens to some other racing wife you wonder how they can cope. You have the worry at the TT - if they break down and go missing for a few minutes you feel sick. This year, with him winning the three (races), you get back home and think that's your worry over for the year.

"You can be angry now, but you can't be angry for the past 30 years, because the past was good. Joey picked his sport. Unfortunately it took his life, but it gave him and us 30 great years. What makes me really angry is people who try to use his death to destroy the sport he loved."

Joey really shouldn't have been in Estonia but had gone there after a close friend had taken his own life. A famously quiet, self-contained man, Joey didn't want to spend time answering questions about his pal's death so, according to friends, he just took himself off.

He had actually won two races at the track before the fatal third one.

Joey was also renowned for his charitable work, gaining an OBE in recognition of it, and spent many long days driving donations to Romania. He thought nothing of jumping in his van and driving across the continent, either to races or for charitable work. And he spent his last night alive sleeping across the front seats of his trusty vehicle, even though an hotel room was available for him. He was just that kind of man.

In a poll to mark the 20th anniversary of this newspaper's annual sports awards, Joey was hailed as Northern Ireland's greatest ever sports star, with George Best in second place and Rory McIlroy third.

Indeed his funeral attracted one of the largest turnouts ever seen in the province. The motorway leading from the docks was black with motorcycles on the days leading up to the ceremony as bikers from throughout the UK and Europe made their way to Ballymoney where he is buried.

Robert, who was eight years younger than Joey, idolised his big brother and decided to follow in his tyre tracks. His son Michael in his book said part of the impetus was the craic. He was as extrovert as Joey was quiet and would often be at the centre of the good times.

But he was also a very talented rider and like all road racers as brave as they come.

In 1994 Robert had a serious crash on the Isle of Man TT circuit which left him with a mangled arm and a shortened leg. Many thought the incident, which was captured on film, would end his career.

Even William wondered why he returned to the sport but then he realised: "It's a drug which is why my dad couldn't walk away, even when he'd had these bad injuries - he wasn't the rider he used to be. At the time I thought 'why are you doing this' but now I understand."

Robert lost his life at the North West 200 races on May 15, 2008, during a practice session. One of the first on the scene was his son, Michael.

He wrote: "The man lying next to the broken bike is my dad. And he is not moving.

"I screamed to a halt, threw my bike against a bale of hay and ran over to my dad. He was alone. There was no one with him yet. But at least he was alive.

"I was watching my dad die. I just didn't know it.

"Everyone thinks their dad is unbreakable. I knew mine was. He'd tried enough times. The man was Robocop, no question. As bad as he looked on the ground - and there was blood everywhere - I was convinced he'd pull through. He always did."

But not this time.

The following night William spent hours tinkering in the garage in an attempt to make sure his bike was in first-class condition for the race he, his dad and brother Michael had been due to race in. He wanted to win in tribute to his dad.

Sadly for him his bike never got off the grid, but to huge cheers around the circuit Michael won the race.

When the trio had set off for the North West that year, Robert had said that a Dunlop would win that race. He was right, but no one could have foreseen the circumstances.

The racecourse where William lost his life, Skerries, was where Dr John Hinds, one of the two doctors who gave medical cover at road races throughout Ireland, also died when his bike crashed in July 2015.

It had been his long term wish that a flying ambulance service be established in the province and that has now come true. Only last weekend it was scrambled to an accident on the M2 motorway which was closed to allow the helicopter to land and doctors to attend to the injured.

William had won 15 times around the Skerries circuit since beginning racing in 2000. He was on his third practice lap of the 2.9 mile circuit when he crashed at the Sam's Tunnel section on Saturday.

He was once quoted as saying: "You think it is never going to happen to you - you're always going to be the one who gets away with it."

Not, it seems, if your name is Dunlop, probably the most successful dynasty ever to grace motorcycle racing. But success that has been accompanied by tragedy.

Their unique tally of achievements

Joey Dunlop:

● Five consecutive TT Formula One world championships

● A record 26 Isle of Man TT wins

● 24 Ulster Grand Prix (UGP) victories

● 13 North West 200 victories

Robert Dunlop:

● Five Isle of Man TT victories

● 15 NW200 wins

● 9 UGP wins

William Dunlop:

● 3 NW200 wins

● 7 Ulster Grand Prix victories

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