Belfast Telegraph

Liam Beckett: I'm heartbroken and considering my future in road racing after William Dunlop's death

By Liam Beckett MBE in his Sunday Life column

Sometimes sport can be cruel and this past week has to be one of the worst I have ever experienced.

I was born and have grown up in the town of Ballymoney and in my early teenage years I fell in love with motorcycle road racing.

Being from ‘the toon’, it’s virtually impossible not to be an admirer of the Dunlop boys — Joey, Robert, William and Michael — who all went on to be world class pilots, winning countless international road races between them.

So as fate would have it and I suppose at no great surprise, I became actively involved in the racing scene and spent over 20 years helping Robert realise his ability and ambition to climb to the top of his profession.

But although it is a sport I love, when I look back over all those years it most certainly has been something of a roller coaster of emotions.

In the early years, we seemed to have so many highs and so much fun as Robert went on to become a real world class star in the sport of pure motorcycle road racing.

Outside of what was always a very busy schedule, both he and wife Louise somehow managed to rear a family of three young lads — William, Daniel and Michael, all of them a credit to the Dunlop name.

Strange as it may seem, Daniel never really had any interest in motorcycles and went on to choose a different career. But William and Michael had the road race bug from a very early age and, together with their own unique ability allied to the expertise and guidance of the master that was their dad Robert, both of them also went on to become international stars.

But, as with all high speed and high risk sports, there are serious dangers involved and if something goes wrong it can be very unforgiving.

Eighteen years ago, the greatest pure road racer of all time, Joey Dunlop, paid the ultimate price when he was killed in action in a road race at Tallin in Estonia.

Many back then felt that the remaining members of that famous Dunlop dynasty would hang their leathers up and call it a day, but alas, those are the people who really don’t know the family properly and who don’t quite understand that racing motorcycles is very much a major part of the Dunlop DNA.

Then, just over 10 years ago, Robert, who had become like a younger brother of mine, also lost his life in a crash during practice at the 2008 North West 200.

Like so many others, I took Robert’s passing very badly and I do admit that at times back then I even questioned my own sanity being involved in a sport which, quick as a flash, could deliver so many unfair and cruel life changing consequences.

But even though both lads had just lost the dad they adored, Robert’s two road racing sons, William and Michael, still chose to continue in the sport and so my decision to stay was made that little bit easier for me.

For their mum and late dad’s sake, it would have been wrong for me to turn my back on the sport these lads love and adore. I felt duty bound to be about.

However last weekend the unthinkable happened when one of the sport’s smoothest and most stylish operators, William Dunlop, also lost his life in a high speed practice crash at the Skerries Road Races in Dublin.

I don’t know if I’m getting old or soft, or perhaps both, but without doubt this is the heaviest my heart has felt for many years.

I am still numb and feel sick to the pit of my stomach, and neither am I too proud or vain enough to admit that I think I’ve no tears left to cry, I am quite simply heartbroken since William’s death.

Any sporting death is deeply regrettable, but the loss of young William has really knocked me for six and it’s a bitter pill to try and swallow.

At only 32 years of age, he was in many ways just like a son to me, I was there for his birth and I was here for his departure, and that’s not the way it should be.

Everybody loved William, not just his or my family but everybody who ever had the good fortune to meet him. I swear to God, I never ever heard one person have a bad word to say about this quiet and so loveable kid.

It’s for all these reasons that I will now have to give my future in the sport very careful consideration, I’m human and I just don’t know how much more of this my heart can take.

If it wasn’t for my love, admiration and respect for all the people involved in road racing, I’d walk away tomorrow, but these people are the salt of the earth and the best sporting family on this planet.

Road racing will continue and the people involved must always be given the freedom of choice, but whether I can still be a part of it from here on in is still in the balance.

I will take a few weeks out and speak with my family and close friends before I come to a decision.

The loss of William has triggered a switch in my head which has left me with a strange mix of emotions. One half of me is desperately sad and the other half of me is angry.

I am angry with the sport I love for robbing me of William’s company for the rest of my life and it’s not fair. A lovely young man, just starting his own family and building a home and a future for them all, is now gone and it’s such a waste.

God bless William’s family and many friends, we will all miss the most likeable and popular rider in the paddock — and I mean that!

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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