Twenty years ago this coming Thursday, July 2, the Northern Ireland community and motorcycle racing world at large reeled in shock as news of the death of Joey Dunlop shattered the peace of a quiet Sunday afternoon and his close family and friends forever. He was aged just 48.
To this day there remains disbelief that one of the all-time greats of his sport could be taken in a meaningless 125 race which Joey had entered for fun while on one of his regular 'mercy missions', delivering food, clothing and toys to orphaned children in the Baltic state of Estonia.
Sadly, Joey came to grief as his little machine left the road and collided with a tree on the densely forested circuit, just outside the capital Tallinn.
A stone memorial, with permanently lit votive candles, marks the spot and has become a place of pilgrimage for his many thousands of fans.
For a quiet, private man who mainly kept himself to himself, as they would say in his native Ballymoney, Joey was universally loved inside and outside the sport.
His funeral the following week at Garryduff Presbyterian Church was one of the biggest ever seen in a country well used to such processions and a testament to his popularity, achievements and the esteem in which he was held.
Sadly, his brother Robert and nephew William were in later years to follow him down the same country road to their final resting place, also the result of racing accidents.
Still the Dunlop dynasty and legend lives on with William's brother Michael and Joey's son Gary keeping the family name on the front row of the grid.
It is often said that road racing is in the Dunlop DNA and Joey was certainly a natural as he raced to incredible success, here at home and around the world.
Just look at his track record… five-time TT F1 world champion, a record 26-time winner around the torturous 37-and-a-half-mile Isle of Man Mountain Circuit, a record 24-time Ulster Grand Prix winner and 13-time winner at the North West 200, and holder of the MBE and OBE honours.
Yet he didn't take a serious interest in racing until his teens when his sister Helen started dating and eventually married Mervyn Robinson, who had been racing for about a year.
Tragically, Mervyn was also to lose his life in a North West 200 crash in 1980, leading Joey to question his own involvement for a time. Mervyn's son and Joey's nephew Paul was trackside as a child that fateful day and he, too, went on to become a North West winner, laying his 2010 laurels on his father's grave.
Triumph and tragedy forever entwined.
Born on February 25, 1952, William Joseph Dunlop had, from an early age, shown a keen interest in working at engines, first as an apprentice diesel fitter for Danny McCooke in his coal yard in Ballymoney while also helping out Robinson and another local rider, Frank Kennedy, with racing preparations, normally going on into the wee small hours, all knowledgeable mechanics who could take apart an engine and rebuild it in their own, quiet meticulous way.
Frank, too, lost his life after a North West accident and is commemorated, as part of the fabled Armoy Armada, in the present-day Armoy Road Races.
Those mechanical skills were something that Joey carried with him throughout his career, working away quietly on his machines in the back of a van or on the grass in the paddocks, even when he joined the mighty Japanese manufacturer Honda.
Armoy garage owner Hugh O'Kane said of Mervyn and Joey: "They were honours graduates in the school of experience, self-gained knowledge they never forgot."
Joey made an inauspicious racing debut at Maghaberry Airfield, where the prison now stands, in 1969 at 17 years of age having obtained written permission to race from his father Willie as he was under the MCUI age limit.
A Triumph Cub, a 200cc Suzuki and then a 350cc Aermacchi, bought by McCooke, were the early mounts for Dunlop, as he began to make an impression on the results sheets and catch the eye of leading sponsors.
Joey's first big break came in 1975 when he teamed up with John Rea and his brothers Martin and Noel. Martin and Noel eventually began to back Joey's brother Jim while John became Joey's exclusive sponsor, a partnership that became a long-lasting friendship that helped take Joey to the next level and until John's death in 1993.
This was in the days of the Armoy Armada versus the Dromara Destroyers battles, setting the roads and short circuits alight with spectacular racing - Joey, Mervyn, Frank Kennedy and Jim Dunlop against Ian McGregor, Ray McCullough, Brian Reid and Trevor Steele in the 1970s.
Joey travelled everywhere in Ireland, the Isle of Man and England to add to his knowledge and on his TT debut in 1976, not having taken the traditional Manx Grand Prix route, he finished 16th and 18th in the Junior and Senior events.
A year later he took his first TT victory in the 50th Anniversary Schweppes Classic race riding John's 700cc Yamsel on treaded tyres as it was classed as a national race. In fact, he stopped in Parliament Square in Ramsey on his final lap to check his race tyre before his final climb up the Mountain and then down to the chequered flag.
Joey, on his Rea Yamahas, was a prolific winner on the home circuits, racing to the prestigious Embassy Championship in 1977 and '78, finishing fourth in 1974, second in 1975 and third in 1976 in some fantastic dices with the likes of Ray McCullough, Abe Alexander, Robinson, Courtney Junk, Adrian Craig, Noel Hudson and Conor McGinn.
On the Irish roads, national and internationals, Joey amassed some 156 victories between 1971 and 2000, since being overtaken by Ryan Farquhar on 211 wins.
Interestingly, third and fourth on that list come Robert Dunlop (135) and William Dunlop (119) while Michael is seventh on 104.
Joey's breakthrough year at the TT was in 1980 when he won what was the Classic race for the second time riding the 750cc Rea Yamaha, this time outfoxing the Hondas of Mick Grant and Ron Haslam by fitting an oversize 32-litre tank to his machine so he could match the single fuel stop of the factory machines to win and set a new lap record of 115.22mph.
He was immediately snapped up by Suzuki to help Graeme Crosby win the TT F1 World Championship introduced to the TT after the FIM removed their Grand Prix status.
The deciding race was the Ulster Grand Prix and in a memorable race Joey obliterated the field in the early stages, slowing down near the end to let Crosby win the race and the title.
In a shrewd move, Honda Britain stepped in ahead of Suzuki to sign Joey for 1981 to spearhead their four-stroke TT F1 efforts - and the rest is history, Joey winning five successive TT F1 World Championships between 1982 and '86, finishing runner-up in 1987 and '88 and runner-up in the 1990 FIM TT Cup.
He remained a Honda rider until his death in 2000, making him the Japanese factory's longest-serving rider and a global ambassador for both Northern Ireland, road racing and Honda.
However, it wasn't all plain sailing, if you'll excuse the pun. On May 25, 1985, Joey and Robert, travelling with 10 others, set sail, as they had done every year since Joey won the 1980 Classic TT, from Portaferry on the fishing boat Tornamona bound for the Isle of Man. Close to the exit of Strangford Lough entering the open sea, the boat turned on a huge swell and was thrown onto rocks.
Luckily, Joey and the passengers were able to abandon ship into dinghies before it sunk with a number of expensive motorcycles to be raced at the TT still on board.
The 'adventure' didn't deter Joey as he raced to a TT treble, the first since Mike Hailwood in 1961 and 1967.
All this after Joey had threatened to quit the sport following the death of Mervyn Robinson following a crash at Mathers Cross during the 1980 North West 200.
The 1986 Dutch round of the Championship, which Joey won, saw him, Neil Robinson and photographer Derek McIntyre travelling in a car after celebrations with others which crashed off the Assen track and ended up in a ditch. The three of them received a few bumps, bruises and several stitches.
After the 1986 World Championship success, his Rothmans Honda Britain team announced they were pulling out of the series. Thankfully Joey's manager and PR guru David Wood put the wheels in motion and HRC (Honda Racing Corporation) in Tokyo, Japan said they would compete in all 1987 World Championship rounds with Joey as their rider.
Chasing his sixth world title, we all remember the UGP fiasco with Italy's Virginio Ferrari practicing then refusing to race because he thought Dundrod was too dangerous, then the tragic death of Klaus Klein on the second lap of the F1 race that arguably never should have started due to horrendous weather conditions.
The race was abandoned and in the final points tally, Joey lost the Championship by three points to the Italian.
He never won the title again. Carl Fogarty won in 1988 and then Joey suffered a bad injury after a crash at Brands Hatch on Good Friday 1989 and missed most of the season, although he did ride in the UGP round and finished 20th.
F1 was dropped for 1990 with World Superbikes now the favoured World Championship.
Continuing to race under the Honda banner, Joey still loved and enjoyed his racing, winning at the Southern 100, TT and here at home including the final TT hat-trick a few weeks before he lost his life.
Joey was no slouch either when it came to winning short circuit races, being the first winner of the Sunflower Trophy races at Aghadowey in 1977 and '78. He won both legs of the inaugural Neil Robinson Memorial Trophy races at Kirkistown in 1987, he was Ulster 350cc short circuit champion four years running 1974-1977, was Mondello Park Race of the Year winner in 1982 and '83, Monarch of Mondello 1975 and '76, and he won the prestigious Hutchinson Trophy at Mondello five times - 1975-77 then in 1983-84.
In fact, the only major trophy Joey never won was the Enkalon Trophy race, but he did have his name on the Antrim-based club's Irish Motorcyclist of the Year Trophy no fewer than eight times.
Joey wasn't always a home bird, racing in the Macau Grand Prix in the Far East where he finished third in 1982 and second in '83. He raced in South Africa alongside friend Ron Haslam, his TT F1 exploits taking him all around the world to Japan, where he also raced in the famous Suzuka 8-hour race, and throughout Europe.
Joey was always down-to-earth, never seeking the headlines or the publicity even when he became world champion. In fact, he shied away from the limelight when he could. Then there were his single-handed trips into Eastern Europe, sleeping in the van in freezing mid-winter while delivering food and clothes to poverty-stricken children in Romania and Poland.
His likes will never be seen again, with the old saying when they made Joey Dunlop, they threw away the mould certainly not exaggerated.