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Page last updated at 00:22 GMT, Friday, 16 May 2008 01:22 UK

Dunlop death stuns motorcycling

By John Haughey
BBC Northern Ireland


Robert Dunlop
Dunlop survived a major accident on the Isle of Man TT in 1994

After Joey Dunlop's tragic death in 2000, the thought of his brother Robert losing his life in a similar way was the nightmare scenario for motorcycle road racing fans.

However, that awful possibility Northern Ireland bike lovers had tried to banish became a tragic reality at the North West 200 on Thursday evening.

Robert Dunlop's death will shake the sport of road racing to its core.

One recalls his tears as he gave interviews following his brother's death in Estonia in 2000.

Eight years on, Robert has suffered the same fate and Northern Ireland will be bracing itself for more heartbreaking emotion over the coming days.

Dunlop made his debut on the Northern Ireland roads as a teenager in 1979.

606: DEBATE

With Joey and another brother Jim both successful racers, it was little surprise that he followed into a sport which has a particularly passionate following in Northern Ireland.

Dunlop claimed his first major win in the Isle of Man in 1983 when he won the Newcomers 350cc race at the Manx Grand Prix.

The remainder of the 1980s saw him becoming a regular winner on the Northern Ireland road racing scene.

He began a record-breaking winning run at the Cookstown 100 by triumphing in the 250cc race in 1985 and went on to chalk up eight more race wins at the event during his career - including his final victory last month.

1989 proved a hugely successful year as his first Isle of Man TT win (125cc) was followed later in the year by victory at the Macau Grand Prix where those behind him included Phillip McCallen and Steve Hislop.

Further wins in 1990 and 1991 completed a three-in-a-row of 125cc wins at the TT as his reputation in the sport continued to grow.

Robert Dunlop is the record winner at the North West 200
Robert Dunlop after his 15th NW 200 win two years ago

Dunlop was at the top of his game after more successes at the TT and the North West 200 as he headed to the Isle of Man in 1994 but he was to suffer an horrific crash on the island which looked certain to end his career.

The Ballymoney man sustained multiple injuries in the high-speed crash after being thrown from his 750cc Honda RC45.

After two years out of action, he made his return to the saddle at the 1996 Cookstown 100 although such were his injuries that his racing would have to be largely restricted to the 125cc class from then on.

Amazingly, Robert was back in the winner's enclosure in the Isle of Man TT in 1998 as he claimed a memorable 125 triumph.

But two years later his world was thrown into despair as he mourned his beloved brother with 50,000 people from all over the world thronging to Ballymoney to pay their respects to probably the greatest road racer of them all.

Many expected Robert to quit the sport after his brother's death but little over a month later he claimed an emotional ninth victory at the Ulster Grand Prix.

Dunlop continued to be a regular winner in Ireland and the Isle of Man over the next couple of years and his last major international road race win came when he won the 125 event at the North West 200 in 2006.

I am proud of my family name, not just my own achievements

Robert Dunlop speaking back in February

A year earlier, he had become the first rider to be elected to the Irish Racer Magazine Hall of Fame.

Over the last two years, much of his time was devoted to passing on his motorcycling experience to his sons William and Michael who followed their father into competition.

Three months ago, he announced that he would ride a 250cc bike at the North West 200 for the first time since 1994.

"I have won 15 at the North West and Joey won 13 and while the boys have yet to get on the scorecard, hopefully they will take up the mantle in years to come," he said at the time.

"I am proud of my family name, not just my own achievements, and the boys are aware of it too.

"They know their uncle Joey set a very high standard."

Robert also leaves a wife Louise and a third son Daniel.

Their grief will be shared by many.


see also
Dunlop dies after motorbike crash
15 May 08 |  Motorbikes


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