UK news Leslie Moore: Another two years and Joey Dunlop would have bowed out gracefully at 50 last news
MetiNews.Com - Would Joey Dunlop have retired from racing? It is a question that nobody will ever know the answer to as he himself was very much undecided 20 years ago when he was cruelly taken, aged just 48, while racing on that densely wooded road circuit near the Estonian capital Tallinn on Thursday, July 2, 2000.
Breaking News ! "Would Joey Dunlop have retired from racing? It is a question that nobody will ever know the answer to as he himself was very much undecided 20 years ago when he was cruelly taken, aged just 48, while racing on that densely wooded road circuit near the Estonian capital Tallinn on Thursday, July 2, 2000. Had he lived, I think fate would have played a major influence in that final decision, not least the agricultural foot and mouth disease epidemic that forced the cancellation of the 2001 TT and uncertainty over the availability of the best Honda machinery the following year for what would then have been a 50-year-old rider.Sadly, we will never know.I first mentioned retirement to him at the 1996 Scarborough Gold Cup meeting in Yorkshire where he had brought most of his family, including his father Willy after a recent spell in hospital, his sponsors and many friends from his local town of Ballymoney with him.Although Joey was the most successful TT rider with then 21 victories - with 19 of them on Hondas - he was being demoted to the No.3 Honda rider for the 1997 season.Honda Britain only offered Joey the RC45 Honda Superbike that fellow Ulsterman Phillip McCallen had rode to victory in the 1996 Formula One and Senior TT races, while McCallen would receive the more powerful ex-Carl Fogarty World Superbike spec RC45 machine, with English rider Michael Rutter being given the other spare Fogarty RC45.Joey had accepted Honda's decision as he realised that the younger riders (McCallen by 12 years and Rutter by 20) were more physically fit for the heavier Superbike at the time as he was still recovering from a broken collarbone that season.He had thought about retirement, especially from the daunting 37-mile Mountain TT Course, but he dearly wanted to win another Formula One race, a World Championship race he had made famous in the '80s.After his Brands Hatch incident at the start of the '89 season where Joey broke his leg and wrist, he struggled with the bigger machines for the following campaigns and saw Honda draft McCallen into their team. Joey only won one more of the bigger Superbike machine races at the TT after suffering those injuries but still felt he had another big bike victory within him.His spirits lifted at the start of the '97 season when Honda Japan announced that they were sending six of their new Grand Prix 500-twin two-stroke machines to Britain, and Joey immediately requested that one be kept aside for him.Joey, then 45, was excited about the new machine, but it soon became apparent that it wasn't going to become a world beater on the roads. Although he rode the new lighter machine during TT practice, he never raced it competitively.In that year's Formula One race, McCallen gave Honda their 16th consecutive victory and his ninth TT win, with Rutter finishing second on the other hand-built RC45 engine machine.Joey, who was forced to use the standard engine machine of Nick Jefferies after blowing up the ex-McCallen winning engine in practice, was the early leader of the race and recorded his fastest ever TT lap at 122.51mph on the opening lap.Still chasing McCallen hard on the second lap, Joey then lost ground when he accidentally hit the kill-button switch and his pit crew struggled to change the rear wheel, losing over 70 seconds.Joey eventually toured home in sixth position, over three minutes behind winner McCallen.Later in the week, Joey again rode the RC45 machine in the Senior race, but, after a rigorous race week, he struggled home in seventh position with a broken clutch as McCallen won his 10th TT.Whilst Joey didn't have a good TT by his high standards, he won his 22nd TT race and set his fastest ever lap, so why wouldn't he want to return in 12 months?Honda had major plans to celebrate the 50th year of their foundation in 1998 and Joey mentioned to me that it would be an ideal opportunity to bow out of the TT on a high with Honda.He still badly wanted to win another Formula One race but he knew that he needed one of Honda's best competitive machines, which I told him to request from them before he travelled to Australia for his annual winter recuperation.I received a phone call from Joey asking if I would go with him, to which I quickly replied that I wouldn't have time to travel to Australia."No," he said. "Will you come with me to London and speak to Honda Britain?"Joey had organised a return flight for me to spend a couple of hours at Heathrow airport before he flew on to Australia.On the flight I asked him what our thoughts were before meeting the Honda Britain management and it was clear that he only wanted to be given another opportunity to win a big TT race.Honda Britain's Bob McMillan and Dave Hannock met us off the Belfast flight and we travelled over to terminal three where we had a coffee meeting. Joey never spoke and the two Honda bosses didn't know what he was thinking.I started the ball rolling, explaining Joey's situation that he needed one of Honda's best Superbikes to win another Formula One race before he retired.McMillan agreed and said he would request one of the special RC45s from Japan. Hannock (who was a keen McCallen fan) said that they would have to offer McCallen a similar machine, to which I replied that wasn't a problem if Joey had one.Seizing the moment, I also requested a new improved 500-twin for the Senior race and new 125 and 250 machines for the other TT races.
. On his return from Australia, Joey was informed that Honda Japan would send over two of their factory specification RC45 machines for him and McCallen to test at the North West 200, whilst his other new machines were waiting for him in England. Joey was in buoyant mood and so looking forward to that year's TT meeting.Plans for retirement then went out the window after Joey crashed at 120mph along the Cooley Hill Road at the Tandragee 100 meeting, losing his wedding ring finger.He missed the North West 200 and could only ride his smaller 125 and 250 machines at the TT. Incidentally, McCallen crashed out the same weekend at Thruxton and injured his back, which ruled him out of both meetings.The two special RC45 Hondas that were sent over from Japan for them went instead to Rutter and Scotsman Ian Simpson.History shows that they each won one of the two Superbike races at the North West 200, with Simpson winning both the Formula One and Senior TT races. I have no doubt that Joey could have won a TT on those machines that year.Joey's retirement was put on hold and with no Honda celebrations the following year, there were no special machines for him as the bigger capacity R1 Yamaha of David Jefferies won both the Formula One and Senior TT races. By the turn of the new century, Joey was then 48-years-old and could see that racing was changing away from specially built race machines to race-spec road-based machines of which he didn't get enthusiastic about.Hence, for the 2000 TT, Honda pulled out a final one-off again with a little help from myself in providing him with their new SP-1 machine on which he famously won that year's Formula One race.After finishing off one of his most successful TT weeks, with three race victories and setting his fastest ever Mountain Course TT lap at 123.87mph on the final lap of his final race in that day's Senior TT race, Joey set off to the ferry terminal. With the Senior being moved from the Friday to the Saturday, due to poor weather, many people's travel arrangements were rearranged.Whilst I sat waiting in the queue for the delayed ferry to arrive back at Douglas terminal to take us to Belfast, I noticed Joey's van parked outside the gates.I walked over to find Joey with some of his family and friends playing football in the car park. I asked him why he wasn't in the queue, to which he said: "I am not booked onto this ferry, I was supposed to be on last night's ferry but with the Senior being moved to today I had to stay."The ferry operators say that I have to wait outside the gate until they get those booked on and then see if there is any space left for us to squeeze on."That summed up Joey as the man he was.Instead of the most successful TT rider being given a hero's welcome with red carpet treatment and a champagne reception in first class like other sportspeople would normally expect and take for granted, here was Joey Dunlop waiting at the back of the queue at midnight to see if there was a slight chance that he could travel home with his family.As the queue started moving forward, I wished him good luck and said hopefully see you onboard to which he just nodded.Joey made it onboard and walked towards me sitting in the passenger lounge, where he spotted me and gave me the 'nod' to follow him as we found the ship's bar. He was a relieved man in not only getting aboard the ferry but having all the pressure he was under at that week's TT finally lifted.As we ordered our drinks, I asked, 'Is that it then?' as in was that his last TT effort? He said that he didn't know. He had just won three of his five TT races, lapped faster than before and was feeling physically fitter than ever before.Yet he knew that as he left the Isle of Man that night, he had no new Honda Superbike waiting at home for him which was one of the reasons he didn't ride at the following week's Dundrod 150 meeting and instead headed off to Estonia with his old RC45.Looking towards the future that night at sea, Joey knew that Honda would be concentrating on their Fireblade Superbike machine, which didn't win a TT for another six years.The 2001 TT was cancelled due to the foot and mouth epidemic, therefore the next TT to take place was in 2002 by when Joey would have been 50.Joey didn't want to retire but was concerned about the life-changing injuries the experienced Bob Jackson had recently received.I personally think that with no TT in 2001 and with no competitive Honda Superbike on the horizon, plus the demise of his favourite 125 and 250 two-stroke classes, Joey Dunlop would have called it a day on competitive racing in 2001."
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