Last year as John McGuinness made his final sprint at the 2015 Isle of Man Senior TT, his motorcycle wiggling ever so slightly, my heart rejoiced. And yet, the heart was also a little quiet. With the win, McGuinness had now taken his total TT wins up to 23 trophies. In doing so, he had shaken a fist at the naysayers, the ones who had said he was past his winning prime. And also, just like that he had closed the gap — three more wins to go before he matched the elusive 26 TT wins.
It’s precious, that number 26, revered even. It’s a symbol of one man’s talent and grit, yes. But it is also a testament to his determination to live his dream, to win. It’s synonymous with just one name: Joey Dunlop.
Joey, with his trademark, yellow helmet and a grace under speed, brought to life that one phrase that seems to encapsulate the world of racers – one that no one, barring those who have truly lived it, can truly understand: Racing is life.
This is not a romantic’s view on road racing – there are no rose-coloured glasses. Because within this passion, the one that pushes them through the danger, the pain and injury, is a deep-rooted sense of the self, of what they need to truly live.
Because within the passion lies a strong-willed, single-minded devotion to the one true love of Joey’s life: racing. It is what pushed him, made him a legend.
But underneath the superstar was a quiet, humble man who shied away from the glitz and the glory. Instead, he thrived on his charity work, as he would often load his van with food and clothes for orphans and drive across Europe to Bosnia and Romania.
He once famously said:
“I never really wanted to be a superstar. I just wanted to be myself. I hope people remember me that way.”
And age, well that was just a number. His “swan song” as his son called it in the stunning documentary Road, came with the Isle of Man TT in May 2000. It was the brilliant season, with a picture perfect three wins. He was 48 years old. Joey tragically died a few months later in a race in Estonia.
Today, February 25, is his birthday. He would have been 64. And no matter what the retelling, the heart of Joey’s story and his life will always be about men who look at fear in its face and scream in defiance. His story will always be legendary.