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(UK) Sunday Times, 18 July 2004


Former world superbikes champion Carl Fogerty on
Joey Dunlop

In 1977, when I was 12, I saw my dad finish second in the Isle of Man TT, the best he ever did. He was beaten by Joey Dunlop. I admired Joey -he didn't care about his appearance or what anybody thought, and he didn't do what you're supposed to do when you become successful: do the PR and please your sponsors.

The Isle of Man was my second home when I was growing up. I have not been back for nearly 10 years, but I knew every street and every hotel. When I watched the TT, I felt no fear for Joey. Now I look back and think what a scary, dangerous place it was, but at the time it was the safest place in the world for me. I was blinkered as to how dangerous it was until I'd won it. Then I changed. I went back, but I didn't feel as comfortable, although I went on to break the lap record. When I was up and coming, my dad would always tell me I had to think about how I presented myself. I'd say, 'Well, Joey didn't.' He had no answer to that. In fact, I was very like Joey in the early 1980s. I was a shy guy who didn't want the attention. Like Joey, I dressed how I wanted to dress, and when my dad spoke to him, I'd be in the background, shying away. I was such a shy kid, I really was, but in 1988 we rode in the same series: the TT Formula One world championship series, as it was called then. I spent time with Joey and got to know him. We were both quietly spoken, so, as you can imagine, the conversations weren't exactly much. Then my career went on a different path and tie continued on road circuits.

You couldn't say a bad word about him; he was such a nice guy. He did things his own way. He liked to drink, he smoked, he did everything you weren't supposed to, but people looked up to him and loved him for that. He was the ordinary Belfast guy who was idolised because of how good he was. When I spoke to him, I had to concentrate so hard because I couldn't understand a word he was saying. Of all the Irish people I know, Joey had the most impenetrable accent. Oh, I used to get right mad. I'd nudge his mechanic and ask, 'What did he say?' But he wouldn't know either. During that season, I remember him and a friend driving to Sicily for a race. The back of his van was full of tins of soup and baked beans. He did a lot of charity work, too, He would drive all over Europe in that van. He'd just set off and drive to Romania to help the orphans there. I can't imagine what the Romanians made of him. They probably looked bewildered and waved him on, not believing he'd come all that way with just a van.

Joey stayed the same, but it was strange how I changed. I went from being someone like him to completely the opposite: confident, mouthy, arrogant and outspoken. Everything Joey wasn't, I became. Even so, the public needs somebody like I was in racing, like John McEnroe was in tennis, Ayrton Senna in motor racing or Roy Keane in football: the guy who gives 110%, who's not afraid to say what's what, and who wants to win. I don't see that around at all in bikes at the moment, certainly not in Britain, anyway. I'm not sad, though. I don't want a successor. Not yet, anyway. These days, I seem to be more well known and popular than ever, although I've not raced for four years. I didn't really notice it when I was racing. Now, every day of my life I get recognised and I get so many people saying I'm their hero. It's great, but for a second you're embarrassed and don't know where to look.

If I lived in London, I probably would have got big-headed and carried away with all the nightlife and the superstar stuff. Blackburn, where I'm from, is a sleepy, quiet town. Not much happens there really.

After 1988, I went on to the short circuit world of world championship racing and I hardly ever saw Joey, only at bike shows. He'd just nod and say hello. He was his own person, different, and he was not easy to talk to, because he was so quiet. To be honest, I can't actually remember the last time I saw him, but in 2000, I was at home recovering from the accident which would force me to retire when I had a phone call from somebody at Honda to say that Joey had died, I wouldn't say I was surprised. I was worried that this might happen, because he just kept going on and on and on. He'd just won the TT again, and he was 48. At that moment, I'd thought, 'Get off the bike now, Joey, and don't get on again. Just stop.' Next thing I know, he'd gone to Estonia, doing some Mickey Mouse race, probably because he'd promised a mate he would go. That's where he got killed. But that was Joey. He didn't care what anybody else thought. He was completely different from anybody else I've ever met, to be honest.

Interview by John Aizlewood
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