independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

'He knew it would kill him someday'

Wife says Dunlop 'had vision' of accident

Robert Dunlop in pensive mood just hours before his death on Thursday evening

IT was his life, but he knew someday that it would also be his death.

With that poignant message, Louise Dunlop yesterday recalled her husband, road racing great Robert, as she opened her heart about his death.

"He was prepared to accept the risk," she said.

"He had to be in the thick of it himself. That was just his way."

Robert Dunlop (47) died on Thursday evening after suffering fatal chest injuries during a practice session accident at the North West 200 in Portrush.

Witnesses to the 250kmh crash say that Dunlop, a father of three and the current 125cc Irish champion, came over the handlebars of his bike after the machine seized during qualifying for the 250cc event.

"The lights have gone out for us. Nothing will ever be the same," Louise said.

Robert's death is the second tragedy in the Dunlop family in eight years.

His brother, world-renowned racer Joey, died in a similar accident in Estonia in 2000.

Dunlop's other sons, Michael and William, had also been taking part in the North West 200.

It was their dad's favourite track, one "he said he was so looking forward to taking part in".

Heroes

Even his brother's death couldn't deter Robert from taking to his bike and thrilling the dedicated bands of followers who climb the hedgerows in summer to catch a split-second glimpse of their heroes.

"Robert would never give up racing," Louise said. "He loved it and he regarded himself as having been a man with two careers. When he had a major accident in 1994 in the Isle of Man he pulled himself together and decided to race on despite the fact that physically he wasn't the same man."

This weekend's race was the first time Robert had competed at 250cc level since his 1994 accident. However, it was to be his last, ending brutally at the Mather's Cross section of the Portrush track.

"I love horses and I was at the Balmoral Show along with Robert," Louise said. "But he couldn't wait to get away to race at the North West 200.

"It was his life. But at the same time he knew it would eventually kill him.

"It's not being dramatic to say he had a premonition of death. That's not strictly true. But he was aware that the longer he continued to race, the more chance there was of a serious accident."

Mourners thronged the Joey Dunlop Memorial Garden in Ballymoney yesterday, with racing enthusiasts streaming by a bronze statue of the champion racer on the famed Honda VTR SP 1 he rode to victory in the 2000 Isle of Man TT. But it was his brother who was foremost in their thoughts.

Grieving

Robert Dunlop's son, Daniel, one of three children, is serving with the British Army in Afghanistan and is understood to be on his home to join his grieving family.

His father's death comes barely two weeks after Dublin racer Martin Finnegan was killed at the Tandragee event in Armagh on May 3.

At this weekend's North West 200, there is a bucket collection for the Finnegan Fund, which hopes to raise funds for Finnegan's wife and daughter.

The Portrush event is expected to go ahead today, with organisers saying it would be a "fitting tribute" to Robert.

"I spoke to Robert's widow, Louise and sponsors and they have given their support," course clerk Mervyn Whyte said.

The Motorcycling Union of Ireland and the PSNI are to launch separate investigations into the crash.

Mr Dunlop will be buried tomorrow near his brother in Garyduff, Co Antrim.

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