Thursday, July 3, 2014

A one-day belated nod to Joey Dunlop

I missed the 14th anniversary of Joey Dunlop's death yesterday, so here's a one-day belated nod to the greatest 'real roads' racer of my time. I count myself lucky to have witnessed his 26th and final TT win, at the 2000 Senior.

Not long after, fans found themselves asking, "Where the fuck is Talinn?"

The answer is, in Estonia. You may be excused for asking, "Where's Estonia?" too. Even I had to double check and confirm that it's one of the Baltic states (along with Latvia and Lithuania) just west of St. Petersburg, Russia and just south (across the Bay of Finland) from Finland.

Anyway, Talinn is definitely not nowheresville. It's the capital of Estonia and its medieval 'old town' is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Talinn was the site of a fairly big road race, dating back to the 1930s. The 6+ kilometer 'Pirita' course began near the old Pirita convent, which gave it it's name. Originally, it was a mix of asphalt and sand. Much of the course ran through a forest, and racers never knew when a spectator would dart out of the trees to cross the road.

Interestingly, the course was not far--as the gull flies, across the Baltic Sea--from the Turku GP track in Finland, which was another rough and ready circuit.

Estonia fell into the Soviet orbit after WWII, and the course was used for the Soviet championship. (If I spoke Russian, there'd be a great book in the Soviet championship, I'm sure.) In 1963, it was slightly shortened and the start-finish line and pits were moved.

It was like Joey, to load up his van with a few race bikes and drive across Europe to comparatively obscure race meetings, and he had competed at Talinn before. In 2000, he won 600 and 750cc races before the 125cc race, which took place in the rain. He was killed when he crashed his RS125 into the forest.

Within hours, the Estonian Government web site was replaced with a tribute to Dunlop and, later, a marble memorial was placed at the scene of his crash. The course was used until 2006. The road surface is now considered too degraded for racing.

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