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LAP OF HONOUR; Friends plan epic 3,000 mile journey to Estonian orphanages in memory of shy racing champ Joey.

Byline: NICOLA TALLANT

KING of the road Joey Dunlop was an unwilling celebrity who craved privacy.

A new documentary reveals how the racing champ always yearned to be out of the limelight.

His desire to escape took him, for up to two weeks at a time, across Eastern Europe, alone, in a Transit van.

The new film documents how big-hearted father-of-five Dunlop, who died during a road race in Estonia three years ago, risked his own safety transporting aid to impoverished orphanages in the Balkan countries he grew to love.

"The Last Lap" follows a group of friends and motorcycle fans called the Lost Riders who embarked on a 3,000-mile road trip from Ireland to Estonia in the footsteps of Dunlop.

The fly-on-the-wall style docu- mentary discovers how, even on racing tournaments, loner Dunlop lived on beans and cold soup and slept in the back of his van beside his bikes.

He preferred the gruelling land trip to first class flights and five star hotels.

Programme director Karen McGrath said Dunlop never wanted praise for his generosity. She said: "The first time he delivered aid he drove to Albania. But after that we estimate he went about three or four times. He never told people he was going - he hardly even told his wife.

"He initially had heard about the orphanages from the father of a nurse who was working in Romania.

"When we were out in Estonia we heard so many nice stories about Joey. One of the other racers said that he would collect his winnings on the trips, then just see someone with children and give them money and tell them to buy something for the 'wains.'

"There is a hotel in Tallinn, where he was killed, and there is a room there named after him. The hotel owner told him to stay in it whenever he wanted - but he used to just sleep in his old van instead."

The documentary follows the group who embarked on the massive land trip to Estonia last July for the third anniversary of the biker's death.

It shows the border problems they encountered as they attempted to take four truck-loads of nappies, baby wipes and wheelchairs which Joey often took in his van to orphanages.

Close friend Rev John Fitzpatrick said Joey's approach to hearing stories of impoverished orphanages was simply to pack up his van and go.

He said: "He wasn't someone that fraternised with the big names. He had an appeal to ordinary people that is one of the very endearing qualities about him. He was an ordinary person who did something extraordinary to respond to people who had a need," he said.

At the track in Estonia where Dunlop died, the documentary follows the bikers' return to the spot of the tragic accident.

Dave Kerby, former road racer, said of that day: " We saw Joey lying in the trees with a cloth over him. It was a very bad moment - one of the worst I have ever experienced."

Bob McMillan of Honda UK said his former friend hated privacy.

He said: "He preferred his own company. But he never had a chance to be on his own because people wanted to come and talk to him. He would go to Donegal and go fishing and sleep in the car or a tent and and that was him. There was nothing in his life other than racing and his family."The Last Lap will be shown on BBC One on Wednesday Jan 14th at 10.35pm.

CAPTION(S):

SPECIAL: Joey's heart went out to orphans; LEGEND: Dunlop shunned publicity
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 11, 2004
Words:602
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