Ulster Grand Prix Clerk of the Course Noel Johnston has described the heart-breaking news of William Dunlop’s tragic death at the Skerries 100 on Saturday as a hammer blow for road racing.
Johnston himself was left reeling almost 12 years ago when Lisburn’s Darran Lindsay was killed at Killalane.
The Dundrod race chief was Lindsay’s main sponsor and he remembers vividly the harrowing impact of his death in 2006.
On Sunday, he told the News Letter that he questioned his own involvement in the sport after learning of the shocking news emerging from County Dublin on Saturday evening.
“Last night, I questioned myself: I questioned why I am involved in this sport. I really looked hard at myself and I’m not saying I’m going to quit or anything, but I do this job because I think I can improve things,” he said.
“In saying that, it’s hard to take when you think that Dan Kneen is gone and now William – two lovely lads with big futures in front of them. It makes you question yourself, it really does.”
Johnston said he felt physically sick when he received the tragic news at the weekend.
He has known William from the very beginning of his racing career and while he has experienced crushing lows in the past, the 32-year-old’s death has hit him especially hard.
“I’ve known William since he was a kid running around with his dad and I watched him grow up into a lovely man,” Johnston said.
“I’m totally gutted for what has happened. There wasn’t a bit of badness in William and he would have done whatever he could for you.
“No matter what I asked William to do, it was never a problem – he went out of his way for you. He was a well-mannered lad and a credit to his family. I can’t speak highly enough of him and it has totally knocked me for six.
“I’ve been through so many things before but this has totally knocked me. I just find this very hard to put into words how big a blow this is. William was one of our top riders in all classes and to be gone now… I would think there may be a lot of people might contemplate their futures because of this as it’s such a blow for everyone,” he added.
“He has a lovely wee girl and another one the way – it’s so sad and I just don’t know.”
Johnston said his heart goes out to William’s partner Janine – pregnant with his second child –his young daughter Ella and the Dunlop family.
“I was nearly physically sick to be honest when I heard the news. All I could think about was that wee girl Janine,” he said.
“I was in the exact same situation when I was at Darren’s (Lindsay) house before we left for Killalane and Poppy was hanging onto his leg – she was only 18 months old at the time. They had three kids, aged one to five.
“It’s the kids that get to me and now with William, you’ve got five kids who will grow up not knowing their dad. He was so good with Ella as well and when you saw the statement he put out when he came home from the Isle of Man – that would have brought tears from a stone.
“It shows how genuine a person William was. That wee lad was so genuine and there are not too many men who would put that kind of thing in print, but it really said it all about the kind of person William was.”