In the Memory of Carlin Dunne, a Motorcycle Luminary

Carlin Dunne RIP June 30 2019

RIP Carlin Dunne (June 30, 2019)

Last week, during the 2019 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, Carlin Dunne crashed while piloting his prototype Ducati Streetfighter V4 and passed away. He was 36-years old and is survived by his father, mother, younger sister, as well as his rambunctious dog, Sonny.

I do not profess to have known Carlin well. I would not consider myself to be on his list of personal friends. I cannot tell you his favorite foods, his political affiliations, his tastes in music or any of the other basic necessary preferences that we all call upon to immediately conjure up picture-perfect representations of those close to us. I cannot do that.

Carlin Dunne RIP June 30 2019I cannot tell you the struggles he went through daily or what motivated him to do all the incredible things that he had accomplished throughout his career. I did not know him as a brother, a son, a business partner, a teammate, a competitor; all of which he was. I won’t honestly or accurately reflect the many dimensions we humans can often be – I can only tell you of the Carlin that I knew.

Since his passing, there has been an uninterrupted flood of stories pouring out from every corner of the globe. There have been many words shared about him, most of which will most likely be better than mine. It has been astounding, but what is even more impressive is the consistency of these messages – Carlin was a person that you, me, and every member of the motorcycling community aspires to be.

At only thirty-six years old, Carlin had a resume that is staggering to consider, and it should come as no surprise, as he was the son of Trevor Dunne – a former road racer, not to mention motorcycle shop owner.

dunne sets record lap on Ducati Multistrada
Dunne during the 2012 PPIHC aboard the Multistrada 1200

Long before I’d chatted with him in the paddock or hearing him mention that he’d run into my “old man” at Ducati of Santa Barbara, he had set off on his own road racing career, been a professional downhill mountain biker, tackled Baja, rode motocross, trials and claimed several Pikes Peak International Hill Climb titles. The Carlin I met was seasoned, confusingly multifaceted, and had an impressive natural drive that was evidenced in his skill across all disciplines.

From my perspective, he appeared to be unwavering in focus; he displayed a meticulousness in his craft that is only seen in the greats. All of that was reflected in his riding. It was elegant, controlled, and mystifyingly smooth; surely a byproduct of his contemplative nature. From my limited view, there were no mistakes of any kind – he made the bike, any bike mind you, consent to his will.

Despite that description, which undoubtedly falls in line with the interpretations of many a steely-eyed professional racer, he was one of the most caring and helpful people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.

Dunne during the 2018 PPHIC aboard Ducati Multistrada
Dunne pilots a Ducati Multistrada during 2018 PPHIC

Being from Ventura County and having some connections to Santa Barbara myself, a name like Carlin’s tends to carry some weight in the local motorcycling community. He was something of a hometown hero – the resident fast guy. Those of us hailing from areas with local pros will know exactly what I mean. He was beloved by the Ducatisti, especially by those that happen to be based in the United States.

In the years following his successes at PPIHC, he’d skipped a race or two while putting his energy towards other endeavors. Two of those years were dedicated to the Ducati Squadra Alpha Team, wherein he lent a helping hand to rookie PPHIC motorcycle competitors. I’d stopped by Ducati of Santa Barbara to pick up some odds and ends for personal bikes. While there, I asked why he wouldn’t be racing that year and his response was, “I’m only interested in pushing the ball forward and working on new projects” with his signature wry smile.

At the time, I didn’t know what to make of it; a bit nonplussed, if anything. After witnessing how he operated and running into him at more events, it slowly became clear that he wasn’t content with repetition or stagnation; he strove to break new ground, personally. While being an incredibly skilled rider, his achievements had an “everyman” or more accurately, “every rider” quality to them – with enough effort, these things seemed attainable.

Earlier this year, the two of us happened to be at a press event for the unveiling of the Redbull KTM Factory Racing Flat Track team. Things were a bit more interactive – we’d be able to spin some laps on machines set up for flat track. I do not ride flat track regularly and have precious little experience in that discipline. Unsurprisingly, Carlin did.

Carlin Dunne at 2012 Pikes Peak Multistrada
Dunne during the 2012 PPIHC aboard the Multistrada 1200

I’d struggled a bit and quite honestly, held no expectations for success on that day other than not going home with some stylish new crutches. It was a learning experience, but naturally, we all try to better ourselves.

I began picking his brain for some basic pointers and made a self-deprecating joke or two – something forgettable that most would brush off. He said something that has stuck with me and helped with my own riding goals, “motorcycling is about small victories, that’s all you need to focus on.” It’s a common saying, yet one that was particularly poignant at the time for me and my riding – we are our own worst critics and often, we let the noise of those internal conflicts detract from what we could have learned.

It was a long, but good day of riding, among of peers that I highly respect. Current Pikes Peak champions Rennie Scaysbrook and Chris Fillmore were on hand – who are veterans to the “race to the clouds,” not to mention fellow moto-journo Adam Waheed and plenty of others. In fact, Rennie’s day job is testing bikes over at Cycle News. They banged the proverbial bars and would come in from each session grinning ear to ear. Carlin, Rennie, and Chris were all fierce competitors, although you’d be hard-pressed to know that as the camaraderie was more than evident.

Back in May of this year, I caught up with him at Buttonwillow Raceway during one of the final shakedowns of the prototype Ducati Streetfighter V4. We’d shared a laugh during the rider’s meeting, and we caught up in the garages, and in those moments, he seemed to wear an enthusiasm about motorsports that was nearly palpable. His arms were usually crossed, always donning a hat and glasses – but it was almost as if he was at the track for the first time, sharing in the same excitement as everyone else.

Nic de sena riding with Chris Filmore and Carlin Dunne
Author Nic de Sena rides with Michael Gilbert and Carlin Dunne

He’d always ask me what stories I was working on, what trips I’d been on or how they went. He made it a point to engage with the people around him. It didn’t occur to me until this week, but I’d signed up for one of my first trackdays through Carlin and his father, Trevor at Ducati of Santa Barbara. In a small way, those two influenced where I am today – not to mention loads of help and influence from my own ‘old man.’

I was at Buttonwillow with fellow moto-journo and MotoAmerica racer, Michael Gilbert, as well as, former AMA Champion, Jason Pridmore for some much-needed one on one training. I don’t feel the need to remind you that Carlin was fully capable of blowing the doors off everyone on the track that day – save for Gilbert and Pridmore, who I’m sure would have enjoyed dicing it up.

He may have been out running the final tests on his Pikes Peak Streetfighter, but how he dealt with traffic and slower riders was admirable. His passes were clean, he was courteous, and he was conscientious of those around him. When someone describes this man of being “pure class,” I assure you, they are not understating that fact. There wasn’t a trace in him of that sour ego that males will often display, taking every opportunity to trade paint with someone at every opportunity.

That was the last time I saw him.

On June 30, 2019, Carlin charged up the race course of Pikes Peak. It was the final time he would ever ascend to the mountain. It isn’t enough to say that what happened to Carlin is tragic, as I don’t believe we have the words to describe it. We will try, though, as that’s all part of the process – trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. We should hope to feel those emotions instead of suppressing them, whatever they may be.

Dunne aboard the Streetfigther V4
Dunne aboard the Ducati Streetfighter V4 during this year’s PPIHC

People like Carlin are luminaries in their community. Whatever spot of land on Earth that you happen to call home, I assure you, there is someone like this quietly working in the background helping others when they can. I suspect, they do assist those people unknowingly in most cases. I knew Carlin in passing, and even then, he helped me.

There is no silver lining at times like this, and I will not patronize you by saying otherwise. I will not speak out of turn and claim to know what he wished for us in his absence. What I can do, and encourage others to do, is to find those men or women in your community that lived their lives in a way that can only be looked upon with veneration. But even more so, we must instill ourselves with what we’ve learned from them and continue passing it on. We need to tell those stories – as it may aid someone at a crucial point in their life.

The motorcycle community can be disparate, distanced, and fractured. Despite that, when a loss occurs, we all seem to band together and show sympathy for one another. Perhaps, it’s a reminder of our own mortality or perhaps, it proves a comical point that my circle of friends tends to make – if the person rides bikes and animals seem to like them, they’re probably not all bad. This time, I ask the motorcycling community to do more than that. We can’t know the impact of our choices, but if we always aim our actions in a positive direction, collectively, we may do some good.

Dunne at the top of Pikes Peak, 2018
Dunne at the top of Pikes Peak, 2018

Carlin’s career was as varied as it was impressive. He was a natural ambassador for all things two-wheeled and beyond, standing as one of the few current examples of renaissance men in motorsports.

I cannot claim to know all his facets and eccentricities. I cannot tell you a great many things about Carlin Dunne. I can only tell you about the Carlin that I knew and that we were lucky to have him.

If you would like to donate to Carlin’s mother Romie in support of funeral costs – please visit this link.