An Impeccable Man
Carlin Dunne died while competing at the 2019 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb—the 97th running of the second oldest motorsport event in the U.S. behind the Indianapolis 500.
The 36-year-old from Santa Barbara on the Californian central coast was in perilous form, which I can personally attest to, as it was me with whom he was competing for the King of The Mountain crown.
Dunne’s death cast a shadow as tall as the man himself across what was until that point and incredible week of competition. In the race, I had just broken the record for the fastest time in the history of the event, but Dunne was on course to not just beat that time, but to completely annihilate it. Race officials put his estimated race time in the nine minutes 32 second bracket. Let that sink in for a minute. That would have been 17 seconds up on Chris Fillmore’s 2017 race run.
He crashed less than 100 feet from the finish line. The flag was in eye view. The record would have been mine for about two minutes and 20 seconds.
I have been riding motorcycles for 34 years and racing them for 30, and my riding during my run of 9:44.963 was most likely the finest of my life. Carlin bought out the very best in me that day, but it still wouldn’t have been enough to beat him. I’m okay with that.
Carlin and I met during my rookie season at Pikes Peak in 2016, when I had turned up to America’s Mountain with about as much knowledge about the task at hand as the first time you try and chat up a girl in school. He towered at least three inches taller than me. His chiseled features and athletic build matched to a demeanor so approachable, he became impossible not to like.
During my rookie year, Carlin was part of the Squadra Alpina program created by Ducati to help rookie competitors at Pikes. At the time, Carlin had taken a break from the sport, having won three previous titles—two for Ducati, and one for Lightning on the LS218, in what is still the only outright win for an electric motorcycle at Pikes Peak.
I can remember one specific point he helped me during practice in The W’s section. Consistently struggling to match the pace of Kawasaki’s French star Bruno Langlois, Carlin could see I was frustrated. Asking me what the issue was, I explained to him I couldn’t find the extra three seconds I needed to match Bruno. Dunne then formulated a plan for me, using common sense and a calm deliverance to feed me the information that was, in all honesty, clear for all to see—except me, as I was a ball of rage at the time.
With a new rear tire, I put it all on the line. I knew the run was good. Better than good. And I expected to see my name at P1 on the timing sheet. Sadly, I never did, as the hand timing used then at Pikes Peak’s middle section was not taken, and I registered no lap time. To say I was livid would be the understatement of the year.
Still, Carlin’s advice stayed with me, and I used it as best I could over the years, especially when trying to beat him in the last two outings.
Our battle in 2018 was nothing short of epic. Dunne beat me by 0.692 seconds, the closest finish in racing history at Pikes Peak. I was distraught. I’d come so, so close. I wanted that win so bad, and to beat him in the process would have made it even sweeter.
However, Carlin was gracious in victory and admitted to me I’d pushed him harder than anyone had ever done at America’s Mountain. That quote now has much more weight to it considering the outcome of this year’s event.
The 2019 race had lots of pressure for Dunne. Ducati loves the mountain, and wanted a good showing for their new prototype Streetfighter ahead of the model’s re-launch at EICMA this year. Competing in the Exhibition Powersport class, Dunne was effectively just racing against himself. He was so much further in front that it was just him versus the clock. A victory was a certainty, as was the outright lap record. It was just a matter of by how much.
When Chris Fillmore broke the news of Carlin’s passing to me and Dunne’s teammate Codie Vahsholtz atop America’s Mountain, it didn’t seem real. It still doesn’t. The magnitude of Dunne’s death is on par with that of David Jefferies’ at the 2003 Isle of Man TT. Jefferies, too, was the absolute man of his chosen arena. This year, the mountain claimed Dunne for itself, and when are all the poorer for it.
However, the greatest tragedy of Carlin’s passing only struck me on Tuesday morning, two days after race day, at about 6:00 a.m. when my son charged into my wife’s and my bedroom, grabbed me by the finger and dragged me out of bed and downstairs to play with toy cars.
I’d never been so happy to be woken long before I intended to get up, and this is one of the many things the forever-young Carlin Dunne will miss out on. His Australian Cattle Dog, Sonny, has lost his mate. Friends and family have lost an integral person in their lives, and motorcycling has lost not just a great champion but a humble, respectful human being with no airs or graces. He was an impeccable man.
Godspeed, Carlin Dunne. You are the true King of America’s Mountain. CN