RIP: Dunlop Tire Engineer Dave Watkins

We lost Dave Watkins on Monday. Watkins passed away suddenly in his native UK from a suspected heart attack. Watkins leaves behind a world of friends in racing.


Dave Watkins, Josh Herrin and Jim Allen at Daytona in 2010.
Dave Watkins, Josh Herrin and Jim Allen at Daytona in 2010. Brian J Nelso, Poet with a Canon

We lost Dave Watkins on Monday. Watkins passed away suddenly in his native UK from a suspected heart attack. Watkins leaves behind a world of friends in racing. Here are several:

Eraldo Ferracci:

Dave Watkins was instrumental in my team winning the World Superbike championship. I miss him already.”

Scott Russell, WSBK champion and Daytona winner:

I am so sad to hear that Dave Watkins passed away. He was one of the best. I learned so much from him.”

Gary Medley, Daytona and Superbike winning crewchief

He was one of the best guys in racing. Very knowledgable. His work on the Dunlop front tire transformed racing.”

Tom Houseworth, AMA Superbike, WSBK Crewchief, MotoGP Crewchief

“Dave Watkins was a big reason for our success in AMA Superbike. He understood that Ben (Spies) needed a harder construction “soft” front to beat Mat. He built a tire that offered good life, performance and most importantly the control that Ben needed.”

Jim Allen, Dunlop Tire Engineer and Co-Worker:

“Dean, I can scarcely grasp the concept that Dave is no longer with us. I honestly feel as if I’ve lost both my best friend and a second father in the same day. Dave was a giant among men, a good, kind and wise man. He is truly one of just three or four people I’ve met in my life who showed me by the simple example of living his own life, how to be a better, kinder and more gentle person. I only wish that I’d been able to measure up a bit better.

It’s no exaggeration to say that together, Dave and I went through the highest of the highs and the lowest of lows in the many years we worked together in racing. Through it all, he was never anything but a gentle, wise and trusted friend to me. Thousands, literally thousands, of people he met and worked with around the globe feel the same way. It didn’t matter to Dave if you were Jim Allen, a journalist, a Dunlop guy, a team manager, a truck driver, a bike washer, a tire competitor, or a spectator – everybody got the same council and access to the same sincere, honest and considerate Dave Watkins.

His knowledge of tire design was literally encyclopedic – do a Google search on tire design patents in Dave’s name. It’s nothing less than the truth in my mind, to say that Dave almost single-handedly kept Dunlop at the forefront of world motorsport for many, many years. I’d often kid with Dave that he wasn’t a “tire guy”, he was a detective. A self-educated engineer who studied at home to get his university degree, there was nothing he enjoyed more than getting his head around a particular problem and solving it. He didn’t have a lot of failures and he never enjoyed the ones he had, but boy did he love learning from the ones he did encounter.

To many of us, Dave was “The Tire Guru”. Above all though, Dave was “The Family Guru”. To Dave, family was everything. As a Father, Grandfather and yes, even as a Great-Grandfather he excelled and he enjoyed every member of his clan. And everyone in that clan received his love and the benefit of his wisdom and gentleness unconditionally and without reservation.

Little known fact – Dave was a World-Class track cyclist and a British Champion with his own Wikipedia page . It’s a measure of the man that I knew Dave for years before he ever let on to me that he’d had a hugely successful Amateur and Pro cycling career. He missed going to the 1964 Mexico City Olympics as a UK representative only because of a poorly-timed injury. It’s also not well known that Dave’s first job at Dunlop was as a tire tester – of Dunlop Cycle Tires! I can remember Dave saying that the first day he started at Dunlop he got paid to ride 100 miles … and just the day before, he was doing it for free.

There’s so much to say … so many little vignettes that come to mind that I don’t feel as if I’m doing justice to the man. Maybe I can sum it up by saying that Dave kept a personal diary, with a daily entry, from the time he was a young teenager riding his “push bike” to a club meet, to the day he took his leave of us. Every day had an entry. If you ever met Dave Watkins, your name is in one of those diaries and that my friends, is a precious, precious thing.”


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