Speaker for 10th October 2017
Coleraine Probus and the North West 200
Coleraine Probus members certainly knew that our annual motorcycle race was a big sporting event for this part of the world, but after the recent talk to the club from Mervyn White (Event Director) and Fergus Mackay (Event Operations Manager), they realised just how big it really is.
Mervyn began his presentation with a brief look at the history of the North West 200 (NW200), which was first staged in 1929 by the City of Derry Motorcycle Club. Although that race attracted a lot of interest, the road system wasn't so good. The race was transferred nearer to Coleraine in 1930, with all the different capacity machines taking part in the 200 mile race on the circuit at the same time. Added to that, there had been no request to close off any of the public roads!
Over the following years the NW200 developed in popularity and the speed of the bikes increased. In 1973 the race was stopped from going through 'built-up areas', which stopped the use of the 'prom' in Portstewart and other spectacular sections of the circuit, leading to the establishment of the track we know today.
As the reputation of the NW200 grew, so did the sophistication of the racing machines and their arrival at the 'paddock area'. In earlier times it was more likely to see the rider arrive in an old van, wheel out his racer, check the mechanics of the bike then wheel it out to the starting grid. Now it is a team of up to 25 technicians, arriving in a 40ft lorry that is a 'high tech' workshop and the celebrity rider in his mobile home. These then descend on the paddock and pits areas, making a small village of its own.
The NW200 is an International event, attracting 100 of the best riders in the world and is N.I's. premier sporting event. With machines now topping 200mph on some sections, safety is of paramount importance. Only riders with a proven ability in road racing are accepted for the event, and emergency/medical assistance are constantly reviewed and where possible improved. Sadly, accidents do happen!
Meet the staff, ALL of them! - Gillian, Mervyn and Fergus
Fergus Mackay took up the talk to illustrate for club members just what is involved in the modern NW200, and the numbers involved are quite staggering. The 'Sports Event Evaluation Centre' at Sheffield Hallam University has carried out a study on the previous NW200, and show just how big the event is, its world wide reach and its value to both the local economy and the province in total. For instance, the value in PR and Media coverage of the NW200 has been calculated at £11.5m. The BBC NI viewers numbered 350K. For the first time there was also a National and Global coverage, with an estimated 800M+ viewers. The BBC iPlayer had in excess of 100K views and Facebook recorded 16M users with over 80K 'Likes' a month.
Other stunning statistics included; 185K people attending the event during the week, with 82K lining the circuit on the main race day; Approx 22,000 people were staying in local B&B/Guest accommodation, generating around £9.8M for the local economy; the participants (riders, mechanics, officials, outlet staff etc.) generate another £2.5M. This huge event is organised by a full time staff of THREE (see above, the speakers, plus Gillian Lloyd, the Event Coordinator, who was in the office), BUT draws on the support of 800 unpaid volunteers nearer the race week.
Mervyn has been fronting to staging of the NW200 for the last eighteen years, and is slowly drawing back from the hot seat. The staging of the 2019 event will be the 90th anniversary of the NW200, and he will hand over the Event Director role to Fergus and take a seat further back from the firing line. He and Fergus hope that their long planned for dream of a permanent display centre and office building (as well as a 120 bed hotel) in the paddock area, will be able to go ahead and open in time for that special year. And with Portrush staging 'The Open' that year…
For a trip down (motorcycling) memory lane, 'Click' on this link for a photo slide show.