Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

It's time to ban macho madness of North West 200

Brilliantly Dun: double winner Michael Dunlop claimed Man of the Meeting honour, named in memory of his dad Robert
Brilliantly Dun: double winner Michael Dunlop claimed Man of the Meeting honour, named in memory of his dad Robert
Wheel to wheel: William Dunlop (right) comes under pressure from Tyco Suzuki partner Guy Martin
Bruce Anstey celebrates victory in the opening Supersport race during todays races at the 2014 Vauxhall International North West 200 on the North Coast
Michael and William Dunlop battle for the lead on the final lap during Vauxhall International North West 200 Superbike race.
North West 200 race director Mervyn White
Simon Andrews in action at this year's North West 200
Northern Ireland- 17th May 2014 Mandatory Credit - Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200.
Northern Ireland- 17th May 2014 Mandatory Credit - Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200.
Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Milwauke Supersport race.
Northern Ireland- 17th May 2014 Mandatory Credit - Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Milwauke Supersport race.
Northern Ireland- 17th May 2014 Mandatory Credit - Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Milwauke Supersport race.
Northern Ireland- 17th May 2014 Mandatory Credit - Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200.
John McGuinness during todays races at the 2014 Vauxhall International North West 200 on the North Coast. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker
Conor Cummins (Honda Racing) and Michael Dunlop (BMW Motorrad) battle for position during Eventserv Superbike Race during at the Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
First Minister Peter Robinson pictured with Hector Neill and his team during his visit to the Tyco Suzuki base at the Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200 in Portrush.
Northern Ireland- 17th May 2014 Mandatory Credit - Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200.
Northern Ireland- 17th May 2014 Mandatory Credit - Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200.
Northern Ireland- 17th May 2014 Mandatory Credit - Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200.
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland- 17th May 2014 Mandatory Credit -Brian Little/Presseye Michael Dunlop (BMW Motorrad) winning the Vauxhall NW200 Suerbike Race at during the Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
PACEMAKER BELFAST  17/04/2014 The superbikes kick up some serious spray during todays races at the 2014 Vauxhall International North West 200 on the North Coast. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker
PACEMAKER BELFAST 17/05/2014 Michael Dunlop (8) celebrates victory in the North West 200 feature race during todays Vauxhall International North West 200. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland- 15th May 2014 Mandatory Credit -Brian Little/Presseye Motorcycle fans shelter from the showers under umbrella's at the Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
PACEMAKER BELFAST  17/04/2014 Dunlop fan Sheena Munnis watches the two brothers William & Michael battle it out in the opening superbike race during todays races at the 2014 Vauxhall International North West 200 on the North Coast. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker
PACEMAKER BELFAST  17/04/2014 Dunlop fan Sheena Munnis watches the two brothers William & Michael battle it out in the opening superbike race during todays races at the 2014 Vauxhall International North West 200 on the North Coast. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland- 15th May 2014 Mandatory Credit -Brian Little/Presseye Motorcycle fans shelter from the showers under umbrella's at the Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland- 15th May 2014 Mandatory Credit -Brian Little/Presseye John Duff from Randalstown spectating at the Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland- 15th May 2014 Mandatory Credit -Brian Little/Presseye Ross Patton and Paula McVey from Magherafelt spectating at the Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland- 15th May 2014 Mandatory Credit -Brian Little/Presseye Motorcycle fans shelter from the showers during the Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Northern Ireland- 16th May 2014 Mandatory Credit - Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Riders pictured at the meet and great in Coleraine town centre. Alastair Seeley.
Northern Ireland- 16th May 2014 Mandatory Credit - Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Riders pictured at the meet and great in Coleraine town centre. Alastair Seeley along with Carter Dobson.
Northern Ireland- 16th May 2014 Mandatory Credit - Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Riders pictured at the meet and great in Coleraine town centre. William Dunlop and Conor Cummins.
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland- 15th May 2014 Mandatory Credit -Brian Little/Presseye Motorcycle fans watching Guy Martin (Tyco Suzuki) at the Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland- 15th May 2014 Mandatory Credit -Brian Little/Presseye Kim Matheson from Whitehead spectating at the Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland- 15th May 2014 Mandatory Credit -Brian Little/Presseye (l-r) John, Paul and Tim Johnston from Portstewart spectating at the Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Keeping dry at the North West 200 on Saturday.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Mandatory Credit: Rowland White/PressEye North West 200: Saturday Race Day Race: NW 200 Superbike Date: 17th May 2014 Caption: Superbikes get away
Alastair Seeley (34), William Dunlop (6), Michael Rutter (9)
PACEMAKER BELFAST 17/05/2014 Michael Dunlop (8) celebrates victory in the North West 200 feature race during todays Vauxhall International North West 200. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press
Crowds watch the start of the Superbike race in the wet
Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Anchor complex Supertwin race. Race winner Lee Johnston.
Winner of the EventServ Superbike race William Dunlop
Eventserv Superbike winner William Dunlop with runners up Michael Dunlop and Conor Cummins
Eventserv Superbike winner William Dunlop
Michael Dunlop (BMW Motorrad) chases his brother William Dunlop (Tyco Suzuki) leads the Eventserv Superbike Race during at the Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200
William Dunlop (Tyco Suzuki) during at the Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200
Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200.
Michael Dunlop Milwauke Supersport race
Michael Dunlop and Michael Rutter
Michael Rutter, Milwauke Supersport race.
Michael Rutter (Bathams BMW) get the 'holeshot of the line at the start of the Eventserv Superbike Race during at the Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200.
Northern Ireland- 17th May 2014 Mandatory Credit - Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200.
Josh Brookes - (Yamaha - Milwaukee Yamaha)
William Dunlop - (Suzuki - Tyco Suzuki by TAS Racing)
Guy Martin - (Suzuki - Tyco Suzuki by TAS Racing)
William Dunlop - (Suzuki - Tyco Suzuki by TAS Racing)
Conor Cummins - (Honda - Jackson Racing)
Michael Rutter - (BMW - Bathams prize winning ales) and Dean Harrison - (Kawasaki - RC Express Racing)
Josh Brookes - (Yamaha - Milwaukee Yamaha)
Josh Brookes - (Yamaha - Milwaukee Yamaha) leads Conor Cummins - (Honda - Honda Racing)
Winner of the Milwauke Supersport race Bruce Anstey with second Conor Cummins and third Gary Johnson
A stunt-man in flight during the North West 200 (NW200) Pic Margaret McLaughlin
Chris Dixon crashes to the ground behind Dave Walsh as Alan Brown tries to avoid him during the Supersport practice at the Vauxhall International North West 200 today. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 15/5/2014: A man with a lot on his mind. BMW's Michael Dunlop is on pole for Saturday's Superbike races after the final qualifying session for the Vauxhall International North West 200 today. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 15/5/2014: Supersport racers round Primrose bend during the final qualifying session for the Vauxhall International North West 200 today. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 15/5/2014: Maria Costello is treated by Dr John Hinds after crashing during the final qualifying session for the Vauxhall International North West 200 today. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
15/5/2014. PACEMAKER PRESS. SUPERSTOCK PRACTICE. Michael Rutter during todays Vauxhall International North West 200 Superstock practice session. Picture Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker.
15/5/2014. PACEMAKER PRESS. SUPERTWINS PRACTICE. Ivan Lintin during todays Vauxhall International North West 200 Supertwins practice session. Picture Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker.
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 15/5/2014: Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers meets Guy Martin (Tyco Suzuki) and Event Director, Mervyn Whyte MBE, on the grid during the final qualifying session for the Vauxhall International North West 200 today. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
Stena Line - NW 200 Motorcycle Spectators Arrive - 15th May 2014 Copyright Presseye / Declan Roughan
Stena Line - NW 200 Motorcycle Spectators Arrive - 15th May 2014 Copyright Presseye / Declan Roughan
Stenna Line - NW 200 Motorcycle Spectators Arrive - 15th May 2014 Copyright Presseye / Declan Roughan
Stena Line - NW 200 Motorcycle Spectators Arrive - 15th May 2014 Copyright Presseye / Declan Roughan Approximately 200 motorcycle spectators arrived off the ferry in Belfast yesterday on route to the NW 200 on the North Antrim Coast.
Stena Line - NW 200 Motorcycle Spectators Arrive - 15th May 2014 Copyright Presseye / Declan Roughan Approximately 200 motorcycle spectators arrived off the ferry in Belfast yesterday on route to the NW 200 on the North Antrim Coast.
Stena Line - NW 200 Motorcycle Spectators Arrive - 15th May 2014 Copyright Presseye / Declan Roughan Approximately 200 motorcycle spectators arrived off the ferry in Belfast yesterday on route to the NW 200 on the North Antrim Coast.
Stena Line - NW 200 Motorcycle Spectators Arrive - 15th May 2014 Copyright Presseye / Declan Roughan Approximately 200 motorcycle spectators arrived off the ferry in Belfast yesterday on route to the NW 200 on the North Antrim Coast.
A stunt-man in flight during the North West 200 (NW200) Moto Fest event in Portrush. Part of the International motorbike road race week programme. Picture Margaret McLaughlin © please by-line 14-5-14
Stena Line - NW 200 Motorcycle Spectators Arrive - 15th May 2014 Copyright Presseye / Declan Roughan Approximately 200 motorcycle spectators arrived off the ferry in Belfast yesterday on route to the NW 200 on the North Antrim Coast.
Stena Line - NW 200 Motorcycle Spectators Arrive - 15th May 2014 Copyright Presseye / Declan Roughan Approximately 200 motorcycle spectators arrived off the ferry in Belfast yesterday on route to the NW 200 on the North Antrim Coast.
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 14/5/2014: Honda duo Conor Cummins and John McGuinness join in the fun of the paddock open day with two stilt walker at the Vauxhall International North West 200 today. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
John McGuinness Honda. Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200 Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com
Alastair Seeley ahead of Gary Johnston and Guy Martin North West 200 First Practice Session Ballysally Roundabout Supersport Date: 13th May 2014
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 13/5/2014: The scene of the crash by Franck Petricola at Primrose corner during practice at the Vauxhall International North West 200 today. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 14/5/2014: Milwaukee Yamaha's Ian Hutchinson has vowed that he will race in today's Supersport and Superstock races at the Vauxhall International North West 200 today in spite of the hand injury he sustained in a crash during Tuesday's practice session. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 14/5/2014: He is usually undaunted by travelling around the North West 200 course at over 200mph but 6 times NW winner, John McGuinness, seemed a little overawed by the task of being a judge at the Miss North West 200 competition this week. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
Keith Amor and Jeremy McWilliams. Vauxhall International 2014 North Picture - Matt Mackey/Presseye.com
PACEMAKER BELFAST Ü18/05/2013 Maria Costello during todays North West 200 road races in Co Antrim. Photography Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Press 15/5/2010 John McGuinness celebrates his win in the superbike race with partney Becky during todays North West 200 International races in Northern Ireland. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press
Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Tuesday practice. Josh Brookes Milwaukee yamaha.
John McGuinness (Valvoline Racing/Padgetts) in the Supersport class through Dhu Varren during Tuesday's practice for the Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Tuesday practice. Ryan Farquhar.
Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Tuesday practice. Jeremy McWilliams and Keith Amor.
Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Tuesday practice. Ryan Farquhar.
Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Tuesday practice.
Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Tuesday practice. Guy Martin tyco suzuki.
Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Tuesday practice. Alastair Seeley Mar-Train Racing.
Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Tuesday practice. John Mcguinness Honda.
Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Tuesday practice. Fermanagh's Lee Johnston talks with his team after finishing the first day of practice at the NW200.
Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Tuesday practice. Maria Costello MBE.
Michael Dunlop (MD Racing BMW) through Dhu Varren during Superstock practice during the Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Michael Dunlop (BMW Motorrad) in the Superbike class through Black Hill during Tuesday's practice for the Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Tuesday practice. Guy Martin Tyco.
Vauxhall International 2014 North West 200. Tuesday practice. Guy Martin Tyco.
Michael Rutter (Bathams Prizewinning Ales) in action during today's first practice session for this years Vauxhall International NW200 in Portrush. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
James Hillier (Quattro Plant/muc-off Kawasaki) crashes at Ballysally during today's first practice session for this years Vauxhall International NW200 in Portrush. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press

Following the pink-splattered euphoria of the Giro d'Italia, I have a great new idea for a road race that'll really bring the tourists flocking in.

It'll never happen, of course: too extreme, too irresponsible, just too madly dangerous, but, still, we can always dream.

So here's the plan. Keep the public street circuit – because specially-designed tracks are for safety-obsessed sissies – but why not swap those pathetic pushbikes for something more hardcore? Say a pack of high-powered motorbikes, roaring along at speeds of more than 200 miles per hour?

That'd get the hairs standing up on the back of your neck, wouldn't it? Sure, the possibility of chaos, death and bloody mayhem would be high and the riders would be an extreme risk to themselves and anybody else who happened to be in the vicinity, but what would all that matter compared to the thrill of the thing. Can you imagine?

Well, you don't need to imagine it, because – unbelievably, absurdly – it's happening right now. The North West 200, now in its 85th year, has taken over the roads around Portrush, Coleraine and Portstewart and men in leathers, with more adrenaline than sense, are propelling themselves at unfeasible speeds round the tightest of bends.

The margin of error is infinitesimally small and, as usual, it's never long before a crash happens. On the opening day of official practice, French rider Franck Petricola – who was competing in the event for the first time – was airlifted to hospital in a critical condition.

If someone suggested putting on a race like the North West 200 today, complete with tens of thousands of pounds of government funding, and the happy endorsement of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, they would be dismissed as a lunatic.

It's only the fact that it's been going for the best part of a century, and has thus become normalised, familiar, embedded in the culture, that allows it to continue.

Fatal crashes happen with grim regularity and the public nods, momentarily regretful. Another death at the North West 200. Sad, but not surprising. One more name on an ever-increasing list, to be remembered and venerated as a brave hero, who died doing the thing he loved.

But brave isn't the word I would use and I certainly wouldn't call these bikers heroes. That's all part of the macho mythology which keeps this deadly race going, year after year. Glorified sensation-seekers would be a more accurate term.

Yes, it takes a fair bit of courage to show up at the starting line, but that's more to do with an addiction to speed than true bravery, or heroism, which are attributes defined by selflessness, not selfishness.

As John McGuinness, worshipped as a road-racing legend, and six times winner of the NW200, said: "You don't care about anything but getting on the bike and riding."

In fairness, you can't say that these guys are in it for the money. There's a proud lack of glamour and cash in this sport.

Admitting that he still sometimes worries about paying the bills, McGuinness told the BBC last year that, when he was 21, he never thought he'd still be doing the North West aged 41.

"But I'm still at it, still rattling away," he said. "When my son came along, it made me think, 'Hang on a minute, I've got another mouth to feed.' And it made me go faster. And now I've got a little girl and I'm going even faster still."

Sorry, John, but what kind of reckless, twisted logic is that? How can putting yourself at even more risk, by increasing your speed still further, be good for your kids?

One of the worst aspects of road racing is the pant-wetting male sports journalists and enthusiasts who cluster round the swaggering bikers like teenage girls at a One Direction concert, only it's not knickers, but admiring words that they throw at their love objects.

"They're proper men, hard men, with 100% commitment," swooned one. These "heroes are the wraiths of international sport, relentlessly ordinary men capable of consistently extraordinary acts of bravery and precision," simpered another.

In Britain, road races like the North West 200 have been banned since 1925. In Northern Ireland, almost 90 years later, we're still embracing state-sponsored carnage, still cheering these speed-junkie riders on towards potential oblivion, regardless of the cost to themselves, or to the people watching them.

When are we going to learn that deliberately dicing with death doesn't make you more of a man?

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