Northern Ireland’s road racing community is in mourning after the death of a young Cookstown rider while competing in his North West 200 debut.
Mark Young (23) suffered fatal injuries in the high-speed crash, which occurred during the opening race of Saturday’s meeting.
The accident happened at the notorious Mather’s Cross section — the same point where racing legend Robert Dunlop was killed last year.
Mark, who was competing at the North West for the first time, sustained serious leg and chest injuries and was taken to the Causeway Hospital.
He was later transferred to the intensive care unit of the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast but he did not recover and died in hospital yesterday morning.
Described as one of the rising stars of motorcycling, Mark had recently competed in both the Tandragee and Cookstown road races.
His devastated family, who are well-known motorcycle enthusiasts in the Cookstown area, did not want to speak to the media when contacted yesterday.
The North West 200 Clerk of Course, Mervyn Whyte, said a full investigation is being carried out into how the young racer crashed.
“It is very sad news,” he said. “We work and work at safety but motorcycling can be a cruel sport and it is very unfortunate what has happened.
“Mark was competing at the North West for the first time. We bring a number of newcomers each year and we place a major emphasis on training them.”
Mr Whyte said major work has been done in an attempt to improve safety at the Mather’s Cross section of the track in recent years.
“It appears that Mark was exiting Mather’s Cross, a high-speed corner of the track, when the accident occurred,” he said.
“We have done a lot of work over the years to improve safety there. All the obstacles have been removed and safety bales have been placed in the field to prevent riders going off the road.
“The Motorcycling Union of Ireland will carry out a full investigation into what happened but for the moment the thoughts and prayers of the North West organisers are with Mark’s family.”
The assistant secretary of the Motorcycle Union of Ireland (Ulster Centre), Steve Freeburn, said it was another dark day for road racing.
“It is a very tragic incident and we extend our thoughts and sympathies to his family,” he said.
Mr Freeburn said it was too early to start speculating about the future of road racing, adding: “You always look at things when these tragedies occur.
“It is early days, we have an incident officer who will be dealing with the investigation. Until that happens it is difficult to say anything, but lessons will be learned of course.”
Meanwhile, Antrim rider John Anderton (29) remains in a critical condition in the RVH after crashing during the opening practice session last Tuesday night.
The accident happened during the last session of the evening, the Supersport 600cc. The father-of one, who had recently returned to Northern Ireland, came off his bike as he was exiting Station Corner close to Black Bridge.
He was initially taken to the Causeway Hospital and was later transferred to the intensive care unit of the RVH, where his condition was yesterday described as still critical. A second rider, Christian Elkin, is in a stable condition after breaking a leg during the closing stages of Saturday’s 250cc race. The Broughshane-based rider had been vying with Michael Dunlop for the lead when the crash occurred, close to Juniper Chicane. Dunlop, a son of Robert Dunlop, came off his bike in the collision but wasn’t hurt.
Steve Plater and Michael’s brother William Dunlop went on to clinch double-wins at Saturday’s meeting, which finished early because of poor weather.
TRIBUTES FLOOD IN
Warm tributes have been flooding in for Mark Young since the news of his tragic death broke.
The 23-year-old had his first race in 2002 and was the winner of four Irish national road races.
Mark was a member of Cookstown and District Motorcycling Club. Its treasurer and spokesman, Kenny Loughrin, said he was one of the sport’s emerging stars.
“Mark was one of the up-and-coming stars in motorcycling and had been improving steadily in recent years,” he said.
“I have no doubt he would have been one of the major threats to the top racers. It is just so unfortunate that it has ended this way.
“Mark loved motorcycling and was going from strength to strength. He started in the 125cc class and had moved up to 250cc.
“He rode well at the Tandragee 100 and had also done very well at the Cookstown 100 a few weeks ago. It is just such an awful tragedy.”
Mr Loughrin said the thoughts of everyone at the club were with the Young family. “Mark had been a member of our club for a number of years and was a great ambassador both for the club and also for the Cookstown area.
“His grandfather, Freddy Young, is a life member and most of the family are involved with the club. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.”
Former road racing star Phillip McCallen survived several serious crashes during a successful career. He said Mark’s death was another terrible tragedy for the sport.
“The North West is one of the most exciting and enjoyable races in Ireland and indeed the world, and for this to happen is an absolute tragedy,” he said. “Of course motorcycling can be brilliant but not when it’s at the cost of a life.
“I have worked with newcomers at the North West and part of that job is to give young riders guidance. You tell them about the track and warn them of the dangers. That has been ongoing for the past few years, to try and make the event as safe as possible, but unfortunately accidents still happen and this is another huge tragedy.”
Chairman of Cookstown District Council, Trevor Wilson, said the town had been stunned by Mark’s death.
“It is absolutely devastating news and my thoughts are with his family,” he said. “Mark was a very popular young man and a talented motorcyclist.”
Last night motorcycling fans had begun posting dozens of tribute messages on the Irish Biker’s discussion forum.
One read: “I met Mark for the first time last year and I never met such a nice guy. He will be sadly missed by everyone who knew him and by all the paddock. Can’t believe this news.”
Another said: “A fresh talent to road racing, a tragic loss to his family and friends.”