Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

North West 200: The unmissable pilgrimage for petrolheads

Michael Dunlop Street Sweep Kawasaki at Blacks hill during 17th May 2011 Superbike practice for the North West 200.
Relentless International North West 200. Miss North West 2011 Jade Toner along with and Lee Johnston from East Coast Racing.
North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Ian Lougher.

The riders were testing their machines to the limit for the first time yesterday during a practice before the North West 200 races on Saturday.

For families and revellers who travelled to the north coast however, the weekend had started early.

Portrush and Portstewart's natural sea air was tinged with the scent of fish and chips, fresh doughnuts and candy floss emanating from an army of portable catering vans that have been anchored along the coastal fringe of the circuit for days in order to secure a spot.

The popular Ballyreagh Golf Course atop the cliffs leading down to the sea below attracted a different type of visitor — anyone and everyone who could secure a spot to watch the racers speed along the Ballyreagh Road for their warm-up.

Adrian McGowan from Ahoghill brought his friends and family to soak up the atmosphere.

“I'm a motorcycle fan myself,” said Adrian, “But it's also a great day out for the family. My three-year-old son TJ is enjoying watching the bikes race past. It's our highlight of the year.”

Over the roar of passing superbikes he added: “We've been coming for a few years now and it seems a little quieter this year than normal, but it always gets busier towards the weekend.”

The unique road racing element is a big draw to petrolheads across the UK and beyond for its stripped-down nature and the merciless corners, straights and chicanes have claimed many a rider, but still, a growing number of people who are indifferent to the racing are attracted every year for the festival atmosphere the race brings.

Nadine Walker from Ballymena brought her kids for the afternoon. She explained: “My daughter Chenai (5) is really enjoying the excitement of the practice session but Regan (3) is a little scared by all the noise.

“It's great because there's a lot more to do besides watch the racing.”

Locals Alistair Purvis and Keith Fotheringham enjoyed an ice-cream with John Mitchell from Manchester.

Alistair explained the significance of the event to the local community: “I've watched the North West every year since I was four years old.

“I've noticed in the last few years that it's got a lot more corporate — things have got more expensive — but in terms of Portrush, it's the biggest event we have here in terms of tourism.

“It brings a great amount of business into the area. Everything from shops to taxi drivers benefit. People come here to spend money. I've seen people this week from Belgium, France and Italy.”

He adds: “Another important factor is that this is a sport where it doesn't matter what religion you are. Everyone is welcome.”

In Portrush town centre, resident Brian McMullan was oblivious to the commotion.

“When the North West's on there's a good crowd about the town,” he smiled.

“It brings people out to the pubs and clubs as well as those who watch the race. It's hard to travel about the town but it's great for the local economy so I can't complain.”

As the rain drew in yesterday afternoon and the riders retired to the paddock, the sound failed to diminish on the streets of Portrush and Portstewart as bars and clubs began to come to life.

The partying has begun.

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