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North West 200 - Life in the fast lane: Partners of riders tell their stories

What's it like watching the man you love race round the NW200 circuit at speeds in excess of 200mph?

By Helen Carson

The growl of the superbikes revving up and thousands of bike fans descending on the North Coast can mean only one thing - it's the North West 200.

The world's fastest road racing event concludes tomorrow with more than 150,000 fans from all over the globe flocking in to watch some of the best riders take on the challenging course.

With the motorcyclists clocking up speeds in excess of 200mph as they fly round the circuit, spectators are guaranteed a thrilling event watching the world's best bikers test their skill and courage against the twists and turns of the roads around the legendary Triangle area - Portstewart, Coleraine and Portrush.

The race weekend, which is the largest annual sporting event in Ireland, is undoubtedly a spectacular occasion.

But while the leather-clad riders line up astride souped-up motorcycles which are built for speed - it is their wives and girlfriends who will be praying for a safe outcome to every race, anticipating every corner and hoping the man they love will be home that night.

We talk to the partners of three of the riders to find out how they cope with the dangers of road racing, and the fear they feel every time their other half takes off on race day.

'I know the risks as I grew up with racing'

Danielle Henry (26), a senior recruitment consultant from Loughborough is engaged to Alastair Seeley (35), a champion motorcyclist and accomplished road racer, who has a son Lewis (8) from a previous relationship. The couple live in Alastair's home town of Carrickfergus. She says:

Alastair and I first met when I was working at the World Superbike Championship, then again at the British Superbike event. Powerful motorbikes are nothing new to me as my parents bought me my first motorbike when I was four years old. I was always around them as my brothers were all involved with bikes, so I grew up with them. But while my brothers went into racing, riding motorbikes was just about fun for me - I did turn my love for bikes into a career though, and started working with road racing teams, travelling to Australia and Spain.

When I began working with Alastair's team I was involved with corporate events, taking parties of businessmen who sponsored the events to the paddock to see where their money was going. At this stage I was aware who Alastair was, but previously he had been with another team, so he was our arch rival. In terms of our relationship he made the first move with a comment on my Twitter picture - you don't want to know what he said. And that was how our relationship started - he was trying to win me over - and it worked. We met up a few times, one of our dates was on my birthday and he bought me a bag of Cadbury's Mini Eggs as it was near Easter.

As someone who has grown up with road racing I am aware of the risks. We have the same conversation every time he competes - he is doing something he loves so as long as he is happy, that makes me happy. I met him through the world of racing and I wouldn't want to change him, I will always support him, and it helps that I already understand what is involved in this business. It would be hard to have a relationship if I didn't understand his needs - the time spent training, the food he has to eat, when he needs an early night.

The NW200 is a massive event in Northern Ireland and when we go out together during the event, Alastair gets stopped by so many people wanting to talk to him and get a picture.

Now, we are making a commitment to each other and getting married, so we are thinking about buying a house. I am nearly 30 and Alastair is nearly 40, so we may tie the knot on our birthdays and have a big party. I have a big family in England so it would be nice to bring them all together. I made a commitment to Alastair when I came to live over here two years ago so I think our marriage is his way of committing to me."

'It makes me want to cry, but I hide it'

Charlie Amor (27) from Hampshire is married to Keith Amor, a professional motorsport rider and Northern Ireland fans' favourite. They have two children Cooper (3) and Emily (five months). The couple live near Stirling in Scotland. She says:

Road racing never held any interest for me, but I was spotted by a scout from Honda when I was working in a bar during my university days, when I was studying history and archaeology. They wanted me to work as a Grid Girl - I didn't even know what a grid was - but I was 18-years-old, and when I heard what I would get paid I decided to work for them, which I did for a year before being promoted to hospitality and logistics for Team Honda where I was for five years.

Despite being involved in the sport, I didn't know who Keith was until my boss asked me to look after him, but I didn't pay much attention to him - with riders being riders, they can be flirty and you learn to ignore it. But we did become more than friends. We were travelling around during the World Endurance Championships and hanging out together - I was worried at one stage that I would get in trouble with my boss, but he was okay with it.

We had our first child, our son Cooper, in 2012 - he was born on the TT race day and we had our second child, Emily, five months ago. Shortly afterwards in March, we had a secret wedding - we got into trouble with quite a few people over that.

Racing is work to Keith, and I try not to show any emotion before a race as I want to be supportive of him and we are so proud of him. But I do feel nervous, and I do feel guilty as he is doing this to provide for us as a family - it is a weird feeling, and it makes me want to cry but I have to hide it.

Keith had a big crash at the Ulster Grand Prix last year when I was pregnant with Emily, and Cooper kept asking where his daddy was.

But Keith is sensible and I trust his opinion, so he wouldn't go out if it was not safe. But that decision is not always down to him - it is down to everyone around the riders.

I always want to be there for him when he is racing, but in a hotel room rather than at the course.

If anything happens I need to be able to get to the hospital, but I have small children, too, so I have to think about them and their needs - it is all about balance. We do go to the paddock on race days and this year we had a lorry which was great for the children.

Cooper loves being around Keith's team of mechanics - he has been around them since he was born. My brother-in-law is Keith's chief mechanic so Cooper loves to get involved with them.

In some ways Keith's job is one where our whole family can be involved with what he does and he gets to spend time with his children and that is something worth thinking about.

"He may not have been able to do that if he had a normal nine-to-five job."

The history of a famous event ...

  • NW200 is held in May every year and comprises of up to 15 events
  • In a 2012 practice session, rider Martin Jessop was clocked at 208mph
  • Since 1964 the event has been organised by Coleraine and District Motor Club
  • 2010 saw the first daytime practice on the Thursday
  • The 2011 meeting was delayed by a hoax bomb alert and an oil spill on the track
  • Jack Brett recorded the first 100mph lap of the course on a Norton 500cc in 1957

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