Belfast Telegraph

Driving force Mervyn has opportunity to leave a lasting North West legacy

 

By Roy Harris

Two thoughts occurred with the news that North West 200 driving force Mervyn Whyte is continuing in his role as Event Director to oversee a succession by a new management team upon his retirement after next year's races.

Firstly, as Mervyn acknowledged by his decision, no individual is bigger than the event and, secondly, there is no 'I' in the word team.

Mervyn has been 17 years in charge, firstly as Clerk of the Course, taking over from Billy Nutt (himself 20 years in the post) in 2001, then as Race Director in a previous restructuring in 2010, Technical Director 2011 and then in his current role of Event Director from 2012.

Prior to all this, Mervyn spent 15 years as Race Secretary, in total 32 years in significant roles within the Coleraine and District Motor Club promoters of the North West 200 - you could say he knows the event inside out, but it takes a toll.

However, the North West was running long before Billy or Mervyn took up the reins and will hopefully continue well into the future when Mervyn steps down.

He is to oversee a gradual handover to Fergus Mackay, currently Events Operations Manager, and Gillian Lloyd, the Event Co-ordinator, both well versed in the workings of this country's biggest sporting occasion.

Of course, the races themselves are always going to be the fundamental backbone of the North West 200, but the infrastructure surrounding the present day meeting is light years away from the Seventies and Eighties.

By this I mean multi-national sponsors, mass media coverage via television and internet, showcasing not only the racing, but the tourist potential of the surrounding area to millions worldwide.

Even the riders and teams themselves are a far cry from the days when they turned up and took of from the grid. Everything is hi-tech, corporate and consummately professional.

It is a tribute to Mervyn and his organisational skills that he has managed for so many years to pull it all together with a race team compromised largely of volunteers.

Now he has an opportunity to create a legacy, guaranteeing the future of the event, in the hands of a dedicated team with a joined up approach to managing the various strands into a successful end result on Race Week.

Organising and promoting the North West is a year on year job - meetings with various statutory bodies, sponsors, risk assessments to be carried out in every aspect of any major event, a requirement of not only the Health and Safety body, but also the MCUI governing body who are always looking at and asking organisers to implement safety procedures for competitors and spectators.

I could go on, but the bottom line as I see it is that all of the above requires a specialist team sharing the collective responsibility and, most important of all, securing access to funding.

It has recently been confirmed in an Economic Impact Survey that the North West 200 generates £12.3m for the local economy - not to be sniffed at in any shape or form - so I would suggest that with the money generated there should be a bigger return to the organisers from our politicians without having to cry poverty year on year.

It takes around £1m to organise and promote this thrilling spectacle and while grants are available and money does filter down, I would argue it is not enough. The Coleraine Club organisers should not always be worrying if it is going to be a wet day with diminished local crowds (the overseas visitors would still be in attendance) bringing in less revenue and leaving the club in financial difficulty.

I would also argue that finance should always be on hand from local or regional government to help with the event and underwrite any losses - everyone would be a winner; the club, local business, tourism and trade.

The North West has been running close to nine decades - it is not a one-off event and you can guarantee that if it disappeared there would be an immediate outcry over job and business losses.

The same benefits should apply to the Ulster Grand Prix which generates significant economic benefit to the Lisburn area.

Simple? Not with so many obstacles, hoops to jump through and lobbying to be done, which is why delegation, team work and presentation will be very important as these events continue to evolve.

I do wonder if everyone lining the circuits to witness the spectacular racing is remotely aware of the multiple tasks that are required to get the riders and machines on to the grids prior to the lights going out.

That's why Mervyn Whyte still has a part to play and good luck to him in making it possible.

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