Belfast Telegraph

From days of old to modern revamp... races have changed with the times

 

Massive attraction: Crowds watch Thursday’s races
Massive attraction: Crowds watch Thursday’s races

By Roy Harris

The 90th anniversary of the North West 200 is a momentous occasion for Coleraine and District Motor Club — and there have been many changes since those early days.

The bikes have gone through many transformations; two-stroke, four-stroke, single, twin, triple and four cylinder from manufacturers like Rudge, Velocette, Triumph, Matchless, Norton, AJS, Gilera, Zenith, BSA, various configurations of Rotax engine machines, Sparton, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda and Ducati are a few who have graced the various configurations of the circuit.

Riders have gone from wearing basic overall, skin-tight leather one-piece suits through to today’s multi-patched walking billboards of sponsors.

Helmets are the same, pudding basins and goggles to space type and now the full-face Arai, Shoei, etc all made and worn with competitor safety in mind. Now we have elbow pads, knee pads, back protectors, chest protectors, gloves and boots that can withstand a lot of punishment.

Course medical equipment, doctors, first aid, ambulance, the way riders are treated if suffering a crash and course communications have all moved with the times and technology.

So far in fact that if you have the unfortunate experience of taking ill at a race meeting, not just the North West, the attention you receive would arguably be as good as going to any A&E department.

For a long time now races are stopped, riders are stabilised at trackside before being moved to hospital by either ambulance or now by NI Air Ambulance, thanks to the late Dr John Hinds and all the people who lobbied and donated to make this a reality.

Sponsorship was unheard of until W.D. and H.O. Wills in 1965. Steel Services of Ireland were first to have their name on the front of the programme in 1974 and in 1978 the race became the Moran’s International North West 200.

Coca-Cola brought a professional and high-profile approach to the event from 1992. For 10 years we saw a revolution in standards, media awareness, television awareness from firstly UTV and now the BBC in conjunction with Greenlight Television, who have taken the coverage to a new level, with mass media coverage, Twitter and Facebook making the North West 200 accessible around the world — live.

Hospitality has gone from caravans to tables on a grass patch to the now obligatory marquees with sponsors and the general public able to purchase tickets to entertain clients and friends and future potential sponsors of the races with food, drink, a Coke or Fanta, just like every other sporting occasion. There’s big screens, grandstands at strategic locations and many other changes, too many to mention.

Media coverage was once a double-decker bus with journalists tripping over each other rushing to a nearby house to telephone through their copy to papers.

Now a Press marquee with wifi and laptops to get the results, stories or photographs instantly to their clients or the multitude of websites taking information. Press nights are a thing of the past with no PR company, just a Press officer to dish out the same articles to all the same outlets as mentioned trying to keep them all happy with embargoes to keep everybody happy?

Yes, many changes, but the question is, have all changes been for the good? Arguably some are and some aren’t, but for sure the profile of the event has changed beyond all recognition, made the competitors household names and brought much-needed finance into the North Coast economy. Like it or loathe it, change will continue to take place keeping the North West 200 the global event it has become.

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