Belfast Telegraph

Whyte sticks with NW role and demands politicians play their part

Staying at the wheel: NW200 event director Mervyn Whyte
Staying at the wheel: NW200 event director Mervyn Whyte

By Roy Harris

North West 200 driving force Mervyn Whyte has shelved his retirement plans and will continue in the job.

And revealing his decision today, the race supremo also urged Stormont politicians to get back to work to not only get the wheels of government turning again but to free up funding for major tourist revenue boosting events like the North West.

Last May's contest was supposed to bring the curtain down on Whyte's 40 year involvement with the North West at the age of 68.

But his crisis management on the day - which ensured racing went ahead despite freak weather conditions and even a power failure caused by a helicopter hitting overhead cables on the course - led the organising Coleraine and District Motor Club to ask their valued Event Director to reconsider.

And he has replied in the affirmative, confirming he will be in charge again for next year's Race Week festival which will run from May 10-16 with main race day Saturday, May 16.

Whyte explained: "I have been asked by the committee of the Coleraine Club to stay on as Event Director for next year and have agreed to do so. I look forward to the challenge as the club continues to plan for the future with a succession process in place that will be adopted when I do step down."

He continued: "To tell you the truth, I have been going and not going and when I was on holiday recently, I decided to stick with the challenge.

"There were other years like 2010 and 2012 with bomb scares and oil spillage disruption when I asked myself if I needed this kind of pressure, but not so much this year despite the helicopter coming down.

"It was thanks to the quick response from the NIE emergency team that things were sorted so quickly.

"The ordinary punter doesn't see these problems, they just want to see bikes racing. They were sat, wet and miserable, while we tried to get things sorted so we could run races, things out of mine or the club's control. We were lucky at the end of the day to get four races run."

Then in July, the Open golf championship came to Portrush and Whyte picked up on one word that he feels the North West and local politicians could take on board.

"Money," he said. "I was there for three days as a guest of the R&A organisers and they took me through everything that was needed to bring the event to Portrush, from Health and Safety, risk assessments to hospitality, live television coverage worldwide, a wide range of aspects that could cross over.

"It was organisational perfection but I don't have anywhere near the sort of money that was required to bring such an one-off event to the area.

"For instance, our books are due to be audited and, while the North West just about wipes its face, it took almost £1million to stage this year's race meeting. Now that is hard to find, but given that the event brings £12.5 million into the area and we had something like 69,000 bed nights for an event that is basically free to watch, we need more resources and we need everybody to buy a programme.

"I am appreciative of every penny of funding we receive from Tourism Ireland, Causeway Coast and the Glens Borough Council and all other sources, but to access more funding we need to have our MLAs sitting in government.

"We don't need to be scrimping and saving to make ends meet year on year. What we need is financial guarantees that we don't lose heavily in event of a bad year, as that would end the spectacle of the North West 200."

Scottish rider Taylor MacKenzie will replace Glenn Irwin in Hector and Philip Neill's TAS team at this weekend's penultimate round of the British Superbike Championship at Donington Park, following lrwin's departure from the team last week.

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