Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Road Racing

For some reason road racing is an integral part of our culture hereabouts.  There are a myriad of meetings which take place around the country during the spring and summer.  One of the largest is the North West 200, where young and not-so-young men (and women nowadays) hurtle round the roads connecting Coleraine, Portrush and Portstewart at a high rate of knots.  The races take place on normal roads, complete with white lines, kerbs and manhole covers.  And alongside the roads you have the usual furniture of trees, lamp-posts, road signs, walls, pillars and houses. You can imagine the dangers - particularly now when speeds of 200mph are not uncommon on the straights.

When I was a lad, back in the late 1970s, the annual NW200 was a not-to-be-missed event and the camera was always present.  Sometimes we would head for the pits and other years The Brother and I would stick our heads through a hedge along one of the straights and practice our panning technique, hoping for the best.  Nowadays the public are kept well back from the racing and it's not so easy to get close, which is probably a good thing from a safety point of view.  Names from the past included the famous Dunlop brothers Joey and Robert, Frank Kennedy (also from Armoy), Tommy Herron, Mick Grant and Tony Rutter (whose son Michael is currently a very successful racer).

Road racing, NW200 style, c1979
You can see from the above photograph that wet roads were a not uncommon occurrence, which must have added to the adrenalin rush for the racers.  In those days the circuit went the full length of the Cromore Road to the Shell Hill - nowadays the circuit takes a shorter route over the Coleraine-Portrush railway line at University Corner.

Safety was sometimes less than optimum in the old days - the odd bale of straw roped around pillars and lamp-posts, if you were lucky.  Riders really did take their life in their hands.

Not much protection if you came off
The NW200 is a proper race - the riders all leave the start line at the same time.  Well, at times of course the excitement gets too much for some and they fall over before the race even begins:

Fallen over on the start line - D'oh!  c1979

Unfortunately many of the top riders from that era are no longer with us.  It's a very dangerous sport, both then and now, and several have lost their lives as a result of accidents.   1979 was a particularly bad year and we were unlucky enough to be close by when two bikes touched on one of the fastest stretches of the Cromore Road.  

As you can see one bike is in flames and the local medics are rushing to help.  This is what a bike looks like after it's been engulfed in flames - not much left:

Burnt out chassis of bike
On better days we got to see some of the best road racing ever - two giants of the late 1970s were Mick Grant (number 10) on the green and white Kawasaki and Tony Rutter.  These were top riders and I can remember this duel well.  This was taken around the Primrose Hill area of Portstewart, just after the stop/start line.  You can just about make out both riders picking their spot for the next corner.

Mike Grant leading Tony Rutter, late 1970s.
Spectators were able to get real close to the action in those days.  Yes it's safer today, but some of the thrill has gone, to be sure.

All the above photos were taken and printed around 1979, by either me or The Brother.  FP4 was the film of choice then (and now) and either printed on Kodak Veribrom or Ilford Ilfospeed Grade 2 papers.  I know that as the prints have been residing in old paper boxes for the last 35 years, while the negs are still sitting in their glassine protected Paterson Sleeves.

1 comment:

  1. Great shots from back in time when you could actualy get close to where the action was.