Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Road race time again

I've posted before about the annual motorbike road race around these parts - the North West 200, where mad men (and women) hurtle around Portstewart-Coleraine-Portrush roads at speeds up to (and just over) 200mph.  Completely nuts.   I haven't really had the camera/lens setup to take any photographs in recent years and to be honest it's not as easy as it was when I was a lad.  In those days you could stand more or less at the side of the road and get really close to the action.  Nowadays that's not allowed - spectators are being pushed further and further back - for obvious reasons (Risk Assessments, Health and Safety, Public Liability Insurance to name but a few).  Really the organisers want everyone seated in tiered stands and not sticking their head (and camera) through a gap in the hedge.  Completely understandable - if two bikes touch at high speed then no-one nearby is safe.   I was talking to one of the Head Marshalls of the course last year and he recalled an accident at another road race a few years ago when two bikes touched.  One of the bikes somersaulted into the air and crashed up in a tree.  Unfortunately the same tree that a man had climbed to get a better view, thinking he'd be safe up there.  He wasn't - poor man was fatally injured.  So while the major risk is for the riders, there is also a risk for the spectators.

Of course in my day (Ed: eh?) the term Health and Safety hadn't been invented.  Here's a few shots - in colour this time, my favourite Kodachrome - from The Archives.  1979 was the year.

First off we have the local lad, our very own Joey Dunlop, one of the famous (around these parts anyway) Armoy Armada.  Road racing was in Joey's blood and there'll be a few more posts about him on this blog in the future.  Joey was killed riding in Estonia at the age of 48.  Now, remember it's 1979...notice the huge crowds in the background - and the cows aren't very impressed either.  Why is it all the greats wore yellow helmets?  Ayrton Senna, Joey Dunlop, Lewis Hamilton...there must be a story there somewhere.

Joey Dunlop
Next we have another local lad and Grand Prix racer - Tom Herron.  Tom was tragically killed on the last lap of the last race of the NW200 in 1979, so this is probably one of the last ever photographs of him.  One thing that always amazes me is the complete lack of protection for the riders in those days - not even a straw bale in sight along this stretch of road...just concrete walls and metal lamp posts.  Any wonder there were so many fatalities.  When I see this photograph it's hard to think about Tommy Herron the man who lost his life later this very day.  I suppose when your time is up it's better to be wearing #1.

Tom Herron, 1979

The 1979 race day was a tragic one - known afterwards as 'Black Saturday' since there were a number of fatalities that day. A major crash occurred on the Cromore Road - the course was altered soon after, which removed this long straight section.  The Brother and I were standing close by at the time  - we often moved along the back roads between races just to get a different vantage point.  I wonder what these riders were thinking as they passed the scene..."Thank flip that's not me", I suspect.

Fatal crash at Cromore Road, 1979
Maybe this year I'll dust the camera off and get out and about on Race Day - in about 3 weeks time.  Stay tuned...

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