Back in the office after two days in Northern Ireland, primarily for Thursday’s North West 200 launch and I was trying to explain just how the race is revered in the province.
The launch festivities kicked off at around 10.00am but by then there were already pictures flying through cyber-space to serve websites worldwide of bikini-clad Miss Northern Ireland, draped across a 1930s Rudge in front of the ‘2009 Kennedy North West 200 in association with Coca Cola Zero’ backboard.
The January launch – the North West has several PR ‘launches’ to build fervour in advance of the May race-day – is always a lavish and well-attended affair, with local politicians and dignitaries, BBC and Greenlight TV people plus other ‘suits’ far outweighing racing folk.
More so this year than in previous years.
To be honest, in the past, the amount of top racers invited across to the launch has been mind-boggling and this year, partly due to budget but more due to maximising publicity, the initial launch was focussed on the 2008 big winners: Steve Plater (treble – superbike win and two supersport wins), Michael Rutter (superbike win), Alastair Seeley (sensational superstock winner) and Michael Dunlop (that emotional 250 race win).
No doubt other roads heroes like John McGuinness, Bruce Anstey, Cameron Donald, Gary Johnson, Conor Cummins and local star Ryan Farquhar will make appearances at PR functions in the coming weeks.
The launch tends to be a lengthy list of thank you’s to sponsors and volunteers who all work hard to make the show such a raging success.
The North West 200 is Ireland’s biggest sporting occasion, attracting a crowd in excess of 150,000 and it’s said more than 60,000 of them are from outside of the province.
The North West 200 generates an estimated £7 million in the local economy so it’s no big surprise the organisers, not to mention the local council and government, are keen to foster the festival element and extend the time the visitors are in the region, which, it has to be said, is one of the most wonderful areas of natural beauty in the British Isles (when the sun is shining!).
After the launch MCN’s contributing photographer Stephen Davison and I sneaked off for a quiet coffee to reflect on the morning’s events.
As we sipped our Americanos, Davison scoured the early edition of a local paper. There was his launch picture from the morning – already in print.
Imagine that on the mainland after a pre-season bike racing launch. It wouldn’t happen. Now maybe you get the idea of the elevated status the North West 200 race enjoys in Northern Ireland.
This morning, the day after the launch, all three of the Northern Ireland nationals carried North West 200 stories – two of them had launch pictures on the front and back pages, as well as features in the social pages, as well as news and sport.
Oh, how they embrace motorcycle racing in Northern Ireland.