The climax of the week had arrived, the day we had been looking forward to. The weather appeared fine, such a blessing after last years fiasco. Myself, Callum and his mate from Saintfield were up around 0530 and left shortly afterwards after packing the car. We made the now ritual stop at Macdonalds for coffee and breakfast baps before heading north towards Portrush. Nicky and William were also on their way, leaving from Larne.
Having driven up and down twice in the week it was pleasant being a passenger in Michael`s go faster Ka. We made excellent time and were at the paddock good and early. We had time to chat to the Clerk of the Course and of course a wee walk round the team garages. There were not too many riders around though. Called in to see Ronan Pentony #113 but he was still tucked up. Bless. Team crews were busy however getting bikes through scruteneering.
We bumped into Walter and his family who we believed were stalking us so we had to make a swift exit. I collected marshals badges from Liam before we decided to leave the now busy start finish to get to our zone.
We made our way against race direction back past Church and up the hill to Hillcrest garage. Nicky and William were already there and the crowds were beginning to gather. I got all the marshals to sign on and then spent a good few minutes briefing them all. We talked about racing hazards, spectators, rubbish, first aid, fire drills and prohibited areas. Everyone seemed happy and we prepared for road closure. It is quite a challenging wee zone with 3 particuarly hazardous areas – The filling station, the road from the campsite and the Lidl construction site.
We made a point of trying to say good morning to as many of the fans in our zone as possible and also with the construction workers. The main entrance to the construction site opened directly onto the circuit so I spent some time with the foreman explaining how things would run.
We managed to close roads on time which included putting barriers across the filling station entrances and building a fence on the road from the campsite.
The racing in our zone was fast and furious with a number of riders getting onto the back wheel as they accelerated towards Metropole and I am thankful that there were no incidents at all. I was however aware of a couple of offs in other parts of the circuit, including one major incident on the Mill Road. As the day continued we were to discover the terrible news of Mark Buckleys death. Words cannot explain how we all felt. Mark had stopped in our zone on Thursday to get fuel.
Our biggest problem was caused by mindless thugs who attempted to ruin everyones day by drinking excessively and openly taking drugs. They were young lads who no thought for anyone else and were certainly not there to watch the racing. As the day went on the situation got steadily worse. This was not helped by the fact that there was an off licence on site. We could take no more abuse and I asked the marshals to back right off and requested PSNI assistance. Several officers came to help and shortly afterwards 2 PSNI landrovers and support units were brought onto the circuit to intervene. They made 2 arrests and the rest of the day was much more enjoyable for us all.
I will be passing my comments onto Cathal regarding these issues and would like to see the off licence closed during racing or a PSNI presence in the garage from first thing. Lidl will also be open for business next year which will give us another headache.
Before the last race began I made my round as many of the fans as I could to thank them for coming and to wish them a safe journey home. The vast majority of fans had been absolutely perfect and were very understanding of what we asked them.
By the end of the day the fence closing off the road from the campsite has been cut so many times by punters it was almost useless. We had got through 30 huge cable ties!
Roads opened good and early and our journey home was very straightforward. Once home and after a quick shower we all enjoyed a cold beer and an Indian curry. Exhausted.