What preparations are made before a road race?
Well, lets say the for the Cookstown, the application form will be sent out in January, I am on their mailing list so it will be sent out automatically. There is not too much to the form, you tell them your licence number, transponder number, what classes you are going to ride and what bikes you are racing. There is normally a closing date about 2 weeks before the event. I just send back the form with my entry fee. Each club sets their own fee, some more than others.
How does the organising Club recover costs of running an event?
An oddity of road racing is that income from spectators is relatively low. Nowadays there is a push to put in grandstands which can be charged for and there is always a big effort to sell programmes. Only one meeting in the North can legally charge an admission fee and that is the UGP. They have what is called a race area and you will need your ticket, windscreen sticker or wristband to enter this area during racing or practice. But as we saw this year, spectators will scramble across fields etc to view the racing for free. So generally the main source of income from fans will be the programme and the programmes are generally very good. Although I do have a slight issue – as a rider we get a free programme but at some events we are only given the race card and not the glossy magazine. At an event like the UGP, the big teams are paid to attend.
That is an interesting point; I believed the bigger teams are lured by the bigger prize money available.
Not always the case. The bigger teams and their riders are almost certainly paid to attend. It is a vey murky area and I have a problem with it. We are not all treated equally. If you were to enter a car rally you will find that every teams space in the service area is measured out equally, everybody is treated the same as regards to the rules and regulations, everybody’s the same. But that’s not the case a road racing. In road racing the bigger team you are, the more money you have, the more kudos you have the more preferential treatment you will receive.
In a way that disappoints me, but I should stop being naïve.
There is a harsh commercial reality to it. If you go to a Clubmans round at a wet Bishopscourt in March there will be no one there watching, yet an ISB round in July, when the bigger teams send over riders, there will be lots of punters there. The NW 200 is the same of course. Fans don’t want to watch me and a few others in a couple of support races. My name won’t cover the back page of the Belfast Telegraph. Guy Martin, John McGuiness, Steve Plater and riders of that calibre are recognisable names that attract a lot of spectators. Fans want to watch the riders they recognise from the TV and so often riders will only race over here in the top events. But I also believe that events like say the NW200 do also get punters out for the first time and out of the 50,000 a few will get sufficiently interested to come along to the smaller events at Tandragee and Cookstown for example.
So how much money should spectators be contributing to the event?
Well as you know I am a keen follower of Ulster rugby and often pay £25 to watch them, for 80 minutes. Now on a warm sunny day at Tandragee, you get a good spot and you will see some mad, talented, skilful guys racing motorbikes for your pleasure. Now that is worth 25 quid in my mind. But and there is always a but, you could also be sat in the lashing rain and the racing gets curtailed half way through. That guy who paid is not going to be happy. It’s a conundrum. And the riders are affected too. I must have paid around £200 to enter the Mid Antrim and because we had practice sessions and the race then abandoned over the head of that idiot, that money is gone. And we didn’t even get to race. And that same idiot is another reason the charging issue is so difficult. If you have paid £25 to watch a days racing and it is abandoned for some reason like that, you are not going to be happy and might never come back again. It’s difficult. If I pay my money to watch the rugby I am damned certain that I am going to see the show. It may not always be spectacular but I am guaranteed a seat and I know that the event will go ahead.
Any comments on marshalling at road racing?
The only place I marshal now is on the isle of Man. It is a thankless job as lots of punters want to stand where they are not allowed. At somewhere like the NW for example, there are a lot of punters with drink taken who are not regulars at these events and it can be a horrible experience trying to keep them safe. I admire those that do marshal over here but I find dealing with drunks and scoundrels very difficult.
I noticed the road closure is enforced much more stringently on IOM than here. For example, up at the Brandywell, 30 miles from the startline and before racing had started, marshals need radio permission from race control to allow a spectator to cross over the mountain road .Is this a good practice?
It does appear a little extreme but worthwhile. Punters know that the road closure is strictly controlled, marshals carry a warrant and have a power of arrest and as such the circuit is much safer. The crowd control is excellent and generally the huge amount of spectators do exactly as they are told. When I marshal on the island I got to Gorse Lea, and highly recommend it. It is fast and the last right hander before Ballacraine. There is a wall where a lot of spectators gather and before the roads close and sit with their legs dangling over. We go along them all individually and advise them to get their legs behind the wall as soon as the circuit is closed. We are polite and you wouldn’t believe how cooperative they are. We monitor the wall carefully after that using binoculars and occasionally have remind the odd one using a whistle. Unfortunately I have seen some pretty chaotic scenes over here, things that just shouldn’t be happening. At a recent event in Skerries, we were just red flagged because of an incident and within seconds there were loads of punters on a live race circuit all wanting to have a look at the incident. That just shouldn’t be happening, although I do believe things improved this year.
So let’s say I am a punter at Gorse Lea where you are marshalling and refuse to move from an area that you have asked me to move from. Would you stop a race? Or what action would you take?
We would be very vocal in trying to get you to move, as would other spectators who don’t want to see their days racing ruined. The local Police would then be requested to remove you from the circuit. Thankfully this doesn’t happen very often, although the odd drunk can pose a problem.