NW200: Few could have imagined how it would grow

The North West 200 was originally organised by The Derry and District Motor Club, and those involved in 1929 would probably not have believed how the event would flourish.

The race, held over a triangle cricuit in the Coleraine, Portrush and Porstewart area on the North coast has become Ireland’s largest sporting event.

Joey and Robert  Dunlop battle it out at the North West 200 in 1990. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON

Joey and Robert Dunlop battle it out at the North West 200 in 1990. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON

The name of the event comes from its setting, reflecting the original intended location on a public roads course in the North West of Ireland and the ‘200’ in the title simply indicates that the event was originally run over a distance of 200 miles.

Since 1964 the North West 200 was handed over to the Coleraine and District Motor Club who continue to organise the event.

Obviously there is some remarkable history attached to 85 years of racing - although during World War II racing did not take place - and it is impossible to do it justice in these columns.

But some of the highlights are included here.

The first race in 1929 saw 35 riders entered. However, not all entrants made it to the start line - four were missing.

One rider, J McKane from the nearby village of Dervock was thrown from his machine after colliding with a car during practice the previous day and was recovering in hospital.

As the Union Jack and Irish Tricolour - flown in honour of the six competitors from Eire, fluttered in the southerly breeze over the expectant gathering, the writer of the Belfast News Letter edition of April 22, 1929, commented that: ‘The scene at the start resembled a miniature Grand Prix.’

As the race entered its second half, an unexpected, additional hazard developed, as the dry, whin bushes at Blackhill, caught fire. The gorse bank was quickly ablaze and now the riders relied on blind faith as they drove on through a pail of dense smoke.

The winner was W J McCracken, onboard a 348cc Velocette. He had a handicap of 27 minutes and it took him three hours, eight minutes and 35 seconds to complete the 200 miles.

McCracken received the North West 200 Perpetual Trophy and £20!

It was certainly an interesting beginning to an event that was to grow to become one of the biggest roads races in the world.

Here are some of the other key events from 1929 to 1970.

1930: Start/Finish area moved from original location near Magherabuoy to Portstewart.Meeting held as a scratch event.

1934: Jimmy Guthrie wins the first of four consecutive 500cc wins and sets the first lap of 80 mph or more in the process.

1939: Last meeting held before the outbreak of WWII. Ernie Lyons (Triumph) is the only 500cc finisher.

1947: Racing resumes on the Triangle circuit after the end of the Second World War despite shortages of fuel and tyres. Artie Bell wins the 500cc class. No racing held in 1948 but Bell wins again in 1949 and in 1950 records the first International win for the Featherbed Norton.

1953: Gilera make their debut at the NW 200 ridden by Dickie Dale and Reg Armstrong. Dale fails to finish and Armstrong finishes 500cc third. Ray Amm gives the Silver Bullet Norton it’s only competitive racing outing in the 350cc event. The revolutionary machine fails to finish the race.

1954: Armstrong wins for Gilera in 1954 and finshes runner up behind his Gilera team mate Geoff Duke in 1955.

1955: Alan Lyons (NSU) wins the 250cc race. Alan and Ernie Lyons are the first brothers to win the North West 200. Only Joey and Robert Dunlop can claim the same distinction.

1957: Jack Brett records the first 100 mph lap of the Triangle circuit riding Lord Montagu’s Norton to 500cc victory.

1958: Mike Hailwood’s (NSU) only racing appearance at the NW 200. He finishes runner up to Sammy Millar (NSU) in the 250cc race.

1961: Bob McIntyre scores a famous 500cc and 350cc double riding Matchless and AJS machinery.

1964: First NW 200 win for a Japanese manufacturer, Ralph Bryans wins the 350cc and 250cc races for the Honda factory.

1965: Dick Crieth wins the 500cc race for the second year in a row riding Joe Ryan’s Fireplace Norton.

1966: Peter Williams 500cc winner

1968: Yamaha’s first NW 200 win at the NW 200 with Rod Gould’s victory in the 250cc race

1970: Suzuki win their first race at the NW 200, Stuart Graham wins the 500cc Production race. John Cooper was also a 500cc winner.

1971: Last event ran over the original circuit running the length of Portstewart prom, with John Cooper (500cc), Paul Smart (350cc), & Derek Chatterton (250cc) winning the three classes on the day

1974: John Williams wins the 350cc, 500cc and 750cc races to become the first rider to claim a hat trick of victories in one day.

1977: Ray McCullough and Tony Rutter (both Yamaha) cross the finishing line absolutely together at the end of the 350cc race. This result remains the only dead heat finish in the history of the NW 200.

1978: Tom Herron records a lap of 127.63 mph during the Superbike race. This record stood as the fastest lap ever recorded on any British race circuit until 2003.

1979: Joey Dunlop wins his first races on the Triangle circuit in the events 50th anniversary year. The 1979 is still regarded as the darkest day in it’s history after crashes claimed the lives of three riders, Tom Herron, Brian Hamilton and Frank Kennedy.

1983: A chicane is introduced at Juniper Hill. Joey Dunlop wins the 500cc and Superbike Races.

1986: Robert Dunlop beats Gene McDonnell in a close finish to claim his first NW 200 win in the 350cc race.

1987: Joey Dunlop takes a famous hat trick at the meeting winning the 750cc Production Race and both Superbike Races.

1989: Steve Hislop wins his only races at the NW 200, the 750cc King of the Roads race and the Superbike race.

1990: Robert Dunlop storms to a hat trick of wins.

1992: Philip McCallen makes the Triangle circuit his own with an unprecedented five wins in a day.

1997: Michael Rutter opens his North West account with 600cc and Superbike wins. Owen McNally scores a famous 250cc win and Philip McCallan wins his eleventh and last NW 200 win in the Superbike Race.

1999: David Jefferies takes a treble at the meeting with a 600cc win and victories in both Superbike races

2000: Joey Dunlop starts what will prove to be his last North West 200 on pole position for both Superbike races. Michael Rutters claims a hat trick with a 600cc win and victories in both Superbike races.

2002: Bruce Anstey creates a sensation by setting pole position and then taking the win in the Production Race on his debut at the meeting

2003: Ryan Farquhar takes both 600cc Supersport race wins for Kawasaki

2004: Ian Lougher wins the 125cc race giving him an unbroken run of five back to back wins in the class. Michael Rutter makes history after becoming the first rider to record a straight line speed in excess of 200 mph.

2006: Steve Plater wins both Superbike Races, 10 years after making his North West 200 debut. Robert Dunlop wins a thrilling 125cc race from Michael Wilcox to score his record making fifteenth and last victory on the Triangle Circuit.

2007: Bruce Anstey recovers from a crash in the opening race of the meeting to score an emphatic hat trick of wins, claiming victory in the Superstock race and in both 600cc Supersport races.

2008: North West 200 legend Robert Dunlop loses his life after crashing at Mather’s Cross in practice.

Less than two days later his son Michael wins the 250cc race amidst unprecedented highly emotional scenes.

Phillip McCallen is the only rider to win five races in a day at the North West after a dominant year in 1992