Demise of Mid Antrim 150 a warning to us all, says Bill Kennedy

Jamie Hamilton leads Seamus Elliott in the Supersport race at the Mid Antrim 150 in 2013
Jamie Hamilton leads Seamus Elliott in the Supersport race at the Mid Antrim 150 in 2013

Armoy Clerk of the Course Bill Kennedy has warned that no club is immune to the threat of financial collapse following this week’s announcement that the Mid Antrim 150 has been cancelled.

Kennedy has been at the helm of the thriving Armoy meeting since its inception in 2009, with the ‘Race of Legends’ quickly rising in status to become arguably the country’s leading national meeting.

Armoy has benefitted from the support of loyal sponsors over the past five years and attracts large crowds, with top riders including Michael and William Dunlop, Guy Martin, Ryan Farquhar, Keith Amor, Conor Cummins and former Grand Prix winner Jeremy McWilliams among the star-studded entries in the past.

However, Kennedy is loathe to take anything for granted and points to the sad demise of the Mid Antrim 150 as evidence of the challenges faced by financially-vulnerable clubs.

“A lot of people don’t realise that it’s a year-round job to be involved in running a national road race. You’re working all the time on all the issues that need to be looked at and you can’t afford to take your eye off the ball at any time,” Kennedy told the News Letter.

“We’re very fortunate to have good sponsors on board but it’s a matter of working with them as much as possible to keep them on board, but what has happened to the Mid Antrim can happen to any club, no matter who you are.

“We’ve already saw this happening with races in the south last year; some of those events are trying to make a comeback this year, but it’s never easy to start again.”

The Mid Antrim was cancelled in 2008 and abandoned in 2011 following a suspected malicious oil spillage on the 3.6-mile Clough circuit.

These setbacks combined with falling crowd numbers and a lack of star names have seemingly had a cumulative effect and the writing has been on the wall for some time.

Ballymoney brothers Michael and William Dunlop haven’t raced at the Mid Antrim since 2009 and Kennedy feels it’s no coincidence that their absence has coincided with the steady decline of the Clough meeting.

“For me, the Mid Antrim has been on the slide from the time they had a falling out with the Dunlop brothers,” he said. “It takes the big name riders to make any event - yes, you do need a full grid of riders of all capabilities but it’s the top names that create the buzz and the atmosphere and excitement - that’s what the majority of people want.

“You’ll still have those fans who’ll come out regardless, but to get the numbers into your event you must have the big names and it’s as simple as that.”

Ballyclare’s Jamie Hamilton, meanwhile - a double winner in the Supersport and Supertwin races at the Mid Antrim in 2013 - said he hoped the event would return to the calendar next year.

“I was disappointed to hear the news because I’ve done well there in the past and last year I broke the lap record in the Supertwin class by something silly like six seconds,” said Hamilton.

“I got my first win in the Supersport class as well and a second place in the first big bike race, so I was right on the money. It’s sad that it’s not running because the racing was some of the best we had last year.

“Hopefully they can get things sorted out and come back stronger next year.”