Phillip McCallen issues stark warning over future of North West 200

Phillip McCallen has warned that ‘serious discussions’ are needed once this year’s North West 200 is concluded to safeguard the event’s future.

By Kyle White
Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 6:00 am

The 11-time NW200 winner and his fellow directors in the Revival Racing Motorcycle Club, including race chief Mervyn Whyte, had worked hard behind the scenes to secure a funding package of £800,000 to resurrect the debt-hit Ulster Grand Prix and bolster the NW200.

It seemed the largest-ever financial injection for Irish motorcycling was set to come to fruition after receiving the green light from the Department of Finance and Department for the Economy.

However, the funding was denied at the final hurdle by Tourism NI and plans to bring the Ulster Grand Prix back in August had to be scrapped.

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The North West 200 is the jewel in Northern Ireland motorcycling's crown.

Last held in 2019, the historic Dundrod race was due to have marked its centenary this year.

Under the stewardship of the Dundrod and District Motorcycle Club, the event ran into financial trouble and faced debts in the region of £300,0000.

In 2021, the club entered into a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) with its creditors, enabling a portion of the debts owed to be paid back over a fixed period of time.

Many riders were left out of pocket, including Peter Hickman – who won a record seven races in 2019 and established Dundrod as the fastest road race in the world with a 136mph lap – plus Fermanagh’s Lee Johnston.

The North West 200, overseen by Coleraine and District Motor Club, is taking place this week, albeit the cash-strapped road race could ultimately be run at a loss this year.

McCallen, whose aim is to bring Northern Ireland’s two major road races under the same organisational umbrella, remains committed to revisiting the proposal for vital government funding once the North West is over.

The Portadown man, who famously won five races in a day at the NW200 in 1992, said: “It’s a serious situation because if these events don’t get proper financial backing, then they’ll be gone, and that applies to the North West 200; it needs help soon and if it doesn’t come, we won’t have a North West 200 either.

“Once the NW200 is over this year, everybody needs to have a serious rethink and sit down and try and plan for next year, otherwise we could lose the lot.

“The volunteers who give up their time to run the North West are getting older and many are no longer with us. They’re not being replaced by younger people who are able to do the work, so if we don’t get some paid people in to do it soon, it will be gone.

“The problem is that people expect to watch the North West 200 for free. Too many don’t put their hand in their pocket and buy a programme, or pay into the car parks or grandstands,” he added.

“But the penny needs to drop because we’re at the stage where we might not have a North West unless people start to make a contribution.”

McCallen and fellow Revival MCC director Robin Titterington’s Classic Bike Festival Ireland is going ahead this summer at Bishopscourt Racing Circuit (August 6-7) for the first time since 2019, with the two-day meeting featuring classic racing for 250cc/350cc two-stroke machines and Classis Superbikes.

As part of his plans for the future, McCallen’s wish is also to incorporate classic racing at the Ulster Grand Prix.

“Our overall plan for the future is still the same in that we want to run classic racing at our festival at Bishopscourt, with those riders and machines then also going on to compete at the Ulster Grand Prix,” he said.

“And also we want to bring the two biggest road races – the NW200 and Ulster GP – under one organisation to preserve them for the future.

“Yes, having the funding turned down was a massive blow, but we just couldn’t turn our backs on it because if we did, it would take new people another full year to try and get up to date with what is required to try and bring the Ulster Grand Prix back.

“We’re going to regroup and go again. We’ve learned a lot and hopefully we’ll be in a stronger position to present our case, so we’re going to be having many meetings between now and next year with government, Tourism NI and all parties concerned.”

Longer-term plans also include a proposal to bring a round of the British Superbike Championship to Bishopscourt in Co Down prior to the North West, but for now the priority is securing the financial backing required to revive the Ulster Grand Prix and ensuring the NW200 keeps its head above water.