2018 was to be a special year in the history of the Armoy Road Races as they prepared to celebrate their 10th year racing the roads around the small North Antrim village of Armoy. When the club began preparations after 2017’s race meeting, no one could have predicted the run of unfortunate events which would cumulate in this years races not being what the AMRRC would have expected or to have ended the way it did.
A STRUGGLED START
The Armoy Road Races after all should not really have been in the first place. The very notion that in this day and age you could run a road race on the county roads around any rural village, let alone Armoy, was to many a far-flung idea and impossible, Even if it did harp back to the late 70’s when the 4 Armoy Armada members of Frank Kennedy, Mervyn Robinson and Jim & Joey Dunlop raced the same roads for 3 short years.
Today off course is a very different situation with health & safety as well as the mountains of legislation in place, which at every turn fought the very notion of racing roads, BUT a group of determined individuals somehow managed it. After setting up a club (AMRRC) in 2007 and putting Bill Kennedy in place as chairperson, a position he still holds today, the club held their first race meeting in 2009. Now 2018 the races have become know for being one of the most popular and successful national road races in all of Ireland.
Back at the launch of the Armoy Road Races in June at the Bayview Hotel in Portballintra, just a few miles from Armoy, Clerk of the Course and Chairperson Bill Kennedy spoke of his excitement for this years races and the many fantastic events that would make up the week leading to the races. Bill was also able to announce that road racing legend John McGuiness had called him and asked if he could come watch this years races, an offer Bill was only to happy to say yes to.
Before the races got underway, the AMRRC was hit with a massive funding blow when Tourism Northern Ireland opted not to fund this weekend’s event. In previous years Tourism Northern Ireland had given about £10,00 each year and this cut had been described by Bill Kennedy as a “substantial blow’ and that Tourism Northern Ireland had this year said that the application for the road races in Armoy this year wasn’t strong enough.
With all the excitement surround the upcoming 10th anniversary celebrations, the world of road racing was struck down just a few weeks later with the devastation news that young William Dunlop lost his life after crashing on a practice lap at the Skerries 100. William’s personal connection to the Armoy Road Races goes back to his two uncles, Jim & Joey, members of the Armoy Armada. As well as the Dunlop connection William was a member of AMRRC and took part every year at the races. In 2017 he came 2nd in the main race, the ‘Race of Legends’ only being piped to the finish line by brother Michael.
As expected many were questioning if Armoy would go ahead and if so what sort of celebration would it now be? Despite being one of many in the racing world hit hard by Williams death, Bill Kennedy spoke of desire for the races to continue. Speaking to FUSE FM Ballymoney at the time Bill said;
“It won’t feel like a celebration this year.”
“William would have wanted the races to continue so this year the races will commemorate the legacy and memory that William has left us here in Armoy. We will celebrate his life.”
If that wasn’t enough just a few days after Williams funeral, another young rider lost his life. James Cowton died after a crash involving another rider at the Southern 100. James was the teammate of fellow Agadoo rider Adam McLean tipped for wins at this years Armoy races.
With race week finally here all eyes were on the weather. The UK had been having the hottest weather since ironically 1976/77 when the Armoy Armada would have been racing these roads.
A week of festivities and activities had brought locals and visitors out in their numbers for what was a special year. From classic car & motorbike displays to a truck run and even a special screening of the new DVD showing the 10 year history of the races, all proved popular in building anticipation to the first races.
With Friday finally here the roads closed to no better condition for a road races. Practice session ran like clockwork with qualification allowing two races to be squeezed in with plenty of time to spare. The Senior Sport race won by Stephen McKeown, and Armoy club member Tommy Henry second, with a very close third from Mike Swanson from Aberdeenshire.
The second of the two evenings races was the Supersport 600 in which fans were treated to a spectacular finish. The race was reduced to just 4 laps due to an earlier red flag with Adam McLean leading till just before the end when Magherafelt rider Paul Jordan just edged past young McLean with a win of just 0.007 of a second.
As much as Friday had went extremely well. there was a lot of anticipation in the air over Thursday and Friday with the weather forecast giving rain but it was to be Friday evening that caused some doubt over the main race day on Saturday. After weeks of mostly unbroken sunshine, the met office issued a yellow weather warning for the times the races were scheduled. The more it was in the back of the mind of most of those at the races it mostly went unspoken, hoping that it would pass overnight…which wasn’t to be!
DELAY, DELAY, DELAP!
With the morning beginning as it was to go on the rain drizzled some of the time, bucked the rest but despite this the fans stuck with it and it was nothing that a few gazebos, big umbrellas and even a well place bin bag couldn’t fix.
With road closure put in place and bikers scheduled for the first of Saturdays races already at the bottom of the paddock lane with their bikes, the news of a ‘non race’ related incident reached the paddock. During a safety lap by the medical team, a medical vehicle and one of the motorcycle medics had a crash. The injured rider was son of the ‘flying Doctor’ Dr Fred McSorley, paramedics Allister McSorley. It’s was Dr Fred McSorley who had been one of those who called for NI to have its very own Air Ambulance after the death of fellow motorcycle medic and friend Dr John Hinds. Ironically this would the same Air Ambulance which would transport his son to hospital. As of the writing of this article Allister McSorley’s condition was described by the Belfast Trust as ‘critical but stable’
Due to this accident on the course the first race faced the first of many delays that day. Then came delay 2, then three with many riders abandoning their machines on the paddock lane to return to their tents and trucks to dry out.
It would be 12.15 or so before the announcement that everyone was waiting for, races would attempt to begin at 12.45, but that time came and gone before a call for veteran and experienced riders Derek McGee and Michael Sweene to join Bill Kennedy in the Marshall car for an assessment of the course.
On the cars return, Bill joined his team at race control where they all retired to an office. Meanwhile the riders had returned to their bikes in anticipation of a restart to the races given the rain had reduced to an intermittent drizzle.
As the race commentators continued to hold the races together with their chat and banter, the familiar tone of the PA interrupted them as the normal announcement voice was replaced with the even more familiar voice to many of Clerk of the Course Bill Kennedy’s. A voice many didn’t want to hear with these words;
“This is Clerk of the Course Bill Kennedy. Given the conditions on the course and the weather today, due consideration has taken place by the stewards officiating and the Clerk of the Course, in addition to senior competitors. A decision has been made in the interest of safety to abandon this meeting.
“The Club would like to thank and acknowledge the support of the competitors, sponsors, volunteers and public. We can only look forward to next year’s event.
The disappointment across everyone face was apparent, some even angry but as much as many didn’t like the decision, given the days circumstances the decision made by Bill and his team was hard to disagree with.
A HARDY BUNCH
The Armoy road races didn’t end the way the club or racers wanted and disappointment was an understatement but it wouldn’t be the first time nor the last that time this type of decision would have to be made in the world or road races. Within minutes of the decision the fans packed up and headed for home. The racers headed back to their vans to pack up and prepare for the last part of the season and despite the dissapointment the AMRRC and their team of volunteers didn’t stop defeated instead got straight back into action in dismantling the course.
The road racing is much like a big family, there is always ups and downs and during the hard times they all support and pull together and Armoy Road Races is no different for the success of this road race is testament to the sheer hard work, passion and determination that has made this national road race one of the best in all Ireland.
Mark my word knowing the AMRRC, the 2019 road race in Armoy will be back with the same enthusiasm from the club, the riders and fans alike.