After many months of behind the scenes work, this coming Friday, bikes will finally take to the 3.6 mile Clough circuit again.
Of recent years the Mid Antrim has had a somewhat troubled history, with the meeting not able to run for various reasons four times in seven years.
Hopefully, now however, it’s a ‘Phoenix from the ashes’ scenario, where the meeting has risen and will be bigger and better than it ever was.
For the first time since 1982, the club have secured a title backer in JFM Haulage and Building Services, and the overall prizefund will be in the region of £18,000. Many thanks are due to Sean Crawford for his help and commitment to the race. Not only has he put his hand in his pocket as a sponsor, but also has given both time and manpower to help the club with the meeting.
JFM Haulage are sponsoring the first newcomer to finish each race, and they will receive £50. It is planned that each rider will be given a memento of the meeting. Backing has also been secured from the recently formed Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and Tourism NI have provided funding in relation to their NI Food and Drink projects.
Big thanks also to the Maine Motorcycle club, as well as Patsy Tweed, who has proved herself a great friend to the club over recent years. There are quite a few people who have donated and helped in various ways and to thank them all separately would take far more space than I have been allowed so hopefully they will take it as done.
The Mid Antrim club have asked that I thank the Balllymena branch of the Samaritans, who will look after programme sales etc.
As far as I know at the minute, the first on track action will be the Maine Driving School Parade Laps. Sponsored by Carl Shaw, who will ride his TZ350 Yamaha, the parade laps will feature men like Ray McCullough and Adrian Craig, while race sponsors Sean Crawford and Tommy Gregg are due to have a run round. John Smyth from Ballymena, Sam Gilmore from Ballymena and Stephen Marrs from Cullybackey are also entered.
The Superbike class should, in theory, be the fastest race of the day. The first will be backed, to the tune of £2500, by Tommy Gregg, of Gregg Transport, while the second, the Grand Final, will be sponsored by JFM Haulage. It features Malachi Mitchell Thomas, on John Burrows’ bike. Better known as Indi, Michal Dokoupil, is down to ride Wilson Craigs Superstock machine, Derek McGee on Noel Hendersons BMW, Derek Sheils, Ryan Farquhar, Rob Barber, Davy Morgan, Michael Sweeney and Paul Gartland. Local interest here will be centred on Neil Kernohan and Dennis Booth.
Paul Hill, of Hill Contracts and Ballyprint will each sponsor a Supersport 600 race. Both races have an agreed prize fund of £2500. In both, I would expect Derek McGee, Ryan Farquhar, Seamus Elliott, Timmy Elwood, Malachi Mitchell Thomas, Rob Barber, Wayne Kirwan, and Davy Morgan to be with the leaders. We have local interest here with Neil Kernohan and Dennis Booth.
The Supertwin race is to be sponsored by the Clough Glasgow Rangers Supporters Club. Again, Malachi Mitchel Thomas, might be a man to watch. Micko Sweeney, Derek McGee and Ryan Farquhar can never be discounted. Add to these, Seamus Elliott, Rhys Hardisty, Indi and his fiancée, Veronica Hankocyova, Rob Barber, Paul Gartland, David Lumsden and half a dozen others and we could be in for a cracking race. We have no local riders entered in this one.
One of the Mid Antrims longest serving backers, Logan’s Hardware, will sponsor the Lightweight Supersport race. Looking at the entry list, this could actually be very interesting. Due to turn out on 250GP bikes are Davy Morgan, Sam Wilson, Tommy Henry, Paul Robinson, Micko Sweeney, Neil Kernohan and Seamus Elliott. In the 400 category Indi, Darryl Tweed, Gav Brown and Ian Simpson won’t be too far away. This is a counting round of the Irish 250GP series. There are a few local riders due to take part in this race. As I mentioned, Sam Wilson, from Ballymena, is to ride the Joeys Bar 250 Honda, while Bryan Harding from Crumlin has his own 250 Honda. Neil Kernohan will ride a 2 stroke Honda. Adrian and Robert Gordon from Portglenone have 400 Hondas here.
Harleys Bar from Kilkeel, is to back the Junior Support race. These riders aren’t just so well known as maybe some of the others, but they will all be wanting to give a good account of themselves at the first road race of 2016. Portglenone men Adi and Rab Gordon are the only locals in this race.
Wilsons of Rathkenny are to back the Senior Support race. Not only are they sponsoring the race, but are also supplying a number of official vehicles, but have assisted the club greatly during course set up. As in the Junior Support class, these riders are, perhaps, not as well known as some of the others, but their level of sacrifice and commitment is no less. One of only four lady riders to take part in the meeting is English born Sarah Boyes, who is now based in Ballymena. She will take part in this race, as will Nigel McAuley from Ballymena, a circuit newcomer.
Mark McNeilly, of Quarry Plant and Spares, a former 125 and SS400 racer, will sponsor the 2 stroke race. This could be another interesting race and one where reliability could play an important part. Sam Wilson, Malachi Mitchell Thomas, Paul Robinson and Neil Kernohan are due to turn out on 250’s, while Jack Sands, Paul Jordan, Sam Dunlop, Nigel Moore and Phil Shaw are down to race 125GP bikes. Another interesting rider will be Gary Dunlop, eldest son of Joey Dunlop. Gary will make his road race debut here. Watch for Melissa Kennedy on the beautiful little Moto3 bike. Local entrants here are Bryan Harding, Neil Kernohan, Sarah Boyes as well as Adi and Rab Gordon.
The Junior Classic race will be sponsored by Gareth Montgomery, of Pattons Bar and Restaurant in Cloughmills. I would imagine that the man everyone will have to beat will be Glarryfords Barry Davidson. Men like Freddie Stewart, Gary Hutton, Manxman Allan Brew, Richard Ford, George Stinson, Phil Shaw and Davie Hastings will be the top riders.
Diamond Trucks NI are to underwrite the Senior Classic event. Again Barry Davidson could be the man to answer to, but over the past couple of years Eddie Manly was snapping at his heels. Add to that Allan Brew, Gary Jamison, Richard Ford, Freddie Stewart and Bert McCrum and things are far from decided for the local man.
The last race of the day will be the Grand Final. This will be made up of the fastest 26 riders throughout the day, and on paper will be the best race of the meeting.
It only remains for me to wish everybody a happy and a safe weekend. Roads close on Friday for the practice sessions at 11am and are due to re open before 7.30pm. On Saturday there will be a 10am closure, with racing due to be cleared up by 6.30. All the best to Davy McCartney and his team.
Next week’s Times will, as usual, have a full report and round up from race day.