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Page last updated at 12:44 GMT, Thursday, 14 May 2009 13:44 UK

Behind the scenes at the NW 200

By Richard Petrie

North West 200 practice
North West 200 practice action from the coast road on Tuesday evening

In recent years, the North West 200 has become much more than just a motorcycle race - it is now a week-long festival and celebration of two-wheel motorsport.

While the meeting used to revolve almost exclusively around race day, there is now an abundance of activities to satisfy dedicated bikers, occasional fans and families in the days running up to the main event.

Mini-motos, stunt shows, exhibitions, bands, fireworks, a funfair and an air display are just some of the attractions enjoyed by the tens of thousands of spectators and visitors to the north coast.

Nostalgia is never far away either with a vintage and classic display and cavalcade bringing back memories of 80 years of racing on the Triangle course.

Meanwhile, the Atlantic Ocean provides the perfect backdrop for the occasion and the stunning natural scenery of the area surrounding the seaside circuit offers a stark contrast and a relaxing alternative for those wanting to escape for a while from the high-octane, high-adrenaline atmosphere of the racing.

The unique spectacle of wheel-to-wheel combat on the Triangle circuit is still the main draw and work begins to construct the fences, grandstands and paddock area six weeks prior to the event.

The atmosphere builds until the first practice session on Tuesday night and thousands of motorcycles are offloaded from ferries to wend their way in ever-growing queues to the speed spectacular.

Where cars and a sprinkling of bikes with local number plates used to abound, thousands of motorcycles now occupy the roads, and a massive increase in the number of visitors from Britain, Europe and across the world is increasingly evident.

The start of last year's 125cc event at the North West 200
The NW 200 is the biggest mass-start road racing event in the world

An array of the sponsors' colourful flags greet visitors to the course and the smooth surfaces around the circuit betray the fact that these roads are used for no ordinary purpose - well for one week of the year at least.

The coast road section is traditionally the most popular for spectators, and early booking of the best vantage spots is advised - even for practice nights.

Windbreaks and hastily constructed scaffolding are used to protect fans' favourite viewing space and for those who occupy caravans in the nearby parks, the second week in May proves a popular one to receive visitors.

In the ever-expanding pits area, where cars and vans were once the order of the day, motor homes, mammoth trucks and transporters are now the norm.

Fans congregate round the riders and their machines like moths to a flame while schoolchildren can be seen being given specially organised tours and gathering autographs from their heroes during the week.

Most riders have extensive areas to house their bikes and racing equipment while the hospitality suite, commentary boxes, television gantrys, press centre, portacabins and grandstands all lend the impression of a highly organised, professional race meeting.

A popular addition to the start-finish area in recent years has been the 'big screen' which shows footage from previous events during the week and then action from much of the circuit on race day, allowing those at the hub to see most of the action.

The North West 200 has grown to become the biggest mass-start road race in the world and anticipation continues to mount ahead of the drop of the flag for the opening race on Saturday.

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see also
NW200 crash rider still critical
14 May 09 |  Foyle and West
Anstey quickest in NW200 practice
12 May 09 |  Motorsport
Steve Parrish's column
11 May 09 |  Motorsport
Johnny still in the fast lane
09 May 09 |  Motorsport
Seeley and Rutter handed NW rides
29 Apr 09 |  Motorsport
Whyte appointed to BSB role
29 Apr 09 |  Motorsport
Allerton considering NW200 debut
12 Feb 09 |  Motorsport
Dunlop can ride Norton at NW200
19 Jan 09 |  MotoGP
BBC NI secures NW 200 until 2014
03 Mar 09 |  MotoGP
Dunlop award for top NW200 rider
08 Jan 09 |  Motorsport
Rutter to ride North West Yamaha
16 Dec 08 |  Motorsport
Date is confirmed for 2009 NW 200
10 Nov 08 |  MotoGP

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