For Co Armagh woman Anne Forsythe, there’s nothing to match the buzz of excitement that comes from the noise and smell of dozens of motorbikes racing around the country roads at speeds of up to 160mph.
Anne, who is clerk of course of the Tandragee 100, had been due to mark her 4oth year of involvement with the race later this month but sadly this year’s event has had to be cancelled due to the unsatisfactory surface on a section of the route.
The decision was a devastating one for the club, which has organised the annual race since 1958, and a source of disappointment for competitors and spectators, some of whom come from as far away as Canada, the USA and Europe.
It’s a blow for the tourism industry too, with the race generating more than £200,000 for the local and wider tourism industry.
Nevertheless, Anne is hopeful the race will go ahead next year and in the meantime, the work of the army of volunteers goes ahead.
Anne has been involved with organising body North Armagh Motorcycle and Car Club since she was 13, when she was first introduced to it by dad Ian who took her along to take notes.
Since then, she has held a wide variety of voluntary roles both within the club and its governing body, the Motorcycle Union of Ireland.
She also made history when she was appointed clerk of course, becoming the first woman to hold the position at a road race anywhere in the world.
“I never really thought of it as a big deal. I was just doing a role and it didn’t really matter if I was female or not,” she says.
Anne has very happy memories of attending the race as a child and grew up hearing stories of her grandfather, Geddes Lowry from Belfast, who also raced.
“In those days, they would have ridden their motorbike to the races with the normal number plate, then taken it off for the event, and put it back on to ride home,” she explains.
She also had her first bike by the age of 17 and and passed her bike test before her car test.
“I remember going to Portadown College on my first motorbike, a wee Honda 50,” she recalls.
“I was made to feel very welcome at the club but in particular I have very fond memories of a club stalwart, the late Joe McKeown. He was very good at encouraging people to put their hand in their pocket and make a wee donation and in encouraging me.”
The support she received from Joe and her dad, who also served as clerk of course for 10 years, and the encouragement they gave to young people, is something she wants to replicate.
And she also says that while men may still dominate when it comes to competing, there are quite a lot of women involved behind the scenes in a range of roles.
The club has around 30 active members – all volunteers – and Anne says it simply wouldn’t be possible to put on the Tandragee 100 without their hard work and dedication.
“There are about 500 people involved on practice day and race day to make the event happen, and you need every single one of them,” she says.
“It is a very challenging and technical course, one of the few remaining courses in Ireland that is pretty much as it was. It has jumps and flat outstretches, hills and undulations, twists and bends.”
Asked why she give up around 20 hours a week, every week, she says: “I do if for the competitors, to give them a chance to live their dream. There are many times when I think I must be mad in the head but when they get off the bike, when they’ve just come round the Tandragee 100 course for the very first time, their eyes are wide and they’re grinning from ear to ear and it’s a mixture of adrenalin and excitement and fear in there too.”
As interim deputy director of human resources with the Southern Health Trust, Anne believes there are lots of skills to be learnt by being involved in a club.
“It definitely helped me – you had to learn to negotiate with people. It’s also about listening to people, encouraging them to bring forward their ideas, encouraging and motivating and appreciating them,” she says.
“I have such admiration and pride for all the volunteers, for the amazing job they do. That gives me satisfaction, that I am part of this amazing team. It’s also something lovely for the local community. Local residents and landowners let us use their land, and some even get involved and volunteer.”
The motorbiking world has also enabled her to meet people from all different walks of life, united by their common love of sport, as well as racing greats such as Joey Dunlop, Ryan Farquhar and Ray McCullough.
As for the risks involved, Anne believes you can’t completely remove all risk from anything in life.
“Ultimately, it there was no racing, you would have the young people going out on the public road racing each other. But at least when you set up the course and you do the risk assessments and your have all the safety precautions put in place, you are making it as safe as is reasonably practical,” she says.
She also notes the many improvements and changes over the years such as newcomer practice sessions and the world-class medical team they have.
As for the future, Anne is hoping to pass the baton on at some point.
“There are so many roles for people to get involved in,” she adds. “I want to say a big thank you to all of our volunteers and sponsors. We have sponsors who have been with us for decades, almost from the first race, particularly our overall sponsors Siobhan and Gerry Rice from Around A Pound, who have even rolled up their sleeves and helped set up the course.
“We are also grateful to council and Tandragee 100 Supporters’ Club, as well as landowners and residents and our spectators who come and buy a programme which helps us fund the event.”
The club will also be running the only World Championship Motorsport event on the island of Ireland in 2023 with the hosting of the 2023 FIM World Sidecarcross Championship Grand Prix of Northern Ireland on July 21 and 22 at Redbrae Park, just off the old Temple 100 circuit near Saintfield.
Anyone wanting to get involved with the club or become a sponsor should contact Tandragee 100 website or Facebook group.