For nearly 20 years she was an excited onlooker, in awe of the riders who shot past at the North West 200, but last weekend Claire Matthewson from Rosemount was invited to check out the real time action herself as she raced around the famous track at speeds of up to 155mph – as a pillion passenger.
The Derry native sat upright behind legendary motorcyclist, Steve Plater, who took her on the spin of a lifetime.
Claire, 24, got her chance to experience at first-hand what its really like to travel the Portstewart-Coleraine-Portrush course on a supercharged bike in front of tens of thousands of fans.
She hopped onto the passenger seat between races last Saturday and clung tight as Plater opened the throttle on the Cromore Road and then as they approached the Metropole Corner at Portrush, two of the fastest stretches on the nine mile circuit.
The pillion ride on the Honda CBR 1000R Fireblade was Claire’s prize in a special North West 200 competition run by McLean Bookmakers, Northern Ireland’s largest independent chain of bookmakers with more than 60 shops.
Boyfriend Chris Hockley held his breath on the starting grid as she disappeared within seconds, hurtling towards York Corner. But he needn’t have worried. Less than 10 minutes later she climbed off the rear seat in the paddock area to declare: “I think that was the best thing I’ve ever done.
“I’ve watched those bikes for so many years and always wondered what it would be like. You never really understand so many things about biking until you actually go out and do it and that was truly, unbelievably amazing.”
Claire, who works for an insurance company, has her own Honda CBR 125R and has attended every North West since she was five, but this time she whizzed past the vantage points where she normally stood before returning to the hospitality suite where she and Chris re-joined a party of all-day guests at the table of McLean’s managing director, Paul McLean.
“There was such an adrenalin rush and I wasn’t in the least bit frightened or scared, not at all,” added Claire, “In fact all I wanted to do when I got off, was to get back on and do it all again.
“I can now really understand why those guys love their sport. You get such a buzz and Steve was brilliant. I met him once before at a North West ‘meet and greet’ in Coleraine last year. He was very, very reassuring.”
Claire’s boyfriend Chris laughed when adding: “I wasn’t really worried about Claire. I was more worried about Steve!”
Plater, 42, from Luton, is a former British Supersport champion and an eight times winner at the North West.
McLean Bookmakers sponsored the Supersport race last Saturday which was won by Alastair Seeley who has now equalled the late Robert Dunlop’s record of 15 North West victories.
Paul McLean said: “I delighted everything went to so well for Claire. It was a pleasure to have her and Chris at the track.”