A Farewell to the Scoreboard

In November 2020, we said goodbye to one of the most iconic sights at the TT Grandstand on Isle of Man as the Scoreboard in its current form was dismantled and removed. It has stood in the same spot for over 100

years (although it’s only since the 1980’s that it has remained there on a year-round basis – it used to be put up and removed before and after racing). It’s believed some of the parts that were removed were original, and actually dated back to the 1920’s, and it’s true that the structure has remained pretty much unchanged over the years. The main changes have been prompted by increased health and safety; for example the wire fence that protected the Scoreboard Team, the painters and the Scouts has only been there since 2015.

A lot has been written about the involvement that the local Scouts have had with the boards, but there’s not so much written about some of the other people who were involved in the smooth running of the traditional system. The painters were key – they painted the numbers on the slates (more about them later) as well as updated the Leader boards. The painters were all skilled workmen provided by a local painting decorating company – the job was put out to tender to ensure top quality work was undertaken. As well as the Scout Association and the painters, there were also a team of Race Officials who oversaw the boards – the Scoreboard Controller and his deputy dealt with the processing of the numbers, then the remaining officials would spread along the front of the two boards ensuring there were no errors, no gaps, and that everything was safe & secure. They had radio contact on each side with the Tower, so if any boards or times were wrong, they would get a call to let them know what needed to be fixed. However, in my experience of 5 years on the boards, I only ever got one call – it was a pretty slick operation!

The Scoreboard consisted of two identical scoreboards – the north board and south board. They carried the exact same information but meant it could be viewed from the whole length of pit lane and the grandstand. There are no electronics allowed in pit lane, so being able to see the boards is the only way the teams know their rider is circulating and approaching for pit stops. Each board had a Leader board that would be updated with the bike number, lap time and average lap speed for the top 6 riders. The updates were made by one of the painter team as soon as the times were available. Most people know that the Scouts update the boards by posting the slates to the corresponding rider, but how did it all really work? Where did the numbers come from?

Before the start of every race, the painters would mount the tear offs (lap number packs) on each number. As each bike left the grandstand the top page was torn off to expose the number of the lap they were. As the riders circulated the course the scouts positioned at the top of the board would get a radio message whenever they went through Glen Helen, Ramsey, Bungalow and Grandstand and would turn the crank handle so viewers knew which of the points they had most recently passed. Just below the clock, a light would show when a bike reached Cronk Ny Mona. For the pit crews this was vital information – they would know to be prepared for the arrival of their rider in pit lane. Usually, they’d know which laps they would be expecting to refuel on but would always be on standby in case the rider came in with a mechanical concern – time was of the essence in the pits, races could be won or lost here! That light was switched on by a scout in the lightbox at the north end of the board.

Once a lap was completed, the timings would filter through from the Timekeepers to the Scoreboard Controller, who would print and check them. The A4 page was split into 2 – one for North, one for South, handed to a waiting messenger, who would take it to the painters. The painters would be gathered around trestle tables stacked high with slates (the slates were actually black boards with a hole at the top). They would receive the paper and paint the time on the front of a slate. On the back, the rider number and lap number would help to identify where the slate would go next. The slate and paper would then be handed to another scout (runner) who would go to the relevant section of the board. There were gaps every 10 spaces (1 to 14, 15 to 25 and so on) so the runner would go to the slot for the rider number, knock on the board and post the slate through.

The next stage is the part watched by thousands of spectators over the years – the scouts out front would pick up the slate and paper, check all the details, scrunch the paper up and post it back to the rubbish bag, and then go and hang the slate. In the event of a retirement, the Scoreboard Controller received a call stating the rider number and the lap they retired on, and he would then complete a card for the scouts to take to the painters to swap for a Retirement board (white letter R) and pegs for blocking out the remaining laps. And that’s it! The process, as complicated as it looked to the untrained eye, was so simple and effective. It is hard to imagine life without the Scoreboard, but we can only wait now and see what replaces it.

Speaking to the team to understand a bit more about what attracted them to the role, they all talk about the sense of camaraderie. Race Official Joy Ellis says this was one of the things she enjoyed the most, alongside actually feeling like she was helping the iconic event run year after year. Another one of the team, Chris Ward speaks fondly of his memories of starting out as a cub scout, progression to being a race Official, and most recently over the last couple of years of racing Chris was Deputy Scoreboard Controller. He recalls ‘I worked the scoreboard as a cub and scout for many years. I started as a Messenger running the handwritten timing cards between the Timekeepers hut and the scoreboard controller (a role that no longer exists) and got to sneak a view of the bikes now and then through gaps in the scoreboard. From there I became a Runner delivering the painted timing boards through the slots in the back of the board.

I then moved on to Clocks and eventually Tear Offs on the front of the board, the most coveted role in those days in our bright white overalls (didn’t show the paint that we inevitable got covered in!).

Days of collecting every lap-time card that came from the Timekeepers hut through the system and delivered with the time slates to the front of the board. Pockets full of the things, collecting every lap time of all the big names, getting them signed after the races, loads of freebies from all the big teams. My bedroom was covered in new posters/postcards/stickers by the end of the racing.

That came to an end during my GCSEs thanks to exams during TT fortnight.

After I came back from university, I was actually working underneath my car one day when the scoreboard controller at the time who had lived 2 doors down the road from my parents for years, came knocking and asked if I’d like to get back involved as an official. I said yes in a flash, didn’t need to think about it … just yes! I think that was 2005 and I’ve been there every year since…’

I asked the Scoreboard Controller, Brendan Byrne, what it was he enjoyed most about his time on the boards. His reply summed it up perfectly… ‘The people on my team. Watching a group of strangers volunteering and forming into a functioning unit linked by their affection of the TT/MGP’

I’m sure I speak for most if not all of the team when I say we all felt the same – as with most people talking about the TT, the Scoreboard tells a story of history, excitement, sadness but most of all great friendships formed over a love of racing.

The Role of an IOM TT Scrutineer

Jo Marsh is a scrutineer at the IOM TT and very kindly answered some questions put to her from our Crew as part of our IOM TT feature in lieu of racing this year.

The view from a side street in Ramsey

How did you get into scrutineering at the TT and what skills do you need?

Scrutineering at the TT is something you’re invited to do. The team consists of people from the Isle of Man and the UK and, on occasion, as far as Australia.

To be able to scrutineer you are required to hold a licence from your governing body, in my case, the ACU. To obtain a licence you need to attend a seminar and be assessed on your work, both practical and written. You are then required to sit a seminar at least every three years.

Is scrutineering at the TT any different to normal bike racing scrutineering?

Scrutineering for the TT is different from other race meetings but only in that the regulations are different.

Is it one scrutineer per bike or do a team do the same bits for each bike?

We do one scrutineer per bike, or two per sidecar. However, if the same bike is presented to you at the next session then we will swap with another scrutineer so you don’t do the same machine on back to back sessions.

IOM TT – Picture courtesy of Keith Quirk

What are you looking for – faults/meeting criteria for the race/checking things are tight?

Generally, we’re looking for criteria for the race meeting. Each meeting has its own nuances and rules so things do vary.

Does scrutineering of the rider eg crash helmet, leathers etc take place too?

We do also check the riders’ gear out before the start of practice week. We check helmet condition, age and fit, leathers, gloves, boots and dog tag, which is an identity disc with the riders’ name and date of birth engraved on it. If a rider falls off at any point then all this is re-scrutineered before the next race/practice.

What happens if someone misses their scrutineering time?

If someone misses their scrutineering time in practice week then we queue jump them so they don’t miss their session on the course. It’s different for races. If a rider has a problem and can’t make his or her time then as long as we are aware of that fact we can grant an extension on scrutineering.

Have you ever failed a bike / refused to let it race?

I have failed many bikes! I couldn’t even hazard a guess at how many. It’s a tough one. During practice week there’s usually enough time to get the problem sorted and get out to practice anyway but before a race is heart breaking. I’ve even stopped a bike on the start line, 20 seconds before he was due to start, as I saw something break.

I also stopped a sidecar one race day. He was late for scrutineering which meant when I spotted the crack in the frame he had very little time to repair it before the race started. He was, shall we say, less than happy with me! He got the repair done in time, raced and finished in the top 6. After the race he pulled the sidecar up right alongside me and jumped off, still with helmet on. I was inwardly groaning thinking he was still mad with me but instead he hugged me and said “You saved my life, I’m sorry I was mad at you before”.

IOM TT – Picture courtesy of Keith Quirk

Do you fit the transponders?

Transponders, like bike condition, are the responsibility of the rider. We check that the transponder is fitted and located as per the acu handbook and also that it is the correct transponder for that bike. We also check that it is charged.

Do parade bikes get scrutineered and do you have to check the travelling marshals bikes?

Yes, parade bikes are also scrutineered.

We used to check travelling marshals bikes also but in latter years travelling marshals have all sat the scrutineer seminars also. This means that if a rider stops or is black flagged with a reported fault there is a trained scrutineer in spot to check the bike over and allow them to continue or not.

What happens between scrutineering and the start line – are the bikes scrutineered the night before the race?

Between scrutineering and the start line the bikes are held in a holding area. On race days the bikes are scrutineered up to 45 minutes before the start of the race, meaning we sometimes have early starts to get every machine checked in time!

What have been the weirdest faults/mods/innovations they you seen?

It’s not common to see innovations or ingenious modifications any more as most bike regulations are quite tight and, in some classes, the machines are almost standard, how they left the showroom. The sidecar class has much more room for individual preference on things, such as different chassis manufacturers, sizes of wheels, etc.

Are you also involved in the post race strip down of the bike?

After a race, the top 3 machines are verified. This is done behind closed doors, with only a few scrutineers present. To do this you must also hold an acu licence to be an engine measurer.

Do the riders have any height or weight limit? I’d guess a small rider on a small lighter bike could go faster so is that evened out?

There used to be weight limits for riders, many years ago. There are no limits on riders any more.

IOM TT – Picture courtesy of Keith Quirk

What are the best and worst parts of the job?

The best parts of the job are knowing you’re helping people do what they love. It’s a long fortnight, it’s physically tiring and there’s a lot of pressure.  The scrutineering team are amazing. There’s lots of jokes and fun to lighten the darker times. The camaraderie is something else. The worst parts are the heartbreak of losing a rider or riders.

Thank you for your time Jo and for answering our questions, it is much appreciated 🙂

CrewOnTwo

Adventures around the Isle of Man

You’ve been going to the Isle of Man for the TT races for many years, you’ve been there, watched it, bought the T-shirt. You know the island like the back of your hand, you’ve got all your favourite locations to visit. But maybe you’re on the lookout for something a bit different to do, a bit of exploring or somewhere new to visit.

I’ve been going to the TT and Manx Grand Prix for over 15 years, and I’ve also lived there for a couple of years, and I still haven’t been everywhere I want to visit on the island. Here are a few of my suggestions, most of which I’ve done, but some are still high on my to-do list!

A burnout at the winners enclosure

A great way to get a different perspective on roads you’ve travelled many times is by public transport. You can make a day of it, with a rover ticket that covers all forms of public transport. My mate and I like to spend one day of the holiday working our way around the island, covering trams, buses and steam trains. Or if it’s a spectacular day we’ll jump on the tram up Snaefell for cake in the café at the top, and hopefully a glimpse of all seven kingdoms (the Isle of Man, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the sea and the sky).

If history is your thing, read up in advance about the history of the Island away from the racing. For example, the island was used as an internment camp during World War 2, and some of the locations are still in evidence.

And talking of history, there are plenty of museums to visit, some focusing on the Island, including the Manx Museum in Douglas and the House of Manannan in Peel, some based around motoring, such as the Isle of Man Motor Museum in Jurby, and Murray’s Motorcycle Museum in Santon. On the road to the Calf of Man, the village of Cregneash is a living museum, and Castle Rushen in Castletown is the perfect destination for a rainy day.

The TT course hasn’t always included the Mountain Road – on a day off from the racing, seek out the original race circuits – the St John’s Course, a 15 mile route used for the 1907 TT, and the 10 mile Clypse Course which was used between 1954 and 1959.

And keep an eye out for other racing taking place around the same time – the Billown Course near Castletown hosts the Pre- and Post-TT Classics, which many of the TT riders take part in. There is usually beach racing taking place in Peel and Douglas, plus stock car racing at Onchan Raceway. And don’t forget the World Famous Purple Helmets!

For race days, find spectating spots which are different to your usual haunts. Maybe watch the commentary team in action at Glen Helen or Ramsey Hairpin, or gradually work your way round the course spectating from a different pub each time. Or if you’re feeling brave, attempt a TT circuit pub crawl on a non-race day!

One of my favourite spectating spots which people tend to overlook is the entry to Governor’s Dip under the trees – there is always plenty of room on the grass, and you get a close-up view of the machines as they tip into the hairpin, around the famous white-painted stone post. If you walk up the hill slightly, you can sit on the high bank – one of the few places left on the course where the bikes still go under your feet.

I also recommend having a bit of a walk around Ramsey – not too far from Parliament Square you can nip down the side streets and escape the crowds, or cross at the footbridge and watch from the inside of the course.

An emergency cake stop at St Ninian’s Church

And I can’t end this article without mentioning cake! I am always on the lookout for new and interesting places to have cake, and am currently most excited about going back to the little café in the steam train station at Port Erin, for lemon drizzle and a trip back in time.

The Isle of Man really is full of surprises, even when you’ve visited so often you think you’ve seen everything. I haven’t even scratched the surface here, but hopefully I’ve given you some ideas for some new adventures!