2013 TT Revisited – All Too Soon It’s Over for Another Year

This is the last of the blogs I wrote during TT 2013 and is a summary of the majority of Race Week. These blogs were never intended to report on the racing results – there are people out there much better at that than me. Instead, I realised that I was in an incredibly privileged position to have been in the heart of the paddock, at the side of the road, and right in with the action. For many, visiting the Isle of Man TT has not yet been possible, and many others who had visited previously couldn’t get back for whatever reason. So for them I decided it would be good to try and capture and describe the experience. It has been superb reliving these days as I edited these pieces, and I really hope we get racing back next year. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the final instalment…

IOM TT – Picture courtesy of Keith Quirk

It’s Saturday evening, and all the racing for TT2013 (and the Post TT at Billown) is over. It has been a beautiful day again, but all day I’ve had that feeling you get when you’ve been on a most fantastic holiday and never want to go home. I know a lot of my friends and fellow tweeters are feeling the same. This last fortnight was incredibly special in many ways – the emergence of a new pretender to the throne of the King of the Mountain title (has anybody called Michael Dunlop the Prince of the Mountain yet?!) with the current King of the Mountain claiming his 20th victory and 41st podium proving that he is not going to be deposed that easily just yet.

Although my blog was never intended to be about results and the technicalities of racing, McGuinness was so, so close to 21 – the end of the TT Zero race was about as thrilling as you can get. Believe me, I never ever thought I would use the words ‘thrilling’ and ‘TT Zero’ in the same sentence, but how close was it?? As I think I have already mentioned in one of my pieces I remember when it was an amazing feat for just one of the electric bikes to make it all the way around the course and now we are actually seeing close racing.

Wednesday was a stunning day, and me and my friends (one local, 2 old friends on their first TT visit) started off at Sulby, next to a snoring man who claimed he had seen all the bikes going past and that he was merely resting his eyes. He definitely woke up when Gary Johnson came through on the MV! After the Supersport had been won by Michael Dunlop, with Anstey second & McGuinness third, we picnicked in the sunshine, then headed up to Bungalow for the sidecars second race. It was absolutely packed, and the views as stunning as they could be on such a beautiful day. Sadly, our boys were forced to retire at Union Mills, but it really was something to see them over the Mountain.

There were a number of retirements in the race including Saturday’s winners Reeves & Sayle. The Birchall brothers had a fantastic start and eventually they took the win. Moly/Farrance came home in second place and Harrison/Aylott took third. We ended the day with Italian food and a few drinks, and already I could feel the sadness that there was only one day of racing left building inside me. Thursday was a rest day for me, to recover from late nights sat in the garden drinking with friends and to recoup some energy for the Senior.

IOM TT – Picture courtesy of Keith Quirk

In the evening we had the TTTweetmeet 2013 at the Creg. So great to meet up with people we see regularly on our timelines. Standing on the balcony I looked out to the views and I was reminded just how lucky I was (as if I weren’t already sure) – a real ‘I live here’ moment. It was also a fantastic effort on the charity front, with £1035 being raised for the Joey Dunlop Foundation which will help them to carry on doing their fantastic work with the property at Braddan.

Friday dawned – another superb day weather wise, and the anticipation for the Senior was palpable around the Island. Would Dunlop claim his fifth win? Would he take the lightweight and set a new record of 6? Would McGuinness come back strong? Would we see Gary Johnson, Cam Donald, Anstey or any of the others come and nick it? That is the beauty of these races – it really could be anyone. They all have the skill, they all have the experience, but would their machinery perform and keep them going over the 6 laps? Before we find that out, we had the Lightweight race to go. James Hillier won after close racing at the start which saw him increase his lead to over 30 seconds from

Dean Harrison had 35 seconds over our local lad Conor Cummins. Anyone who saw Conor’s accident will agree that to see him back to podium form is nothing short of amazing.

So finally, it was time for the Senior. The riders set off one by one but before everybody was out on the course, a red flag came out. News soon came over the radio that there had been an incident at Bray Hill and there it was again. That sick feeling in the pit of the stomach. The spectators sitting in the sunshine opposite me were subdued as we waited for more news. The next information that came out was that there had been an incident on Bray Hill, involving a rider, who was ok, but that some spectators had been hurt.

It is easy to get drawn into tweeting about what’s going on, and I shared a couple of tweets without really thinking. After realising that I could be doing more harm than good until we knew all the details I stopped. Sadly it was not the same for everyone – pictures were appearing on Twitter of the scene, which then were picked up by the mainstream media. The official ACU statement confirmed that 10 spectators were injured, with injuries ranging from minor to serious but not life threatening. It was also confirmed that the rider involved had sustained a fracture.

It was inevitable that there would be some kind of backlash in the media. They were quick to pick up on events, talking about how dangerous it is, and how many people get hurt. I would be surprised if anybody out there yesterday, or any of the other days, did not realise that it could be dangerous. There are signs all around the course warning of danger, as there is a warning in the Programme/guide. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that with bikes travelling at c.190 miles an hour in places, there is potential for something to go wrong. But then is that not part of the beauty of road racing? The option to sit so near to the action and feel the speed at close quarters is not like anything else in the world.

Again, there are calls for its banning. I wonder how many calls there have been to ban people from climbing Mount Everest? What about skiing? Rallying? Or Formula 1? There is nobody out on that course – rider or spectator – who does not know what the risks are, and who doesn’t love the sport any less because of it?

The number of visitors this year felt like the most there have been in years. Both weeks were buzzing, and thousands of people have enjoyed the spectacle that is the Isle of Man TT. It has been going for over 100 years, and I can’t see it going anywhere fast. Especially if we have anything to do with it. My thoughts are with those injured and I hope they all make a full & speedy recovery. It also seems appropriate to remember again Yoshinari Matsushita – RIP Yoshi.

And now it is all over…. the spectacular firework display last night in Douglas and the Post TT Races at Billown rounded off the fortnight in superb style. Every year I wonder if next year will be as good, and every year it proves it can stand up to the previous year. It has been the most amazing fortnight, full of new experiences, new friends, old friends, fast bikes, sunshine & fun. I miss it already.

IOM TT – Picture courtesy of Keith Quirk

The Island has already started its transformation back to a sleepy spot in the Irish Sea – it always amazes me how fast everybody disappears and how quickly the road falls silent. Living near a campsite means a steady stream of bikes up and down the main road near my flat. Today, it is noticeably quieter and I have really missed it!!

Monday and the return to work is all too close. But I have the Southern 100 in July and Classic TT and Manx Grand Prix in August lined up.

Then of course, there’s always next year…..

Marshalling the TT – my experience

I never thought I’d find myself standing by one of the most famous race tracks in the world holding a flag and wearing three pairs of trousers, but it’s funny how life works out sometimes.

I fell into marshalling by accident – I was in my final year at uni, chatting with a fellow petrolhead, and the next thing we knew we were on a ferry to Douglas for the Isle of Man TT. Our destination was a football club, their pitch temporarily repurposed as a campsite, packed with bikers from all over the world. One evening after watching a practice session, we fell into conversation with a couple of marshals. The next morning we were straight up to the grandstand to sign on.

For the first race day we headed to Ramsey Hairpin – which is where our new friends were regular marshals, and I have marshalled there ever since.

One thing I quickly learned is that even on a warm summer’s day it can get very chilly under the trees, and particularly for evening practice layers are your friend. My marshalling outfit generally involves leggings, bike jeans and over trousers, plus several tops and at least one hat!

The view from a side street in Ramsey

Having become a qualified marshal, I am now one of the regular flag marshals at Ramsey Hairpin. It is probably the only place on course where the flaggie has to run – the flag point is about 100 yards down the hill, where you can tuck in behind a matrix sign wrapped in padding. But down there you have no view of anything from halfway round the bend – there is a long stretch of road up towards Tower Bends which is now out of sight.

Once the call comes through that roads have closed, the ropes go up and we inspect the track, which generally involves a lot of sweeping, a handful of cement dust, and the odd broken bit of wall (I have a tiny chunk of Ramsey Hairpin wall sitting on my bookcase).

And then we wait. The Hairpin is just over 24 miles from the grandstand, so when the first bikes set off we have a few minutes to dig out another packet of biscuits and get to our stations. One of the other marshals makes me a cup of tea, which will be scalding hot for ages as it’s in a thermos mug. The world falls silent. It feels like the whole island is waiting, listening, holding its breath.

And in the far distance we start to hear a swarm of bees, the noise coming from the north and echoing around the hills. Gradually it resolves into a deeper growl as they approach Ramsey. One marshal, who has been at the Hairpin for 40-odd years, can name the bends by the engine noise. Starting with Parliament Square, he calls them out “Cruikshanks… Whitegates… Stella Maris…” and pop they appear, sometimes two or three abreast, the machines pushed to the limits of their braking ability as they close in.

Any incident, and I am running down to the padded signpost, displaying the flag as I go. Down at flag point riders pass close enough to see the whites of their eyes, and holding a stationary flag the back of my hand is warmed by the heat of passing exhausts. At that point, I am watching the approaching traffic, while glancing back to see if the flag needs to be waved. If the incident is out of my line of sight, I have to rely on the other marshals to keep me informed, while they deal with the incident.

Once everything is cleared, I then nip back up to my spot in front of the marshal’s hut, ready to do it all again.

Occasionally we will have a ‘visitor’ – a breakdown or a minor incident. If they are on the inside of the course the rider will stay with us until we can get them across the road at the end of the session. Spectating from the hairpin during racing is a new experience for them, and their reactions can be entertaining as the machines approach, and they take the opportunity to study the various lines.

There is no one line around the hairpin – some hug the wall, some are wide on the entry, some on the exit, or a few take a wide smooth line around the outside.

Between racing mainly involves a nice sit down, eating biscuits, or having in-depth discussions about biscuits. One regular favourite game is Travelling Marshal Bingo, but nobody is entirely sure of the rules…

That one drunken conversation on the campsite has led to some incredible experiences and lifelong friendships. Marshalling gives a whole new outlook on racing, and without the marshals there would be no racing.

It’s so rewarding to feel that you can make a tiny bit of difference to the greatest show on earth. I can safely say it has changed my life.

TT 2013 Revisited – Racing Gets Underway

By now you may well have read the previous articles revisiting blogs I wrote during TT2013 when my best friends brother competed at the TT for the first time with his sidecar outfit. As practice week played out, there were incidents (racing and non racing) and bad weather to contend with, meaning that competitors had not had anywhere near enough of the anticipated practice time. As a result, the decision was taken to run Saturday as expended practice and run the Sidecar race, and carry the Superbike race over to Sunday as the forecast was being much kinder. This was the first time there had been racing on the Sunday since 2005. Here’s what I wrote…

IOM TT – Picture courtesy of Keith Quirk

Saturday, with all the drama during the week, the decision was taken to postpone the Superbike race until Sunday, so Saturday would comprise of the first sidecar race and some additional practice for the solos. Once again I headed up to Kirk Michael before the roads closed, to be greeted by a bacon sandwich and a brew. This probably explains why I get a bit lazy about going out to watch the racing – I mean why get stuck on a mountain when there are facilities like this at my disposal?!

Bestie had one of her brothers and his wife over – his first visit to a TT since the early 80’s, and her first ever. We did what we always do with first timers to the house and stood her in the gateway so that when the bikes appeared they look almost like they are coming straight at you. It is possibly a bit mean, but it makes us laugh a lot to see their reactions…!! I watched the practice session, and seeing the speed and determination meant my appetite for racing was well and truly whetted. Josh Brookes is doing so well for a newcomer, and I really like the look of the Milwaukee Yamahas. It’s hard to know who will be on the podium – it is not just about the pace, but the reliability of the machines. The Superbikes have 6 laps to survive, and the other solos must get round four. So many times we’ve seen leaders retire with mechanical issues, so it really could be anybody’s race.

However, I was a little distracted as at 12.30 Sidecar race one was due to start, and that would mean our boys would be out there for their first ever 3 lap race on the Mountain Course. After last night’s bizarre happenings, the outfit got recovered (when they pulled up at the Mitre, there was water leaking) and the team had worked long into the night to fit a new radiator. The first piece of good news was that the bike had gone through scrutineering with no problem at all (more of those sighs of relief!). The time came, and we listened to them starting off.

Dave Molyneux, with his passenger Patrick Farrance, had to be a favourite as he has taken his place on the top step 16 times. Tim Reeves and Dan Sayle were also looking for the win that has so far eluded the World Champion, and then were others in the mix in the form of the Birchall brothers and Holden & Winkle (and I still snigger when I hear their name after an unfortunate radio presenter once announced ‘the driver’s Holden the passenger’s Winkle…!!) to name but a couple. The battle played out, and although we were aware of the race going on at the front as Tim Reeves edged out in front, we were more interested in what was going on further back in the field. We had radio tuning issues, so there was lots of running inside to check the live timings on the computer, and then back out again to watch them through. The race played out not quite as expected, with the Birchalls leading at Glen Helen on the first lap, Reeves/Sayle in second, Harrison/Aylott third and surprisingly Moly/Farrance were fifth, behind Holden and Winkle. As happens on this course, things do not always work out as planned.

IOM TT – Picture courtesy of Keith Quirk

The Birchalls were forced out of the race with a puncture sustained in an overtaking manoeuvre as they tried to pass Reeves/Sayle on the road, pulling up at Creg Ny Baa. Eventually, it was Reeves and Sayle who got the win, making Reeves the first World Champion to do so since Jock Taylor in 1981. It also made Sayle the joint most successful passenger in history by matching the 8 wins of Rick Long. Conrad Harrison and Mike Aylott came home in second place and Dave Molyneux and Patrick Farrance completed the top three. Our boys completed their 3 laps in one hour and 14 minutes and made us all very proud. Although they were physically worn out after the race, they were both absolutely delighted. They are now amongst those special people who can say they have been to the Isle of Man and completed a TT race. They are now looking forward to Wednesday when they get to do it all over again, and I predict that this will be another real battle at the top too…

Following the race there was more practice for solos, rounded off with the TT Zero. Not everyone is a fan – they are kind of the marmite of the racing world. It is interesting to see how things have improved since their first appearance at the TT though, when it was a major achievement to finish a lap. Now they are competing to break the 110mph lap.

Sunday Sunday was all about the Superbikes. It would be hard to split the Dunlops, McGuinness, Martin, Anstey, Donald, Cummins, Johnson et al. Eyes were also on Josh Brookes, as he set out in his first actual race on the Island. The racing was delayed, eventually setting off at 3pm. It was to be a 6 lap battle, and to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Joey Dunlop’s first win on a Honda, McGuinness donned replica leathers based on those worn by Joey at his final TT in 2000, and the Fireblade carried the red and black Joey Dunlop/Honda Britain livery.

We had a houseful, and a fab spread of food (which is almost as important as  the bikes!) so there were a few ‘newbies’ to entertain us with their reactions as the bikes flew past us. After all these years it is still heart stopping at times. There were a few ‘moments’ for us this year – a couple of foot off pegs, and a couple of major wobbles when the line wasn’t quite right. There is a stone wall with a covering of greenery just up the road, and the racing line sees the guys who know it well practically brush it with their shoulder. There were many times during Sunday’s race where we had sharp intake of breath moments as they looked like they were right in it, and it’s those sorts of things that you only get when you experience it in person.

IOM TT – Picture courtesy of Keith Quirk

Eventually the race was won by Michael Dunlop. Fitting, given he was also on a Honda and it’s the anniversary of Joeys win too. The young man is looking fit and well, and seems to have matured, so it will be interesting to see how the rest of the week plays out for him….

TT 2013: Revisited – End of Practice Week

My previous article described just how badly things could go wrong. In this piece, I described some of the things we experienced with various ‘incidents’ that took place over two consecutive practices. Some fairly typical events, albeit circumstances will vary by incident. Others are slightly less common. It’s fair to say those two nights were eventful! These events were the Thursday and Friday evenings in practice week…

IOM TT – Picture courtesy of Keith Quirk

Well thankfully the weather was a bit kinder than previous days, and that meant that at last we would get a proper practice, and finally the big beasts would get out and stretch their legs. It was also the second clear run for the sidecars, but more about that later.

Again, I made my way to Kirk Michael, and got myself settled in at my friends house. She has guests arriving Saturday, so had stuff to do, so I got my brew and took my spot outside. I had my instructions to look out for various people and let them know how they looked, so I had my eyes peeled. It was so great to see the bikes finally flying past – no wet, no controlled laps, just a proper full on practice session. It was just a shame we had to wait until so late in the week. In the Superbikes, the usual suspects were all at the top of the table – John McGuinness at the head of the list with a lap time of 17:30.299 with Anstey, Rutter, Guy Martin and Michael Dunlop hot on his heels. He really is a joy to watch round here, smooth as you like, and seems to hit the same line without fail. Superstocks, Supersport & Lightweights were also out, and then Sidecars were out.

If you’ve read my previous blogs you’ll know this year my best mates brother is racing his outfit for the first time, so as they started to come through, she left the housework behind and joined me outside to watch them through. We mentally ticked the numbers off waiting for him to appear and saw him through on his first lap. As usual we had various media set up (the app, the website, Manx RadioTT and Twitter) to keep an eye on their progress. We clocked them back through the Grandstand, and before too long they were passing us again. As they were towards the back of the pack, we headed inside to get a fresh brew and a warm (it gets very chilly as the sun goes down!) and saw them through the Ramsey on the live timings. Then we heard the words we dread at the TT….. session red flagged.

At first, the reports said due to an incident at Ramsey, so our initial feeling was relief as we knew they had gone through there. However, information then came through that the incident had been by Graham’s and the relief turned to a sick fear….the boys were likely to be near there, and all we could do was wait. We put word out on Twitter for any sightings of the boys, and sent numerous texts and messages to anyone we could think of that may have seen anything. Whereas on Monday we were cursing the use of social media to speculate on the sad events of Monday evening, on Thursday it was most definitely our friend. Finally word came through that the incident involved outfit #57 and that the team of David Saunders & Anne Garnish were conscious and talking to medics at the scene. I can’t describe the feeling of utter relief once we found out our boys were okay (suffice to say there were almost tears!)

IOM TT – Picture courtesy of Keith Quirk

Later, we realised that what had felt like hours was just 22 minutes. They were easily the longest 22 minutes of my entire life, and it’s not an experience I wished to repeat in a hurry…. We would later discover that the incident had happened just in front of our lads, and they did what they could to help at the scene. There but for the grace of god (or whatever else you believe in)…. We wish David and Anne a speedy and full recovery.

Move the clock on 24 hours and after a day that started out with the Island bathed in glorious sunshine, which turned to cloud & drizzle, and then back to the sun again, Friday evening practice gets underway. We have tickets to see Foggy and Whit at the Gaiety Theatre at 9pm, so given the logistics of closed roads and child care we decide we will venture up to the Grandstand and base camp, and then head to the Theatre from there. Due to a slight delay on my part (I fell asleep!) we don’t leave Peel until gone 6pm.

As the sidecars are out first, we tune the car radio to Manx RadioTT and I bring up the live timings on my phone. We see that the team are making decent time, and complete a lap, and go straight through for a second. As we make our way through Douglas we hear those dreaded words again….red flag sectors 1-6…..we know they are out there somewhere. Oh my god, 2 nights in a row…why does this keep happening?! The next announcement is a surprise – the reason for the red flag is a house fire in Kirk Michael. Bestie makes a joke about leaving the gas on, and as she’s driving I’m scrolling through Twitter. I’m seeing tweets indicating that the fire is in the vicinity of her house, so seeing as she’s driving I lie that there is no more information….

After parking at the Grandstand and arranging the handover of a batch of Krispy Kreme doughnuts that my dear friends Bruce and Keri have brought over for me (we can’t get them here!!!) Bestie is looking a bit worried. She’s got her phone in her hand, and tells me she’s looking at a picture of a fire engine….OUTSIDE HER HOUSE!!!! It turns out that it is actually her next door neighbours house that has had a fire. Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up. Thankfully the family who live there have got out okay, but there is damage to the house.

My Twitter friends who know I’ve started blogging about TT are asking me if I have enough to write about, will there be a sitcom, and will it all become a book. Some of my friends are texting me asking if I’ve had quite enough drama now….believe me, I have! As all this is going on, we’re wondering where the lads had got to, when another Twitter friend asks us what number our boys are. I tell her, and in return get a picture of them parked outside the pub she’s watching at (not far before the house, and handy for them to be there as the flags were waved)! At least we know they’re safe! With that in mind, Bestie and I head off to the theatre, we’ve had quite enough for one night. Foggy and Whit were very funny, and the G&T in the interval was most welcome, I can tell you.

IOM TT – Picture courtesy of Keith Quirk

So for now, I’m off to bed. It’s first race day tomorrow, but due to lack of track time, the decision has been made to put an additional practice session for the solos in tomorrow morning, and run the first sidecar race at 12.30. There will then be more track time for solo classes, and the first Superbike will be run on Sunday. It must be noted that the job of Clerk of Course this year so far has not been easy, and I don’t think many would disagree he’s doing his utmost to ensure we get good, safe racing. He’s had some tough calls to make, and I for one don’t envy him.

Here’s hoping the weekend runs smoothly, and we can get back on track for the rest of race week.

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!

TT 2013: Revisited – The Ultimate Price

Following on from the last piece, this is the second of my ‘TT 2013: revisited’ articles. In this collection, instead of writing about all things TT happening this year (there are none!) I have been back to a series of blogs I wrote during the TT in 2013, the first year I spent in the paddock with friends racing, and probably the most involved I’d been up to that point.

IOM TT – Picture courtesy of Keith Quirk

I decided to write these blogs back then as there were already dozens of people reporting on the racing, the top 10, the big names and so on, but I wanted to remind people that the TT is so much more than that. It means so much to so many for a plethora of reasons. With thousands of visitors each year, from all corners of the globe it is quite unlike anything else. Racing on public roads, closed only hours before racing starts and reopened to the population and visitors soon after racing is completed for the day. Bikes reaching speeds of 200mph plus with no run off, no kitty litter, lots of trees and stone walls, wild life and umpteen other things that make it hair raising exciting, also means that sometimes, things do go badly and sadly wrong.

The blog I’m sharing today was one I wrote following the sad death of Yoshi Matsushita on 27th May 2013. He was a popular figure around the paddock, albeit not a ‘headline’ name he was well known and liked…

It’s been a strange day today, the sort that none of us like to see. The weather on the Island cast a shadow over whether or not the practice session would go ahead. I was so sure it wouldn’t that at 3.30pm I was still making the most of a soggy Bank Holiday Monday by lounging on the couch in my pyjamas catching up on my Sky+! However, as is often the way here, almost in the blink of an eye the sun had come out & the roads were drying. Visibility was improving on the mountain and the decision was made that practice would go ahead, but untimed and only for Superstock, Supersport & then the Sidecars. A quick phone call with best buddy and I was showered, dried, dressed and in the car heading up to Kirk Michael before the roads closed.

IOM TT – Picture courtesy of Keith Quirk

As is usually the way, we had Manx Radio TT, the website, the app & the usual social networks going to see what was happening. The webcams showed it clearing up top, and apart from a delay in the start (due in part to a broken down coach on the Mountain) it looked like everything was to go ahead ok. As the start time approached, we added the layers of clothes and made a cuppa and once we knew the first bikes were through Glen Helen we headed outside. As we were up at the Grandstand on Saturday, this was our first experience of TT2013 bikes at close quarters, and the thrill as they flew past, just feet from us, was as powerful as ever. No words will ever truly describe what it is to see it, and if you are a racing fan who has never been to watch a road race, there are quite simply two words – do it. The bikes continued past, and I shot a couple of short videos on my phone to share with all my Twitter pals. We watched through a couple of our racing friends and felt that relieved feeling to see them circulating on good lines & looking well.

As best buddy pops in to check the info, in prep for the sideys outing, the marshals up and down the road are waving the yellow flags… Then, we hear that the red flag is out at the Grandstand and the session has been stopped. My heart sinks & my stomach knots. This is not usually a good sign. An announcement comes through about an incident at Ballacrye and the feeling of impending sadness worsens.

Three or 4 years ago, that would have been that until news came to us through the website or on the radio. However, with the event of social media its very different today. Of course we all want to know everyone we have an interest in is safe, be it our favourite rider, a friend or a relative. What we don’t want is the ghoulish curiosity & people trying to fill in the gaps about who it is, and how severe the incident could be, and all the misinformation that comes with that. If you’ve been around the event before there are certain things you recognise as bad signs – no further information, bikes escorted back around the course by the TM’s and the like don’t bode well. The tweets start flying round – some of genuine concern by people wanting reassurance about friends – as well as those where people are guessing who it could be, or what could have happened. And then the worst possible news comes through the official lines. TT2013 has suffered it’s first fatality. In the main, everybody is respectful and there is a feeling of sadness that our sport has again lost one of its own.

The harsh reality hits home. One of the main reasons we love this sport is the thrill, the challenge, and the seemingly superhuman strength shown by our riders. But this has a cost, and tonight Yoshinari Matsushita has paid the ultimate price. There is no doubt he died doing something that he loved. There is no doubt that he knew the risks. Every rider who signs up to race the Mountain Course is acutely aware of the worst that could happen. Of course, most of them don’t go out thinking ‘I could be about to die’ but they know the risk is there. Their families & friends know. It’s not something that we dwell on though. If we did, then I doubt there would be any racing. It’s part of the package, but it’s the part that we don’t really talk about, which is why when it happens we all feel the same shock and sadness.

As fans, we are generally a respectful bunch, we all have our thoughts of condolence for the fallen riders, family & friends, and in all honesty a fleeting thanks to the racing gods that our own are safe. But in these sad times we also then hear the voice of the ‘anti’ who seem to be on the sidelines, waiting for something like this to happen in order to start with their cries of ‘See? We knew this would happen! It’s dangerous! Ban it!’ It’s easy to get drawn into discussion (argument) as we’re a passionate lot, but we must always remember we also know when to show respect and be dignified.

IOM TT – Picture courtesy of Keith Quirk

Of course we feel frustration that this is perpetuated by the main stream news media – this evenings sad loss has already been reported by the main news channels. But will they mention the TT when records are being broken? I doubt it. If McGuinness makes it 20? Or more? Unlikely. Because that’s not in the common interest. There’s only a small percentage of the population who care. But there’s the thing you see. We do care. The biking community are a caring & respectful bunch – I was proud to see multiple Rides of Respect in honour of the fallen soldier Lee Rigby (RIP), as I am when I see Egg Runs at Easter, Toy Runs at Christmas, the RBLR events and so many other examples of charity & community support. This is why we shouldn’t engage in arguments with those who don’t understand it, we should continue to stand together, support each other during the sad times and celebrate during the good times. Remember those no longer with us and celebrate their achievements. Respect where it is due.

RIP Yoshinari Matsushita and all the other riders who have fallen before him.

First Timer’s Guide to the Isle of Man TT

Spectating up the mountain

The atmosphere starts when you arrive at the ferry terminal. Perhaps you’re hot and bothered, having negotiated your way through the centre of Liverpool along with the rest of the world, or maybe you’ve arrived at Heysham Port, all smug with how easy the last bit of the journey is along the new bypass. Perhaps you’ve only travelled a few miles. Or maybe it’s been an expedition just to get here.

And suddenly the world is a sea of bikes, all loaded to the gunnels and beyond, and you’re lined up three abreast in the car lanes alongside a few battered vans covered in stickers. You get separated from your mate, as you’ve managed to get everything into your rucksack, but he’s got the widest panniers in the world so has been sent into a different queue.

Hard on the brakes into Ramsey

If you’re one of the lucky ones to get on board first, you do a quick dash to grab a table in the bar, or if you’re on the overnight, nab somewhere to stretch out on the floor without being tripped over every 5 minutes. Otherwise you hang around outside waiting to board, judging people’s packing abilities, and checking that all your bits are still where they should be. This is it. Your first time to the Isle of Man for the TT. Will it be everything that everyone says it is?

A three and a bit hour sailing, and it’s time to disembark. Back on the car deck you do your best impression of a Krypton Factor contestant – limboing under chest-high ropes in full bike gear, squeezing between panniers and exhausts, trying not to catch your rucksack on mirrors, and then trying to figure out where on earth the end of the rope is and how the hell to untie it.

And then your row starts to move. A bit of concentration as you negotiate the humps and bumps and slippery bits on the car deck, and then you’re on the ramp. Out into the fresh air. You’ve made it. You have officially arrived on the Isle of Man, ready to take in the greatest road racing in the world.

But where do you start? There’s so much to do and see…

Ask anyone who’s been before, and they will have their own recommendations, their own favourites and must-dos. I’m going to be one of those people – I’ve been going to the Isle of Man TT and Manx Grand Prix for over 15 years, I also marshal the races, and I lived on the Island for a couple of years in my 20’s. So even though no one has asked, I’ll give you some thoughts on how to plan your trip to get the best out of it, and give you a taste of the TT fortnight. But be warned. The Isle of Man TT is addictive. You’ll be planning your next trip even before you’ve left.

Two pieces of advice:

Don’t have an itinerary. Make a list, but keep it flexible. Remember everything is governed by the weather. Hopefully it’ll be cracking the flags and you’ll be stocking up on suncream. But you might well end up sulking in your tent, wondering if you can be bothered to go to the pub. So have some rainy day plans as well.

Talk to people. Particularly if you’re on a campsite, you’ll be surrounded be people who will have been before. Get chatting and find out where they suggest – maybe they’ve got a spectacular spectating spot, or have discovered a cracking chippy.

I’ve done quite a lot of spectating over the years, I really enjoy going off somewhere and spending the day with my earpiece radio and race guide. I like to have a couple of beers while I’m watching, so my spectating revolves around public transport. But it is still possible to get away from the crowds without too much walking. And the public transport on the Island is superb – clean, on time, not too rammed, and the buses have free wifi.

IOM TT – Picture courtesy of Keith Quirk

Where’s good for spectating? Have a think about what kind of racing you want to see. Do you want to experience flat out speed? Do you want a slow bit where you can see the whites of their eyes? A technical bit? The mountain? Famous locations? Near a pub? In a hedge? The possibilities are endless. Bear in mind that in some places you’ll be stuck there until the roads open, and on the mountain there’s a further wait while the one-way system is put back in place. And not everywhere has the luxury of toilets or a burger van.

Weather forecasts are only so much use – the Island is renowned for its microclimates, and I’ve lost count of the times it’s been glorious in Ramsey but everything is delayed as the heavens have opened at the grandstand, or the mountain is shrouded in mist.

Also, even on a stunning day, it’s chilly in the shade, particularly if you’re not moving around. There’s nothing more miserable than going to a suntrap in your shorts and t-shirt, and as the day goes on the sun moves round and everyone else is now wearing seventeen layers and there’s another couple of hours ’til the roads open.

I always try and spend one of the race days spectating up the mountain. Bus to Laxey, buy a picnic and a few beers in the corner shop, and then join the enormous queue for a tram up to Bungalow. On race days the trams stop short of the road, but you can cross over the footbridge and jump on another tram to the summit. I usually walk up towards the old museum building and Joey’s statue, find a shady spot to keep my picnic cool and then I’m set for the day. And you can always wander back down to the tram and head up to the summit for cake.

I would definitely recommend spectating at least one practice session from the Grandstand – tickets are cheaper and easier to get hold of, and as practice takes place from about 6pm you can spend a couple of hours wandering round the paddock, watch scrutineering, and do a bit of souvenir shopping, all the while keeping an eye out for famous faces.

And don’t forget your time away from the racing. Do you want to spend it in the pub, soaking up the atmosphere? Or do you want to do a bit of exploring? For a lazy day I can highly recommend the ice cream parlour by the Villa Marina on Douglas prom – there is loads of outside seating, and it’s great for watching the world go by, particularly when a ferry has just unloaded. Most events are listed in the programme, from live music to beach racing to stunt shows to fireworks to Red Arrows displays, but it’s definitely worth picking up a local paper for more gig listings.

There’s plenty to do if the weather doesn’t play ball. Have an adventure on a steam train or the electric tram, visit one of the several museums around the Island – the Douglas museum usually has a TT-themed exhibition, and the Villa Marina cinema in Douglas shows a selection of bike-themed films. Or there is always the pub.

Stained glass windows at St Ninian’s

And a handy hint – many churches around the island open up as cafes during TT fortnight, quite often with photography displays. I can highly recommend St Ninian’s, with it’s TT-themed stained glass windows, an upstairs exhibition space, and excellent lemon drizzle cake. Maybe next year I’ll work on doing a cake-based guide to TT fortnight…

The TT really is a holiday like no other, and if you’ve never been I hope I’ve given you a taste of it. Just writing this has made me long to be back there – I’ve got my sailings booked for next year, and I’m already counting the days ’til I pack my rucksack and head up to Heysham on my Ducati Scrambler.

Whatever you decide to do while you’re over there, you’ll be planning your next trip even before you set off home.

TT 2013 Revisited – Practice Week

In the absence of the IOM TT racing this year (2021), instead of looking forward as I would usually by now, I spent some time looking back. Since I moved to the Island in 1999, TT has been the highlight of my year. As the years pass by, I have experienced highs and lows, joy, excitement, friendship, camaraderie, team work and so many other great things. There have been terrible lows; times of fear, of worry, of disappointment and overwhelming sadness. Road racing is a cruel mistress – she has a hold over those who have committed to her that is really quite hard to explain, she is brilliant yet cruel… and very hard to walk away from.

IOM TT – Picture courtesy of Keith Quirk

For many years, the fortnight was whirlwind of escaping work on time to watch practice, catching up with visiting friends, socialising, and of course the main event – the racing. My best mate of twenty years lived on the course, so it was usual to spend race days there. She was part of a big family, and they had pretty much adopted me as one of them. There were always visitors and the days were brilliant fun sat on her wall with the bikes just feet away, combined with access to clean toilets, cold beer and good food. Most years one of the visitors is her brother, who has a keen interest (obsession?!) in bikes and has often talked of his dream to race the TT in his sidecar. In 2013, it was finally time for his dream to become a reality…. During the fortnight, I decided to write a blog about the week and how it unfolded, and with no TT happening this year I have revisited my scribblings and I’d like to share them again to give you readers that may not have seen them before a view of the Isle of Man TT from a slightly different perspective. This first instalment is a summary of the first practice and is pretty much exactly as I wrote it 8 years ago…

I remember when we heard he’d entered his sidecar – a mixture of admiration (how amazing to get to do something you’ve always dreamed of) along with a twinge of fear. I’m sure I don’t need to explain that. The months have passed and now here we are….

I head to meet my buddy so we can all go to the Grandstand to see him off. When we get there, we find them getting the bike ready to go and be scrutineered. The tension is palpable – her brother is usually a pretty chilled and laid-back guy, but you can see that he is more edgy than usual. His partner is quieter than usual and best buddy is doing her best to keep busy. Having got there at 4ish, those couple of hours seem to go on forever. But then suddenly it’s 6pm and the last-minute preparation is in full flow. I’d expected to leave them and head up to sit in the Grandstand to watch, but there are enough team passes so I get to go into Parc Ferme and down pit lane to see them off. I’m excited as I’ve not been quite so close to the action ever before.

IOM TT – Picture courtesy of Keith Quirk

It’s a bit like entering an inner sanctum, and I’m a little awestruck seeing so many faces that I recognise – McPint, Rutter, MD amongst others are milling about in readiness for the lightweights, old hands who have been here a million times before amongst the orange vests of the newcomers here for the very first time. A small gathering of journalists indicates there is somebody a lot of people are watching – Josh Brookes in his controversial leathers carrying the neon orange colouring over the top half. We make our way down pit lane and see the solo newcomers setting off on their controlled lap. The knot in my stomach is getting tighter as the boys get their lids on and get settled in the outfit. The roar of engines starting up around us, and that smell…. The knot has now sent a lump to my throat and I see the anxious faces of the partners and family, trying their best to act normal so as to keep the boys calm. And then they get the nod to move forwards….and they’re off…. We watch them launch onto the road and disappear off into the distance to St Ninians and for a minute we’re all silent. One of the girls surreptitiously wipes a tear from her eye and I say nothing but put my arm round her & hand her a tissue (I was a girl guide, always prepared!) We make our way back to Parc Ferme and wait.

It seems like an eternity. I am messaging everyone I can think of who may be out around the course to let us know when they see them go through. I get a message from Kirk Michael – they’ve passed there, and the girls look relieved. After what seems like forever the outfits start coming in and from our spot, we crane our necks as one after another pulls in. And then they are there. Huge sighs of relief all round – they’ve done their first lap on the most famous 37 and three quarter mile stretch of road there is. The lads park up, and everyone buzzes around them. How was it? How did it feel? How was the outfit, the visors, the flies, the light etc etc.. I am kind of on the fringe, and then something is needed from the awning. In a bid to feel useful I set off trotting back down there. A couple of hours ago it was buzzing on their paddock, but now it is like a ghost town. I wonder how the other teams have got on and think about how surreal this feels. I am suddenly part of a race team! I grab the bits I need and set off back up the way. It’s worth noting I haven’t run anywhere for about 20 years and vow it will be 20 years before I do it again!! As I get back to them, they’re starting to move the outfit down to its slot on pit lane in readiness for the next outing.

This time they are not restricted, and the tension is building again. The pit lane is buzzing, lots of clusters of people gathered around each outfit, riders perched on walls with headphones in shutting out the hustle and bustle and getting in the zone. Engines starting up & shutting off, the outfits and leathers an explosion of colour in the evening sunshine. This time everyone in our little group seems calmer but it is still an anxious wait. I look up to the grandstand – it’s packed with people, probably helped by the fact it is a beautiful evening on the rock with clear skies and glorious sunshine. Engines are being started and the guys are moving into position ready to go. They get the tap on the shoulder and they’re off again. I remember the TT App and start following the feed to see their names pop up….they’re through Ballaugh, Ramsey, Bungalow, Cronk ny Mona and then they whizz past us at the Grandstand and they’re off again. We tell ourselves that’s a good sign – if they went round again the first can’t have been that bad!!

As the faster, more experienced guys start to arrive back we keep our eye on the app to get clues. It feels like an age and as people arrive back the buzz gets quieter as people leave pit lane and parc ferme and head back to their bases. The people next to us get a call to say their team has run out of fuel. A travelling marshal sets off to start the sweeps of the course. There’s no sign yet but we’re told the last two outfits are still circulating. The clock ticks closer to 9pm, and the app catches back up with itself and shows them at Cronk ny Mona….The spanner & the drivers son are on pit wall, I’m with the drivers partner at the end of the return lane. Son shouts back to us that they’re here and there’s that feeling of relief again. I suddenly realise the sun has dropped and its getting very chilly. This time it’s smiles all round and we make our way back to base with a spring in our step.

IOM TT – Picture courtesy of Keith Quirk

Best buddy has been down a while and done what she does best and got the brews on and as we warm our hands we hear about the experience the boys have just had. The evening draws to a close as the sun sets on first practice and we head home. This time next week, subject to weather, qualifying and a big chunk of luck they’ll have done their first race.

But for tonight, we’re happy they’re home safe