For 351 days of the year the Isle of Man is a bucolic paradise boasting the ultimate pastoral fantasy, winding country lanes and panoramic mountain views. But for those special 14 days it is home to screeching throttles, roaring engines and, perhaps most importantly, some of the hardest and craziest men and women in the sporting world today.
You might be imagining a niche gathering of motoring fanatics but I can assure you it is so much more than that. It not only features the elite legends, such as the infamous Dunlops whose racing lineage begins with motor sport heavyweight, Joey Dunlop and doesn’t show any sign of stopping, but it also showcases newcomers, boys that are barely shaving who want to dip their toes in to test the water but get sucked into this cyclone of adrenaline, as well as the occasional bike-loving nutter who wants their own chance to trace the tyre tracks of many an accomplished rider. It also serves as a global microcosm, with racers from the UK, US, Australia, France and Japan.
Let’s talk about the course. 37 miles long, with the fastest lap time being 17 minutes and 12.30 seconds set by John McGuiness in 2009. It has been described as a ‘pot-hole ridden B road’. Over the past 105 years, the course has cost the lives of 135 racers (237 if you include the amateur grand prix) making it the deadliest motor sport race in the world. This year the race took the life of Japanese racer Yoshinari Matsushita. But does this inevitable danger deter what appear to be the bravest, most determined sports people around? Of course not!
This leads us to the characters of the TT world – the riders. These men are a rare breed of daredevils who constantly tow the line between triumph and tragedy. They are the living example of falling of the horse, or more often than not, being flung over fence, field and fauna, and then as soon as you can walk, popping a few pain pills and getting right back on this mechanic steed and giving it all you have got. In 2010, the race was witness to, not one, but two horrific crashes. The first was Guy Martin, a name synonymous with road racing, not only crashed at Ballagarey but his exploded , producing a monstrous inferno. Martin injured two vertebrae, broke multiple ribs, suffered a collapsed lung and twisted both of his ankles but was quoted later in hospital as saying ‘I am a bit sore but I am fine’. How many sportsmen do you know of that can skid on their ass through a petrol-fuelled fire ball break multiple important bones and then brush it off as though it were a mere grazed knee and continue to compete the year after with a podium finish! The second crash saw Isle of Man local, Conor Cummins had a nasty crash at the Vernandah on the Mountain section. Footage shows the 24 year old flying over the fencing like a limp rag doll and into a neighbouring field, at this point he is believed to be already unconcious and as a result suffered a badly broken left arm, two bone fractures in his back, a dislocated knee and ligament damage, bruising to his lungs and a hairline fracture to his pelvis. Cummins was back two years later after intensive physiotherapy for nerve damage in his arm.
So if balls-of-steel racers aren’t your thing, what about the heavy duty machinery? Top of the range Suzuki’s, Honda’s, Yamaha’s as far as the eye can see. Each racer not only has the best machine available but they also have engines tuned by the best wrench monkeys going.
The Isle of Man TT has death-defying acts, state of the art machinery and riders with balls bigger than any footballer. So if, this week, you find yourself mouthing off at the ref and wishing for a better, purer sport. You know where to go.