Since 1907 the Isle of Man has held an annual international motorcycle racing competition known as the Isle of Man TT (“Tourist Trophy”). Racers come from all over the world to participate. The race is along a 37 mile course of public roads – closed for the event, of course, by act of parliament. The TT is held in May and June, and draws as many as 80,000 visitors to the isle.
In August and September, the isle hosts the Festival of Motorcycles. This is also a race over the same course, but with a broader participant base. There are categories of age, experience, and motorcycle type. Thus, older competitors can compete, as can vintage motorcycles. The actual race is this weekend, but practice runs are being held the next few evenings. (The practice runs are in the evening because the public roads can’t be closed during the day.)
There is a permanent grandstand constructed for the races at the start-finish line – again, alongside a public road. The start-finish is about a mile from my hotel. I’ve never seen a motorcycle race before, so I couldn’t miss this opportunity.
I started my research at the Manx Museum, where there are several previously winning cycles on display.
It was still early in the afternoon, so I decided to scope out the grandstand, return to my hotel for an early meal, and then return to watch the practice runs. To my surprise, there were literally hundreds of motorcycles being prepared to race. They, in turn, attracted so many food and souvenir vendors, that I felt as if I had entered a small city. There was no need for me to return to my hotel, so I went to the beer garden.
That is where I met Paul, a former TT racer who is sponsoring some younger racers. Paul, himself, plans to ride a "parade lap" over the course on Monday. "Parade lap"isn't what it sounds like -- he'll be riding at over 100 mph. As part of his preparation, he will drive the course in his van tomorrow while the road is open to the public, and invited me to come along. He commented that I really can’t appreciate what the drivers face until I’ve seen the route. Of course, I jumped at the chance.
As six o’clock approached I moved to the grandstand to watch the racers start. The race is in a time trial format. Two cyclists start at 15 second intervals. Transponders affixed to the cycles electronically record the time of start and the time of finish each 37-mile lap. Fastest bike wins. The racers completed their first lap in under 20 minutes. They whizzed by the start-finish line so fast that it was impossible for me to take a picture – the slight delay of my digital camera lost the image. But I did capture the speed board for several of the slower racers. Remember, these are only practice runs – the serious speeds will be achieved at race time.
If the weather is nice, I may go back tomorrow. But first I’ll have to find a helmet in my size.