Red Bull, Monster, Honda, were among the big sponsors of this race, yet some of the other things I was noticing was the little tents the local vendors had set up around the Grandstands. The start line sits up above the Douglas strip about a mile off the shore, tucked between a catholic church and ironically a cemetery. Across from the racers pits sat a field full of tents, tents that had been brought in to house the temporary influx of visitors. As I got to know the island a little more throughout the past few days, I found that this was all the more common. The racers’ pits were actually open to the public and formed in a large horseshoe with inner rings of tents and trucks to house the riders and their bikes. The bigger teams such as Honda, Dunlop, or Monster all had full crews working and making last minute tweaks to the bikes. Unlike American races where you would have to pay for this type of access the riders and teams were exposed to the crowds as they gathered around their favorite riders.
The Dunlops, Ian Hutchison John McGinnis all have their typical fans and followers throughout the years but it is Guy Martin who stands out with his big hair and lambchop sideburns. He resembles a child with ADHD; his excitement about racing draws the largest crowds and the wildest fans. Though he doesn’t have the most wins, he survived a horrific accident when his bike slid out from under him and exploded in a ball of fire. This is one of the first videos that caught my attention back during my obsession with the races on YouTube. I spent the next three hours up at the grandstands grabbing a beer and moseying around the tents. I noticed the gradual turn in the weather, with the sun bursting through holes in the clouds, and hoped the roads would stay dry so the races would continue the next day. Crews worked vigorously and tirelessly, as this was the Superbowl of the Irish Road Racing Circuit.
The famous Ashley hotel, surrounded by restaurants and bistros, was the main gem of Douglas’ strip, it’s pink-marbled hotel had large windows overlooking the bay. The ocean’s high and low tides in the northern part of the Irish sea really expose the bay every twelve hours. The little castle in the middle of the bay, protrudes like a large rock outcropping. It was built in 1945, after the war represented all the local Manx boys (*Manx- is what the locals proudly called themselves) who died serving in the military. I couldn’t help but notice the amount of attention this little fishing village gave their veterans, and the amount of respect they still had for them. This small fishing village really felt the losses dealt during the war.
As the sun sank down over the mountains on the pacific side of the ocean the night crept over, but the night life was just getting started. The local beer brewery called “Bushys” had a tent set up downtown on the strip. Bands played on the stages and it resembled a larger version of Sturgis. There were rides for kids, food tents with freshly made delectables. Delicious smells filled the air, much like a festival atmosphere. I found a Greek pizza joint that baked some of the best pizza I have ever tasted. I consider myself a connoisseur of both beer and pizza, but these Turks knew how to throw a twist in their pizza. As I grabbed another beer after finishing my last slice, I heard a familiar accent. I looked over and saw a couple, man and woman, speaking with thick New York accents. I walked over and introduced myself to the only Americans I would meet for the next few days. The night life kicked off with serious parties all along the strip. I decided to call it a night, considering I had stayed up trying to match drinks with some Irish lads.
The next morning I woke up feeling much better, but was still dehydrated. I slammed a few bottles of water and went downstairs to grab a bite to eat at the local restaurant. I heard from the locals talking, that the weather had moved on and the race would start that day. I had already planned my assault on the observation points across the route. “Bray Hill” is a famous point that I had to watch from, which was ¾ of a mile from the start line. By the time the racers would hit this point they would be wide open in 4thgear going 135-150 mph, on cold shocks and tires with a full tank of gas, descending into the first of many technical blind turns. Once the riders hit the top of the hill they would descend going into a slight left hand turn for approximately 300 meters. Then down across a four-way intersection with a large crowd at the pop up bar that “Bushy” sponsors; then right back up into a blind hard right turn over a little knob. I found myself on the far side of the hill at the bottom third looking across the four-way intersection. It was in the front yard of a house where there wasn’t a lot of people. For a good reason as, I found out later, a few years prior a rider lost control of his bike sending it in to the very same yard killing six spectators and injuring the rider. Once the road was closed there wasn’t any traffic allowed and then the Marshals would then start their intervals riding and ensure the road was clear. The marshals were prior riders of the TT that had retired but this didn’t stop them from showing the crowds that had formed on the sides of the road who they used to be. Some of the Marshals were actually putting down some serious times with speeds that were extremely fast.
I found myself sitting on the concrete edge of the wall that lined the front yard I was sitting in. The host had offered beer and little finger snacks for a small donation. I had held on to the clear solo cup and was sipping on the beer when a helicopter flew over my head. It passed over and that is when I heard them. The racers had left the Grandstands in their intervals. You could hear the wine of the bikes as they shifted gears, by the time they hit the top of the hill they were tucked into a dive almost touching the concrete and brick walls. Only inches away from certain death, their knees dragging the ground as the bikes were nearly on their sides. They would straighten up and pull back through and over on the opposite side of the bike as they entered the blind curve. They were going so fast that I had a hard time tracking them. They were at the top one minute and passed the four way intersection before I could even really comprehend what I had just seen. I spent the next few hours watching as the four different classes rode their “four” laps of the 37-mile track. The older man who owned the home sat with his back towards the racers without a care in the world and told stories as the beer flowed.
I watched as the different classes came screaming by. Everyone paid the most attention to the superbike class; the fastest and unrestricted bikes captured everyone’s attention. I watched the superbikes, then the stock bikes, which were followed by the electric class. I was in awe that the Electric bikes were just as fast as the gas bikes! However, I was completely oblivious to the fact that there was a class designated for side cars attached to the bikes. I had seen them in the tents but didn’t really think too much about it. I shocked when they screamed by with the driver on the bike and a passenger in the sidecar, in leather matching suits. These side cars traveled fast! I was in awe as they raced by me, each with a style their own. I couldn’t believe how fast the bikes were moving and with the side cars attached. I had to question the mental state of each one of these riders. It was completely unnatural to travel that fast with boundaries that close to certain death.
Another hot spot that I also watched the race was from the “mountain course.” A local had told me this was the best place to watch the riders come into view. Getting there was not easy because of the congested traffic and once the road was closed it was impossible to get around the island. I had to take a bus from my hotel up the strip farther north from where Douglas lay. It was a quick 45-minute trip over the rolling hills and next to ocean, a very typical Irish feel. I exited the bus and found the “ Laxley” train station with an old style electric trolley with wooden benches, open windows, that creaked every time it went over a bump. It sat there waiting as people trickled from buses or ubers. The trolley conductor sat there, wearing a little round and blue hat, with a big cigar dangling from his mouth. The train station sat in a small little town called Laxley, and as the train moved up and out of the little quiet village the views changed. Sitting about 2 miles up the mountain spun a water wheel on a little mountain stream, one of the world’s largest water wheels at 150 ft in height, it was a monster. As the wheels turned slowly you could see the sheep from the hills coming down to the watershed to get a drink.
As I moved farther up the mountain the temperature changed and there was more moisture from the low rolling clouds. Small pockets of sunshine showed hopes for a dry course so the race could resume. I got to the top and people started to move up and over to the bridge. I previously sat in front of an older man and his wife, who were from London, who had attended the TT for many years. They told me there was a spot on the other side of the mountain away from all the spectators that hovered around the bridge. The cool thing about the mountain course was that it was wide open, which allowed the racers to see well ahead and ride faster. I managed to let all the other people pass up to the bridge when I made my turn over the hill overlooking a wide stretch of open pastures. There was two men and young boy that were sitting in the same spot that was told to me was the best place to watch the race. I moved over closer to them and they waved over to me. They were all from England and so the conversation started how I, an American, made it to the remote hills watching a superbike race. The oldest man was a WWII veteran and fought for the Brits as a tanker. This was three generations of men who all came together as Grandfather, Son, and Grandson to watch the race every year. I started to get a sense that this is where the culture lied, on my way up the mountain the couple I had talked to were both in their 60s and then this montage of a family were all older. I noticed as I sat up there on that June morning that Americans lacked that very trait and respect for culture. We sat up there talking about everything that would bring Americans and British together. We listened to a little AM/FM radio hanging from the plastic seat. The old man mentioned the first riders had left the grandstands. The mountain course sat on the back end of the 37-mile run and I knew it was about 27-30 miles from where the start line was, but I did not anticipate how fast they would get to us.
I sat only a few minutes in the semi tall grass still damp with mildew; listening to the stories the old man was telling. His grandson, who had heard the start of the race, walked down closer to the edge of the road. I heard the helicopter again. It looked like a Bell 407 with a camera crew on it, with a camera mounted on the nose of the helicopter. I saw it hover over the area only a few miles to the north west of us; which I knew were some close and technical turns. The helicopter then dipped down out of sight behind a finger in the hill in front of us. We saw the racers hit the corner of the road. They came barreling around a sharp corner about 2 miles in front of us, and it seemed the 10 second interval didn’t help much as most of the racers were now in a pack. They were out running the helicopter now, running full throttle at a peak of well over 180 mph! They hit a technical stretch of S turns before making it up to where we were sitting. They zipped passed us and curved deep under the bridge, then they opened up on a straight where, at one point, they were going at least 205 mph. This is where the rookies and the senior riders really differentiated. A few years prior, there was a bad accident when one of the rider’s bike slide out from under him as while taking a corner too fast. The bike ended up going over the corner and flipping off the cliff with the racer right behind it. They both went over the edge and tomahawked down the hill for hundreds of feet. Another famous crash a racer survived. Watching them fly by me on the mountain course left me speechless.
I walked over to the main bridge by the Tourist Trophy museum and statue of a rider on a bike and wandered around for the next few hours, catching glimpses of them as they raced by. This is probably one of the most coveted trophies within the motorcycle racing world. I spent the next day finding small places to watch the world’s deadliest and fastest race.
Chris is from Spokane Washington and the oldest of nine siblings. He graduated from Mead Senior High school in 1998 and enlisted into the United States Army. He graduated from basic combat training at Ft Benning, Georgia, and immediately was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, which he later was selected to the Pathfinder Detachment which specialized in long range reconnaissance, Airborne operations, insertions, extractions, pilot recovery missions. After watched the attacks on the world Trade Center he immediately reenlisted and deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq. His last tour was in Afghanistan in 2012 and he received a purple heart for sustaining injuries during a combat operation and later medically retired. Chris is now living in Texas and working in the Oil and Gas industry. He has two daughters that he considers his saving grace. He is also attending the University Of Texas, with a focus on Business Management.