On the surface, the Monaco GP and the Isle of Man TT races have much in common; both races are held on public roads, both are nearly 100 years old, both are the crown jewels of their respective worlds, and both are as much experiences as they are sporting events. That folks, is where the similarities end.
The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy is at the other end of the motorsports world from Monaco. No yachts, no Ferrari’s, no playground for the One Percenters, no high style patrons, no $100 million factory race budgets, and no champagne for breakfast.
For a week each year, tens of thousands of bike enthusiasts cram on the ferry and cross the Irish Sea to the Island of Man, a tiny island that is a separate country within the UK. Surprisingly, the IOM is being gentrified (is there no stone left unturned?) as its a tax haven whose major industry is banking. But, there’s still a way to go as most of the island looks to be dedicated to sheep herds, which is logical given how many wool sweaters one needs even in June to come close to being warm.
The IOM is filled stonewall to stonewall with bikes, bikers, bike paraphernalia, bike clothing shops, biker pubs and bike museums. In other words, this is Mecca for bikers and I’m immediately comfortable.
Imagine you’re a baseball fan and you’re in a city in which baseball fans– many in uniforms — are on every street, in every restaurant, and in every bar. Moreover, every room you walk, whether it be a bar or a bakery shop, has at least one picture of a favorite player, both contemporary and those hero’s of another era. Now switch out bike racers and their biker fans and you have a picture of what the IOM is like.
There is nothing in the world that compares to sitting on a picnic table on the front lawn of the Mitre Pub, having a beer, and watching, listening, and feeling the racers scream by just feet away. We’re staying at a private home in Kirk Michael, a country village about half way round the 37 mile course, and its a perfect place to capture the feel of the TT.
The race itself is legendary for many reasons, most of which revolve the fact that its races are held over 37 miles of narrow country roads. People get killed here every year. Most often its a racer, but its also fans who are let out on the racing circuit every day (how else are the locals to get to/from work?) and play racer to disastrous results.
This is not a race for young men. In fact, all the leading contenders would be old men in other sports. Usually in their mid-30s or early 40s, the leaders have won many races each with one leading contender having 21 victories over the years. Age is key because it takes a lot of experience to know where the road goes, where each turn goes, how fast you can take it — and more importantly how fast you can’t take it. The roads are most often lined with stone walls or hedges, meaning most corners are blind from the racer’s POV (you can’t see where the corner is going) and the consequences of a mistake can literally be deadly.
The big winner of this year’s event, Ian Hutchinson, is a hero because he spent five years recovering from a leg injury in which he almost lost his leg. He then came back to win three races this year, averaging over 130mph in each. He’s obviously grown some huge appendages while recovering:) This week’s favorite Michael Dunlop has had his father and uncle both killed on the Island. His brother crashed on the first day and is out for the rest of the week. Michael crashed as well, but he’s limping along. He needs help to get on his bike, though.
The IOM TT is a race for real, crazy-brave men.
Here’s what the week looked like.