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..... Chronicles 1999
..... Isle of Man
..... Chronicles 1998

Racing Overseas - 1998

Isle of Man 1998 • Racing Archive Chronicles 1998

STOP THE MADNESS: A newcomers look at the Isle of Man TT races.
By Dwight David Mitchell

"Stop the Madness", was my exact thought as I finished my first lap around the famed Isle of Man Tourist Trophy circuit. 220 curves, and 37.75 miles of narrow twisting roads, lined with telephone poles, looming stone walls, buildings, hills, and no run off. This is the world's most challenging roadracing course. I said to my guide, "people race this thing?" He laughed and said "yes". I wondered how they managed to average 123 mph on this course. My first qualifying lap was ridden in the rain and fog. It was timed at an average speed of 66 mph. In order to qualify for the race you must average a minimum speed of 100 mph for one of your practice/qualification sessions.

Joey Dunlop passed me on the mountain section of the course, and was accelerating away from me into the fog when you couldn't see 30 feet in front of you. I thought to myself, " he's accelerating away from me into the fog, how can he do this?" His average speed for that session was a little over 101 mph. I thought to myself, "what had I gotten myself into." Later in the day I found out the trick to riding in the fog. The white lines in the road get longer and are spaced closer together when you are approaching a curve. It's up to the rider to know which curve is approaching next. This means you must know the course in order to go fast.

To say I had no fear, trepidation, or hesitation to racing the famed TT course would be a lie. I had strong reservations regarding this race. One mistake on this course and you could end up kissing a wall. You might as well cancel Christmas. I also got a reality check on my first day of practice. I almost crossed that imaginary line on two separate occasions. Fortunately lady luck was on my side for it was not my day to crash.

But I stray..... Let me get back to my initial reactions. I have a number of TT videotapes, articles, riders course guide, and professional race notes, but nothing prepares you for that first lap around the circuit. All the newcomers had the same feeling, as I. This course is somewhat daunting, if not totally insane. We were all in awe of the course, and the riders that could lap at blazing average speeds of 123 mph. I will give you an example of how difficult the course is. There were 138 entries in the 600 Supersport race, 93 qualified for the race, and only 60 riders finished. Just think about it, that's over a 50% crash/drop out rate. During the first day of qualifications fifteen people crashed. Just finishing the race is considered an accomplishment. All riders who finish receive a finisher's award. I was one of the 60 riders to complete the course. By the end of practice week I was considerably faster than when I started, but not entirely where I wanted to be because of all the missed practices. I must say there is nothing like ripping through the streets of towns at 150 mph. "NOTHING!" From the very start of the race your flat out, full throttle, 6th gear, down a steep incline know as "Bray Hill". You are always on the gas and getting it! Your bike is always in the air when you're flat out, and you concentration is absolute or you die. At the end of my 150-mile race I was exhausted, but happy.

As a newcomer to the TT I was not properly prepared. For one a racer should never go to the TT with out a pit crew. I was very fortunate in this regard; the host of my home stay was on vacation for the two weeks of the races. Geoff Thomas was my pit crew savior. He went with me to all my practice sessions and the race. I could not have done it with out him. Ted Markut came over from the US during my second week and gave Geoff a hand pitting.

I was never told to come over early and ride the course to become familiar with it. There is so much to take in and learn in 37.75 miles. Next year I plan on going over three weeks early to practice. I would like to get in between 60 & 80 practice laps before qualifications start. I was caught out there this year, but I won't be next year.

The attitude and moral among the racers was very different than the USA. I met racers from all over the world. Everyone was friendly, helpful, and seemed generally concerned about your well being and progress. My friend advised me its because every experienced rider knows how difficult, and dangerous it is for a newcomer at the TT. They all know that it takes 3-5 years to become competitive on the course, and they don't want to see anyone get hurt. They also know I poise no threat to them. Most of the front runners are from Ireland. They have no circuit racing like the rest of the world. All racing in Ireland is done on normal streets and roads. I saw a video of the Northwest 200 race while on the Isle. It was so crazy and off the wall. They were doing mass starts on streets lined with walls, and telephone poles like a regular closed circuit course. I saw some serious crashes like I have never seen before. Richard Dunlop crashed out hard at the beginning of one mass start. His head just missed a steel lamppost, but his bike didn't and wrapped around the pole like a pretzel. He looked like a rag doll as he bounced along the ground. It takes a lot of heart to do 80 racer mass starts on the street. At the TT we are started at 10-second increments so this type of race must be easy for the Irish.

The rest of the TT festival was just as exciting. I can honestly say the Isle of Man TT is unlike anything I've ever experienced. You might ask me, "What about Daytona?" Well Daytona was the king of the hill for me until I went to the Isle. Now the king has been de-throne. As I walked down the Promenade I saw more Sportbikes than I have ever seen in one place. You name the bike, and it was there. All were trick, chrome, fancy, and fast. The crowd was caught up in all the excitement and revelry also. Bushy's Brew Pub was packed out nightly on the Boardwalk, and people were doing wheelies, burnout's, and stoppies. The police know it's a party and don't bother anyone unless they pose a danger.

Everyone on the Isle knows about the races, and speaks about it with passion and enthusiasm. There is so much to do even if you are not an avid race fan. I had so many people ask for my autograph and race number. I met people who have been coming to the TT every year for 20 and 30 years. I also saw a movie from 1935 about the TT called "No Limit" with George Frombe and his "Shuttleworth Snap Motorcycle". At the end of the day the whole experience was just too much fun. I received alot of written press. I was interviewed by the BBC1 and Speedvision, and even with all the problems I had, I'm glad I went and look forward to doing the TT again next year.

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