Letter From The UK: A Breed Apart

A small green jewel of an island in the middle of the Irish Sea is home to one of the most exciting and nerve-shredding Motorsports events anywhere on the planet. Although it is part of the United Kingdom, the Isle Of Man has its own parliament and government which have competence over all domestic matters.

This makes a difference.

The Race

As long ago as 1907, a group of enthusiasts decided they would stage an “auto-cycle” race around the island and thus, the Tourist Trophy was born. Today, Tourist Trophy Week attracts riders and supporters from all over the world. Handily, TT also stands for Time Trial which is what this race is.

It is a two-wheeled spectacular; motorbike rider and machine pitting themselves against the clock on an island circuit comprised entirely of closed public roads. Competitors encounter stone walls, hedgerows, drain covers, and high curbs all of which are hard, unyielding, and deadly. The Snaefell Mountain Course is 37.73 miles long and races can comprise one to six laps, so the Senior TT bikes will cover 226 miles in one race and – I can’t stress this enough – the record for the average speed per 37.73 mile lap, AVERAGE, is currently 133.962mph. The men and women who wrestle these mighty machines around the lumpy, bumpy streets of the Isle of Man are truly a breed apart.

Death Ever Present

Tragically, scarcely a year goes by without someone getting killed in often a horrendous accident. One slip, one brush against a curb and all is lost. During this year’s TT competition which finished last week, it is sad to report that three riders died in crashes and a couple were injured and this is the point. In the UK generally the great gods of health & safety rule. They have their humorless clipboard-toting acolytes who go around preventing people from doing the things they enjoy. To say our nation is risk-averse is to put it mildly. If the authorities could make us all wear personal safety roll cages whenever we left the house they would.

The Isle of Man does it differently. They believe that, all reasonable safety precautions being taken, if riders want to put themselves at hazard then they should be allowed to do so. This is a mature and sensible attitude. Furthermore, the competitors and their families know the risks. It stares them in the face. If someone is killed there is usually a moment of reflection for other riders before their machine is pushed up to the start line. Over 200 motorcycle stalwarts have died over the years and yet still they come in their droves. The race week has never been so well supported.

The trouble is, if you like to go fast then it is in your blood. Many competitors crave the excitement and, yes, the fear, as a starving man would crave a piece of bread. The fact is that here on the cracked and broken mainlands of Britain and elsewhere in the world, much motor racing on two or four wheels has to an extent been slightly muted by rules and regulations. Nobody wants to bear witness to death but, in my view, racing has become, if not dull, at least a little pedestrian at times.

Isle Of Man TT. Photo: Creative Commons.

Racing Relics

Obviously, there’s still plenty of exciting motor racing around. The last race of this weekend’s British Touring Car Championship demonstrated that but, like an insidious disease, I worry slowly but surely the rot will set in. I can’t speak for the rules in the USA but to me it seems that American Motorsport appears less afflicted by the excesses of health and safety. I for one love to watch any NASCAR or IndyCar racing I can find on the television, but I can’t say the same about Formula One. Increasingly, the bloated and money-obsessed F1 circus is staged on brand new circuits that are like giant car parks with huge run-off areas and a boring track design that leaves spectators remote from the action.

Many of the grand old circuits of the past hardly get a look in now. Monaco survives, thanks to the glamour, but the days of seeing Grand Prix cars sweeping up the corkscrew that is Eau Rouge at Spa are long gone. Accidents by their very nature are just that. No one can predict the unknowable. Essentially what I am saying is that if we insist on yet another safety precaution every time someone dies, where does it end? How safe does Motorsport have to become before it turns into a parade?

Eau Rouge & Raidillon, Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, October 1997. Photo: Creative Commons.

Good Old Days On Film

This writer recently watch a current documentary film about the New Zealand racer, Bruce McLaren. What struck me most was just how exciting the racing was in those gung-ho days. No track-side barriers, no run-off gravel areas, just man and machine dicing with the devil. History shows these racers were at the edge of the abyss yet they still pushed the limits. Technology has made our race cars safe for drivers which is good, but has it taken away the spirit of derring-do?

Need For Speed

The need for speed is in us, but eroded by society. The need to take risks is an urge laying dormant just below the veneer of our daily humdrum lives. This other breed embraces that urge fully. If you ask them why, they probably could not give a fully coherent answer. It’s the buzz, they say. It’s the charge. It’s the blast. Two wheels aren’t enough for me personally, but give me four and I get it.

Geoff Maxted is a motoring writer, photographer, and author of our Letter From The UK series. Follow his work on Twitter:

Cover Photo: A. G. Lloyd-Jones.

About The Author

I'm an experienced and published writer, formerly on cycling and as a general mountain biking guru (until falling off became too painful). More recently I returned to my lifelong love of cars and as a full member of the UK's Guild of Motoring Writers I now pen reviews, news and opinions for various print and online publications. I fully road test every vehicle I review and still get a kick out of it. I'm based in the heart of leafy England.

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