by C.R. Gittere
We are lined up in two rows, nose to tail, and 80 bikes deep. Marching forward slowly like ants as we push our bikes towards the gate. We are all heading for our greatest triumph or our worst defeat, only the mountain will decide how in ends. As we get closer to the front we can hear it, every ten seconds another explosion of sound and fury. Clutches burning and tires spinning in protest as angry riders push hard towards the top of Bray Hill. We set off the line in ten second intervals all hoping to be the fastest rider to get back to exactly where we started.
It is the start of the six lap Superbike final event, my first of three races in the Isle of Man TT. It is the most historic and punishing motorcycle Road race on the planet. The price of one mistake here is equivalent to a pine box. I have never watched anyone ride their motorcycle on the TT course I have only seen videos on my TV at home, three thousand miles away. I did not want to go watch the other riders during practice week, I was too scared. I tried to fool myself into thinking if I don’t watch I won’t know how fast I am going. My mechanic has taped over my speedometer he doesn’t want me to know either.
I set off the line 76th out of eighty riders. As I push hard, full throttle toward the hedge row on the right, I start to hear the voices in my head. I hear them yelling like I am some deranged schizophrenic. “Keep the throttle pinned and steer towards the hedge row, then the light pole, then the palm tree, make sure you pass under the right side of the bushy tree” as I crest the hill at 175 MPH still accelerating the voices scream, “keep it pinned or you will careen off the road and hit the wall”. I think to myself as I drive off the face of the earth blind not really sure of what is on the other side, did I remember everything they told me, did I get the sequence right, if not this will be the last thought that goes through my head. As I crest over the hill and head to the bottom I realize I got it right. Hysterical laughter over comes me but only for a second because I have to concentrate on what part of the road is next. I begin to breathe hard and realize I have thirty six more miles to go and nine and half more pages of course notes to remember.
Thirty seven and three quarter miles, over 250 turns of public roads lined with stone walls and one thousand foot cliffs make up one lap of the course. It takes four months of work watching on board videos writing down everything the seasoned riders say and memorizing ten pages of notes. You have to know what comes next; you have to think ahead, if you lose your place and turn the wrong way it’s all over.
Spectators sit on the walls. They are so close to me as I scream past them at over 200MPH that the foam from their beer drips on my visor. It is all part of the beautiful insanity that is the Isle Of Man TT. Spectators and racers have been coming to this tiny little country in the Irish Sea for over 102 years. They come for two weeks to watch the competitors challenge themselves and the mountain course. They can get so close yet they never interfere. There is a mutual respect. Neither one of us wants to find out what would happen if we touch; even though in the back of our minds we know the answer. Getting this close to machines traveling at that speed does not happen anywhere else in the world. That is why they come, 60,000 of them year after year. They come to be part of the insanity, and we love them for it. Racers think the fans are crazy for standing that close to anything going that fast. Fans think we are nuts for riding anything that fast as we brush our shoulders against stone walls just under their feet. Racers love it; we can get close enough to be able to tell what brand of shoes the fans are wearing.
We are in this together, a fraternity that knows no boundaries other than the love of speed and sound. Without each other neither part would exist. We need them as much as they need us. The Isle Of Man TT is the ultimate connection in motorsports. Racers and fans are linked together by a level of trust not found in any other form of competition on earth. We trust them to not move or sneeze as we pass. They trust and believe that we have studied our course notes and prepared a safe motorcycle that can take the 227 miles of punishment.
No one has ever really explained to me the definition of insanity. However trusting 60,000 people you have never met and those same 60,000 people trusting you to hit your marks lap after lap must be pretty close. Thanks to the fans and the corner workers for sharing the insanity that is the TT.