I had been trying to find the words, but nothing wanted to come out. I didn’t have any. See, that’s the thing about road racing – it really does leave you speechless.
Wednesday evening practice was all to schedule with the Clerk of the Course Gary Thompson announcing that there was a 30% chance of rain for the middle of the session, but apart from that no comments to be made except for ‘have a good one!’
Eagerly stood at the bottom of Barregarrow I could see on live timing they were at Glen Helen. I shoved my phone back in my pocket ready for that Superbike roar… there it was.
They were quick. So unbelievably quick. Road dust flew into the air as the racers came through one by one, sometimes two or three consecutively. It’s been so dry here on the Isle of Man that dust seems to be lurking everywhere. It was noticeable during the sidecars in the previous practice session, but only noticeable this evening for the solos.
Next we heard Control bellow over the Tetra radio ‘all sectors, all sectors – we have a full course red flag.’ We knew it wasn’t in our sector, but that’s all we knew until CoC announced there had been an incident at Churchtown and a tree was on fire. Not only was a tree on fire, but so was social media. I am a firm believer of no news is good news & no news is actual news until it is officially confirmed by the event organisers.
It was clear the incident was serious. You don’t have a full course red flag unless it is… and queue rumour mill & me getting increasingly angry on social media at idiots speculating. It’s not big and it’s not clever to announce anything that has not been put out in an official statement. They have a procedure, a protocol to follow. They ensure family are told with liaison officers present. They make sure the support is in place. It is all for a reason. Would you like to be told via social media your husband, boyfriend, daughter, wife had been injured or worse?
After several text messages back and forth with different people both on island and off, in the paddock and out of it, we all knew. Maybe not who, but we knew. We weren’t speculating on social media. It was messages between each other. Ones which you know go no further. Majority of the time it’s ensuring our best mates, family friends or even family know they’re racer is okay. You see, when you’ve been part of the road racing family through a tragedy, whether it’s a racer you know or not, there are offers of support, there is trust & unity. Everyone rallies round. It’s really hard to describe. I guess you just know the difference between a red flag and a red flag.
We’ve had three solid evenings of practice without any real drama. The whole island seemed to be on a high – the weather, the racing and not forgetting the astonishing 133mph lap Dean Harrison set!
…but now we’re not talking about the highs. The mainstream media such as the BBC, The Independent, etc. were never talking about that. Oh, no. They’ve been waiting for this like they do every year. A red flag. A fatality. ‘Ban the Isle of Man TT’ brigade will be out tonight… and it really isn’t the time or place.
ACU Events released this statement after tonight’s qualifying session:
‘ACU Events Ltd regrets to confirm that Dan Kneen, 30, from Onchan in the Isle of Man died this evening following injuries sustained during the Superbike qualifying session on the Isle of Man.
Dan had an accident at Churchtown on the first lap of the session and died at the scene of the incident.’
Dan Kneen was born and bred on this beautiful island in the middle of the Irish Sea. A proud Manxman. He made his Mountain course debut 10 years ago and is the only newcomer to win three MGP races in a week – the Junior, the Newcomers C and the Ultra Lightweight.
Like any racer he’s had his tumbles. 2016 I remember he came down to the Bottom of Barregarrow as he wasn’t racing due to injury. Watching a racer watch the racing was fascinating. I saw him step back a little as the first bike flew down & I’m pretty sure he said something along the lines of ‘it’s not this frightening on a bike!’
Perspective. Perspective is everything. Racers aren’t forced to race these roads. They know that this sport in particular is dangerous. So do their families. It’s no secret. There’s furniture. Trees, stone walls, curbs. The more forgiving hedge and the less forgiving lamppost. These racers jump on a motorcycle and lean over a flammable tank full of fuel because it’s what they enjoy, it’s their dream, it’s their life! Most road racers live for the TT – the ultimate road race of 37.73 miles. Dan was one of those racers.
He got his race boots on the podium for the first time at last year’s TT in the Superstock race. This was when he also set his fastest official lap of 130.347mph and only last night he set a new PB of 132.258mph. Teaming up with Tyco BMW saw Dan flourish. He was setting quick lap times, he seemed comfortable on the bike and everyone was talking about how ‘he’s on for a podium with laps like that’. Yet, in a split second, quicker than a blink of an eye it’s over. Not entirely. The memories, the legacy – they all live on even through the heartache.
When you’re giving those articles by the BBC, the Independent, Guardian or other the time of day, please just remember the above. These racers have a different mindset to most. They live off this thrill, the adrenaline is above and beyond. It keeps them alive, it’s what they live for. The highs of this sport are so incredibly high. Elation of endurance, accuracy & talent. That feeling when they take the chequered flag after completing six laps of the TT course on a Superbike… 226.38 miles and 1 hour 45 minutes later.
I don’t even think I could imagine how those racers must feel. I also don’t think I could imagine how those racers must feel when we hit those lows like we have this evening, yet I don’t think doubt is one of them. Most will want to do this for Dan. It’s all they know. They’re living their dream just like Dan did and that’s the greatest achievement. Don’t let this become a tragedy. Remember his achievements and most of all remember he achieved that dream of his.
The entire road racing community is heartbroken and numb tonight as is the entirety of the Isle of Man. My thoughts are with Dan’s family, friends and the Tyco team . Race in peace up there under Manannan’s Cloak. He’ll keep you safe from now on. Stay on the pipe, boy!