If you’ve ever been to watch the Isle of Man TT races, Southern 100, Manx Grand Prix or Classic TT you’ve probably seen groups of people standing around before roads close looking like this:
…also known as the orange army aka TT Course Marshals.
Before any racing can take place on the famous TT Mountain Course, there is a Marshal threshold which must be met. The TT Course spans 37.73 miles with over 200 corners lined with trees, Manx stone walls, curbs, and other furniture. As mega as Gary Thompson (Clerk of the Course) is, he can’t survey every little nook and hairpin from the control tower on Glencrutchery Road. If he can see Kirk Michael from there, he’s definitely got superpowers. This isn’t short-circuit racing. There is no safety car deployed to bring racers down to a steady speed when an incident occurs, there is no run-off area. It’s down to the Marshals. It isn’t for the faint-hearted, but I’m sure you all know that already.
This is road racing and it’s road racing on a massive scale.
More than 530 Marshals are required for the Isle of Man TT Races to commence. 530 volunteers is a phenomenal number and it’s common knowledge that every year race officials struggle to meet the minimum number of Marshals required. There are often pleas on Manx Radio for more people to sign-on. I have been watching the TT Races since I was probably around five or six. Obviously you can’t become a Marshal at that age… try 16+. Road racing was something I was brought up around and our holidays were never to Spain or Europe, it was always to the Isle of Man for TT and Manx Grand Prix. A few years ago there weren’t enough Marshals to allow a race to take place, so I decided it was time to sign-on. There was no point me being sat in a hedge watching the racing when I could be stood as a Marshal doing exactly that – watching racing. For me, it was a no-brainer. I signed-on, collected my Marshals pack and headed to my post. Laurel Bank. Definitely not an ideal spot for your very first time, but we’ve all got to start somewhere. I’m not going to pretend it’s all unicorns and sparkles. It’s not. Things happen. Racers are literally brushing the Manx stone walls with their leathers as they come through the sweeping corners of Laurel Bank and you’re stood on that very corner. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t apprehensive. Of course I was. I’d heard numerous incidents at Laurel Bank, I’d even seen them. However, I knew there were very experienced Marshals around me who had dealt with said incidents in the past at that very location. You’re on edge 90% of the time, but that definitely decreases with the more sessions you do.
The spot I usually Marshal at now is the bottom of Barregarrow… once again, I know how to pick ‘em! I usually only Marshal for practice week as I can’t guarantee I can book time off work. People think it’s amazing if you live on the Isle of Man, you get to watch the races, blah, blah. Nope, not if you have to work! Anyway, you’ll find that over time the same people gravitate back towards their favourite spot and year upon year they’ll re-appear as if they’ve never been away. You can’t guarantee you won’t bump into a nosher or two who likes to think they’re John McGuinness’ best mate, but usually Marshals are a great bunch of people to be around. They’re usually petrol heads and that’s good enough for me! Camaraderie quickly develops and you become best friends with your fellow Marshals for those two special weeks. You bond over the whistling kettle on the camping stove and fight over biscuits and cakes. What’s not to love? You are there for a special reason though and I feel that camaraderie is definitely required for what could be just around the corner. I’ve seen tank slappers, curb riding and dodgy lines even sidecar drivers racing without a passenger. I’ve seen enough to last me a lifetime, but I’ll know in two weeks’ time I’ll probably see it all again. Let’s face it, it’s everything you would see sat in a hedge anyway! This is racing after all.
That’s my little intro to how I became involved in Marshalling and my thoughts. I’m very proud to be a TT Course Marshal and it’s now something I sign-up to do every year. It genuinely makes you feel like you are actually part of the TT because without you there would be no racing. You’re part of a team and, despite the seriousness, you get to have a really good laugh with mental petrol heads like yourself.
Do you think you have what it takes to become a Marshal? If you think you do, read on. If you’re not sure, well, I’ll try to help you decide.
Firstly, there is no guarantee an incident won’t occur and this is worst case scenario for every Marshal. It’s best to go into something like Marshalling with your eyes open, but I’m guessing if you’re a road racing fan you’re already aware of all the risks involved. So, yes. You may have to deal with an incident. Secondly, you are Race Direction’s eyes and ears, but most importantly you are the only point of contact a racer has to warn them of what lies ahead. The third point is probably one of the most important ones to remember. It’s down to your team of Marshals to sensibly and suitably alert a rider of an incident, for example, that might be ahead. Stationary yellows may suffice or you may need to display waived yellows, but don’t jump around in the middle of the road like a muppet.
Sadly, over the last year or so, fingers have been pointed at Marshal’s regarding various incidents that have occurred. Why do people feel the need to slate people who volunteer to help this sport? Probably because it’s the easiest answer. Unfortunately, incidents happen. That’s racing. Don’t go blaming marshals. Don’t go blaming the rider. Don’t go blaming control or the CoC. Gary Thompson, Clerk of the Course, is one of the best. He’s experienced, his knowledge is impeccable and he’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders. Since he has been CoC things have run smoother than ever. Marshals are no longer subjected to long delays, they’re kept up-to-date and are now well informed. Quick decisions are made about delays as well as whether racing is to be abandoned due to bad weather or similar and updates sometimes even included ‘we’re just rounding up some sheep on the Mountain. 20 minute delay.’ Definitive and concise decisions are made and by no means are they easy decisions. As a Marshal I’m very thankful to have Gary on our side, so please don’t be put off by those who feel the need to point fingers.
Quite honestly Marshals don’t get the credit they deserve. Yeah, okay, you get some who sign on just to watch in the best spots because it’s true… there ain’t no better view at the Bottom of Barregarrow than where us marshals stand. But there is a job to be done. An important one. The reason you are on the island, the reason you are watching is because you’re watching the greatest road race in the world. Without people doing this ‘job’, you ain’t watching it! You get some who take the p… and those are the ones which tar every other marshal with the same brush. Don’t write on social media how shit marshals are at such a point because I can guarantee you there will be at least two marshals at that post which are ready, reading every race number even to the point of seeing the plate colour in practice. It’s the small details. They’ll be watching and they’ll be ready regardless of who else is around them. Everyone is given a job from rider to bike, debris to airmed guide… and every marshal just hopes they don’t have to do their job.
My heart goes out to any marshal who has had to endure an incident and deal with the aftermath. I know it’s what we all sign-on for, we are prepped as best we can be, we are equipped with the best equipment and guidance from race control, but in that moment, that fraction of a second none of that would matter. Until your brain goes into overdrive and you’re subconsciously violently waving a yellow flag in a figure-of-eight just hoping other riders see you in time. For those who had to deal with any incidents, I commend you. You are brave and please just know that you all did whatever you could because that’s what we do. Don’t question yourself for a second. Remember, if you do have to deal with an incident there is help and support available afterward. You will always be able to talk to your DSM, CSM or any other Marshal.
It’s pretty daunting reading the above, but you really need to understand that every single Marshal who signs up has a responsibility to the riders who are racing. You are not just a number. As a Marshal you may be required to stand in what would usually be restricted areas to members of the public. This means you can experience spectacular views of the racing (and of the Isle of Man) from points you would not be able to if you weren’t signed on to Marshal. Yes, it’s fantastic, BUT I can guarantee when Michael Dunlop flies down the bottom of Barregarrow flat out on a Superbike first the first time that year a change of underwear is 100% required… You’ll begin to understand why these areas are restricted. *best add underwear to the essentials list*
Before I forget, here is my essentials list:
- Warrant card and photographic ID
- Race Guide (for numbers, plates and names)
- Bug/Midgie Spray
- Midgie net for your head (trust me, you’ll thank me later!)
- Boots, proper boots
- Waterproof jacket (and make sure it’s warm!)
- Hat (sun and woolly)
- Sandwiches, biscuits, cake, just food in general
- Flask of coffee, tea, water
- Spare pair of underwear *very important*
Interested yet? You should be! If you would like to sign on for TT 2019, you can do so here. If you can’t sign-on online, you can go to the Marshal’s hut behind the back of the Grandstand and sign-on there instead. It’s all very quick and simple!
If you have never Marshalled before, that’s perfectly fine and you are definitely more than welcome to join the Orange Army! In fact, we need you! The more the merrier! Look at that view! You can Marshal for practice sessions, races or both. You can Marshal for one session or all of them. It is entirely down to you. If you are a new TT Marshal and are concerned you know nothing about what you need to do, don’t worry! Regardless of whether you have previous Marshalling experience at other motorsport events, you will be placed with experienced Marshals. There is now also a new learning platform for all Marshals who register for TT 2019. It is a mandatory requirement for all Marshals and must be completed before they turn up to their designated sector, myself included. It’s not scary or worrying. It’s a great little tool to help you learn the basics of what you need to know stood at the side of a closed road ready to watch a motorbike or sidecar skim the hedges at 200mph. I’ve actually found the learning platform very valuable because the last time I touched a Tetra radio or flags was nine months ago and we all know what can happen in nine months… Anyway, get it done!! It’s a very useful resource, but just be careful of the maps – I found them deceiving and I live on the island!
If you are wanting to Marshal it is a necessity to ‘sign-on’. Once you are signed on and you have collected your pack which includes your warrant card, discounts, and some other little goodies. You will also receive e-mails about attending the Marshal’s supper and other various events which are restricted to Marshal’s only. Previously there have been evenings with John McGuinness and various other racers which you can attend free of charge, but they change from year-to-year. I guess it’s how the racers can give a little back, think of it as a pat on the back! Once you have received your warrant card you have legal permission to Marshal. This also means you are covered by ACU insurance travelling to/from your Marshalling points as well as during your duties. The powers of a Marshal during closed roads used to be that of a Special Constable, now I believe the powers are ‘similar.’ However, you must always carry your warrant card as well as photographic ID to be insured, have the power, etc. otherwise you may be told you cannot Marshal. This is an ACU rule.
Be warned – practice sessions and race days can be long and tiring! You must arrive at least 30 minutes before roads close for a briefing with the DSM (Deputy Sector Marshal) or CSM (Cheif Sector Marshal) to allow jobs to be allocated. I would actually recommend arriving at your position approx. 1 hour beforehand because you may have to carry equipment such as the stretcher, fire extinguishers, medical box, etc. out of the locked containers and into position. The job you are given will depend solely on your experience, training and also preference. Examples are flags, radio comms, rider and bike. It’s never great to be designated ‘rider’ or ‘bike’, but it has to be done in case an incident happens. The role as a Marshal doesn’t stop there, however. You are responsible for ensuring your portion of the road is closed to traffic e.g. barriers are erect. You should take a sweep of the road. Is there any debris? Damp patches? Oil? Discard the rubbish, close all gates and check there are no visible road surface issues. Should you have any issues with those mentioned, you will need to contact your CSM to report them.
This leads me on to a crucial skill that Marshals should know how to do regardless of whether you have completed further training or not. OBSERVATION. There was a famous incident a few years ago involving Guy Martin where he was black flagged in Ramsey due to losing a wheel nut… definitely not a good thing to lose when you’re travelling at 200mph, but at least it was spotted. I believe a spectator noticed a wheel nut land right next to them and, after checking their camera, they had a photo of said wheel nut in mid-air with Guy centre stage. Thankfully the spectator notified a Marshal who was able to contact race control in order to stop Guy at the next safest point. It is so vital you stay focused. Observe every race number, every plate colour. Is there anything leaking or hanging off the bike? Does the sidecar driver still have a passenger? Trust me… that definitely happened.
If you are already a registered Marshal and have completed at least three sessions, you can register for the Incident Management Course (IMC). You cannot become a fully accredited Marshal until you have completed this course, but you can Marshal without it.
You are encouraged to partake in the (IMC) which, on the Isle of Man, is provided by the St. John Ambulance Team who are fantastic! They are on a first-come-first-served basis and ones around TT/MGP are usually fully booked. It can be a long day so please be warned about that – 8.45am to 5pm approx. However, on the plus side, tea/coffee/lunch is all provided and it is all free. The IMC does exactly what it says on the tin. It is to ensure you are fully equipped with the knowledge you need to manage an incident should it occur. When I first looked into what the IMC entailed I was initially put off by the ‘role play’ side of things. I didn’t want to be the mad woman screaming or being carried around on a stretcher. I wouldn’t say I’m shy, but I suppose I didn’t want to appear stupid in front of people who have probably done their IMC multiple times. Anyway, there was nothing to fear. We arrived, had a briefing, coffee and cake too if I remember rightly, and then we were onto the nitty gritty stuff. You learn about the basic roles of a marshal; checking the road, distribution of jobs, noting a helicopter landing spot and learning how to approach said helicopter, ensuring medical boxes are sealed, what’s inside them, etc. You learn about the flags – green, yellow, red, rain, sun, stationary, waived, etc. You get to have a fiddle with the Tetra radio’s: learn how to turn it on/off, change channel, radio control, the emergency button, etc. It’s always good to go over simple knowledge like this because until it happens you don’t know how you’re going to react if an incident occurs.
Then it’s onto your first-aid bits. My favourite bit, but probably not if I have to put it all into practice. You can even be strapped to a stretcher if that’s what you’re into… It’s vital you remember that Travelling Marshal’s are trained in advanced first-aid and there are paramedics strategically dotted around the Mountain Course just in case. There is, of course, air-med, but until they arrive it’s down to you. I won’t go through everything you are taught, but you are first shown how to approach an injured rider. I never really thought about it, but if you’re lay on the floor with your helmet on, you’ve got seven million blind spots because you probably can’t (and shouldn’t) move your head. You are shown how to remove a rider’s helmet safely, the recovery position, bandages and most importantly CPR along with a lot more. Yes, that is how real your job as a marshal could be. I would insist you take this course. I know marshals who have saved lives because of first-aid training such as this. It is free and you will gain valuable information and knowledge which could potentially save not only a rider’s life but anyone’s life.
If you’re interested in taking the IMC, a list of dates can be found here. If you have any questions about it feel free to ask away in the comments below. I will be more than happy to answer any queries or forward them on to those who can assist further.
On a side note, one thing you should be prepared for if you are wanting to become a TT Course Marshal is the weather. You’ll probably end up looking like this:
The weather cannot be guaranteed, but don’t expect sunshine. You could be stood in the wind and rain for 20 minutes or more before a session is cancelled or you could be lucky enough to end up with a Manx tan! I can assure you you’ll get cold standing around, so definitely wear layers and don’t forget to take a hat! Just enjoy every moment of it because the TT really is f**ing amazing and you’re doing an amazing job by supporting it in the best way you can!
There are only 15 days until the Isle of Man TT Mountain Course closes for the first practice session of 2019. Becoming a marshal is easy, so there is no excuse not to sign-on if you want to. Don’t let there be a risk of cancelled sessions due to a lack of marshals.
Sign-on and help this world famous event take place.
Words by Samantha Wanless