Becoming an IOMTT Marshal

Featured

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:

d6h0akmxoaatnn-1-1

…Guy Martin bobble hat optional!

…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.

20180528_182013

Bottom of Barregarrow

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.

 

red-flag-generic

A course red-flag can only be actioned by the CoC

 

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!)
  • Thermals
  • 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!

56800774_10216158368965219_3935606523350220800_n

The Mountain Road on a beautifully clear day… that makes a change!

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.

Dk5HafdXgAAny6f.jpg

Equipment all laid out ‘in case of emergency’

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.

 

20180513_161407 (1).jpg

You will receive a pack and a certificate once completing your IMC

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Truth About Road Racing

Featured

*This may not be an easy read, but I think it’s an important one.

Road racing. It’s exactly that. Racing on a road. A public road, albeit closed. On two wheels. On a motorbike. Between the stone walls, hedges and curb stones. Through the trees, mind that damp patch and try to hit that apex. Trees, barbed wire fences, lampposts line the roadsides. There are bridges, hairpins and maybe a Mountain to contest. Roundabouts and chicanes maybe. A mass start or a time trial.

DdfrOu7U8AIzCrq

This is road racing and it isn’t for everyone.

Before I moved to the Isle of Man myself and my family made the pilgrimage over to the Isle of Man TT and Manx Grand Prix almost every year. I remember kids at school asking me why was I going to an Island where there will be nothing to do? Are you sure you mean Man and not White? Is there even electricity. To answer those questions – yes I meant Man, yes there is electricity and that little journey over the Irish Sea is more than just a holiday. It’s a community flocking to a small island to witness one of the greatest ever spectacles. Standing at the bottom of the road watching these racers fly through is something I don’t think you can comprehend at 6 or 7. I can still remember how it felt though. That jumping feeling when one flew past, maybe a little step back. Okay, a rather large step back, but I was hooked. I found myself in a situation where I couldn’t help but watch. I’d run down to the bottom of my grandparent’s road ready to watch. When you’re small you don’t have to be anywhere early… people just let you push in. It was great! At that age you don’t understand the ins and outs of road racing or probably motorsport in general. My Poppa (Grandad) used to track race, he always had a motorbike. I guess it’s all kind of in my blood. The speed, the danger, the mechanics. My Mom followed BSB, WSBK and MotoGP religiously. All you really see at the age though is the race bikes in the paddock, the racers who you meet and talk to and then the races themselves. You cling onto a favourite at that age, you idolise without even realising. You’re oblivious to everything else that goes on. I suppose you think these racers are invincible and that everything will be okay; it’ll t-cut out mentality. Until one day you’re that little bit older and suddenly the world is no longer rainbows and butterflies.

I was 9 when myself and thousands of race fans lost their racing hero – David Jefferies. I cried and I cried. The whole atmosphere on this little island changed, the whole island was devastated – something we would unfortunately encounter again and again.  I didn’t see it, in fact I wasn’t anywhere near where the incident happened, but even at 9 my heart sank hearing the words ‘red flag’ and the press release that followed. Flowers and items in memory were laid by Jefferies family, team-mates, friends, fans. They still are to this day. I guess at that point for me it was a realisation. Jefferies was a TT winner, in fact he won nine in the six years he contested. He knew his way round; he knew his bike. Yet in a split second – gone. The realisation for me at that age was simple. This sport is dangerous. This sport can seriously injure people, or worse fatally. This sport is not for the faint-hearted. This sport is something you need to understand before you immerse yourself in it. This sport is where you need to be prepared for every eventuality. It could be due to a mechanical issue, rider error or even a rabbit. With some fatalities we will just never know except it was a racing incident. I remember my Mom consoling me telling me ‘it’s what they do, they know the risks’. I couldn’t understand how anyone could say bye to their wife, children or parents, put a flammable tank between their legs and ride the nuts off a motorbike with the knowledge they might not make it home alive. I was 9. I was angry. I was upset. The rider I loved, the rider who made me giddy over Suzuki’s, the rider who ignited my road racing spark was gone.

Two months later I found myself back on the Isle of Man for the Manx Grand Prix. I was only 9. I can’t remember what happened in those two months, I can’t remember how I felt, but I’m pretty sure even at 9 I was questioning why I was stood at the bottom of the road once again ready to watch yet more road racing on the same course that took my hero. Yes, it was my family’s choice as to where we went on holiday, but ultimately it was my decision as to whether I watched the racing or not. I chose to. I was drawn to the racing. Not because of the chance of death, not because of the risk, but because of the elation and emotion that everyone feels when you hear ‘xxx WINS THE SENIOR TT’.  You feel like you’re part of something special. Sat by your little radio with Manx Radio AM blaring out, alongside other race fans who are waving their programmes, shouting ‘GO ON FELLA!’, waving their arms around, jumping up in the air. It’s unbelievable. And all this is happening whilst you are stood at the end of a road, sat on a hedge or in a field. They are, in some places, inches away from you. Probably within touching distance. It is scary. You have to be prepared for it, you have to know that motorsport is dangerous. Not just road racing, but motorsport in general. You’re don’t usually get that type of danger at Silverstone or Brands hatch. You’re shoved behind a tall fence or in a grandstand. You don’t often get the danger of a curb stone, a brick wall or a lamppost either. You have to pay for admission, which these days can cost the world, and the majority of the time you have to be pretty important to take a walk down pit lane to the garages. There’s none of that b*llshit at a road race. The paddock is open for everyone to walk around without any charge. You can find yourself a space in a hedge, provided it’s not prohibited’ for free. Take yourself a few beers and a packed lunch and you’re set for a day’s racing! You can congregate on the start line and watch the racers set off down Bray Hill one by one. You can be right where the mass starts take off from at the Southern 100, NW200 or Ulster Grand Prix. Whether you go with friends or go alone, you’re bound to make new friends, race friends, friends who just get it. Nowadays you have to pay to sit in the main grandstand at the start/finish of the TT course and they have started to put up paid-for Grandstand at various points around the course. Some people who only know this are likely to pay, but old school race fans will just perch on a wall, in a hedge, in a field where it’s free (or a donation is payable). You begin to learn that road racing fans aren’t like ordinary race fans. You begin to learn that road racers aren’t like track racers.

There are people I work with who just don’t get it. There will be people in Tesco’s complaining that roads are closed, no food is left or that there’s simply too many motorbikes. They live here, love the Isle of Man, but just don’t understand why for almost 5 weeks of the year specific roads close for racers to jump on their motorbikes to race the roads we drive on daily. They don’t understand why people make the pilgrimage from all over the world to be on this little, not usually tropical, island. One year I noticed some motorbikes had Australian number plates. Turns out the riders had shipped their bikes over so they can ride on the famous TT course. A number of people often ride through Europe, jump on the Eurostar or ferry, cross the English Channel, ride up from Dover to Liverpool or Heysham, sail the Irish Sea just to get to the races. That’s days of travelling. That’s commitment. That’s what we do to watch and immerse ourselves in what this bizarre sport we love. I don’t expect outsiders to understand. Not many people I know would be happy to sit on a grass bank with ants and whatever else is lurking for a day’s racing. Not many find it appealing especially if you’re in the middle of a field and the only toilet you have is a bush… Personally, it doesn’t bother me. I’m 100% content sat on a grass bank, in a hedge or on a stone wall. I’m in awe of these racers. It’s a pleasure to watch these people do what they do best. Hitting those apexes, navigating through the shade of the trees, dancing on the foot pegs. I don’t expect everyone to understand, I especially don’t expect them to understand after recent events where even road race fans are questioning their love for the sport. I know I have been hence why I’m writing this today. Ask a road racing fan on a good day how they feel about road racing and before you know it you’ll be hooked yourself. Catch a road racing fan on a bad day and they’ll tell you how much they hate it. A few weeks later you’ll catch that same road racing fan back in a hedge. But why? Because it’s all we know, it’s under our skin, it’s part of us. I truly believe that a road racing fan carries the death of a racer around with them for a while regardless of whether they witnessed it or not. The turn up on a hedge the next day because it’s what that racer would want. It’s a sign of respect, it’s a show of solidarity.

Some of these racers didn’t make it home alive, but were they doing what they loved? Yes. Some have been critically injured, but were they living life to their fullest? Yes. Some may have lost finger tips, some may have lost a limb, but did they know the risks? Yes. The additional danger in road racing is quite clearly obvious and it isn’t rocket science. 1. Racing on two wheels comes with an additional risk in comparison to rallying for example. 2. The furniture. 3. No run off area, kitty litter or similar. Those of the three main differences. In a racing incident it can be difficult to distinguish a fault, a reason specifically when the mechanical factors appear to be sound after inspection. A rider error can be hard to take, but it’s a stark reminder that they’re only human.

Over the years my eyes were opened to even more road races. There isn’t just the Isle of Man TT or the Manx Grand Prix – there are many! North West 200 and Ulster Grand Prix in Northern Ireland, Skerries 100 in Southern Island. The Southern 100 down south on the Isle of Man and many more, but these are to name a few. There have been huge achievements at all of the above, but with great achievements come sadness and at each of the above road races there have been fatalities. You also find road racing in Spain and other European countries, however they’re not as well publicised here in the UK. In fact, the only time road racing gets a mention in the press is when there is are life-threatening injuries or fatalities.

You’ll find The Time, The Independent, The Huffington Post and many more only ever mention the Isle of Man TT, Southern 100, Skerries 100 if a rider has died. They might mention if Cal Crutchlow grabs a podium position in MotoGP, but they won’t mention that Peter Hickman is the world’s fastest road racer as he set a new lap record around the Isle of Man TT course. They won’t mention that Dean Harrison won the Supersport TT this year and that before Hickman smashed the outright lap record at the TT Harrison was actually the world’s fastest road racer at the Ulster Grand Prix or that John McGuinness had signed for Norton. The only recent ‘news’ the world knows about McGuinness is that his Honda spat him off at the NW200 leaving him partly broken. People on the outside are only aware of a handful of riders this year: Dan Kneen, Steve Mercer, Adam Lyon, William Dunlop, James Cowton and Ivan Lintin, People on the outside are only aware of these riders for the worst possible reason. They have either been fatally killed whilst racing or critically injured. Of course this is news, serious news, but they are also people. They’re not just racers. They have families. They might have a girlfriend or wife, possibly even children. The risks are well-known by both the rider and their families. McGuinness has said ‘we look selfish at times; we just can’t help it.’ Their wife will probably be the one holding their helmet whilst their husband zips up their leathers on the start line. Their children are probably holding their gloves whilst their daddy puts on his helmet. Their partners go into a relationship with them as racers whether that be on a road or a track. Their children are brought into this crazy world of road racing from birth and it’s all they know. Paul Shoesmith, who lost his life in June 2016, had two young boys. You’d see Shoey’s tent in the paddock and know that his two little boys wouldn’t be far away razzing round the paddock on their little balance bikes. They loved it! This racing world is all they know. It’s not just a few weeks of the year. The racing world is their life, their family. It’s in their blood regardless of whether they decide to take up racing later in life or not. I hope people can at least understand that part of this crazy world rather than criticising the life they choose.

It was Senior Race Day in 2015. Myself, my partner and his family decided we’d go up to the K Tree, but it was pretty much full! Instead we headed to the 11th milestone and set-up camp on a hedge. The buzz around the Senior TT is unreal despite having a Superbike race on the Monday, this is always the one racers want to win. The Marquis de Mouzilly St. Mars trophy is awarded to the winner. It’s prestigious. It’s special. However, that day in 2015 I witnessed my first ‘big’ crash. I heard a bang, saw a fireball and jumped down behind the hedge as I saw bike bits fly towards me. It was horrifying. The adrenaline had kicked in after a few short seconds and I was ready to deal with whatever had just happened, but I wasn’t signed-on to marshal that day. I was there to spectate. There were adequate numbers of marshals and in a situation like that too many cooks’ rings all too true. The helicopter came, although it felt like hours before it arrived, and I believe there was an off-duty nurse spectating who offered her assistance. It also felt like hours until the helicopter left, but you’re never really certain as to whether that’s a good thing or not. Steve Mercer unfortunately had to ride through the smoke and potentially the fireball that lit up the sky. He pulled into the field next to us and sat there facing away from the road. He just wanted to be alone. All of a sudden the realities of road racing were all too clear. I remember a marshal walking down the pavement after it happened asking if everyone was okay with blood over his orange jacket. He was so calm, collected. Seeing that crash was upsetting, but it never stopped me from watching road racing. The love was still there, just a little tainted. After I’d calmed down and made sure others around me were okay, I looked at Twitter. Rumours were rife. I remember seeing riders’ names strewn left, right and centre. None of which were correct might I add. None of us could even see a number on the bike and we were there, we saw it. This happens every damn time, but unfortunately we live in a world now ruled by social media. There appears to be some kind of sick trophy that people want to grab and say they were the first to announce a death.

Social media wasn’t really a thing when I watched as a child. Smartphones didn’t exist and you were lucky if you were able to send a picture message without trying 273 times. You listened to Manx Radio and if you wanted to document anything you either had a camera or a camcorder. You couldn’t upload photos or videos onto Twitter or Facebook. The latest news wasn’t in your hand. Now I’m constantly fighting with people to keep the rumours they’ve heard to themselves rather than plastering them over social media where families could potentially be given false information. Would you like to see that your boyfriend, husband, wife had died in a racing incident on Twitter? These people either call themselves race fans or their people who want it banned. It boils my blood how social media can be turned into such a negative form of communication. A lot of road racing fans use Twitter, for example, to keep up with the results, the latest updated whether that be yellow flags, red flags. Those of us who know the sport, who respect the sport know that nothing good ever comes of speculation. Twitter is full of racers, teams, team members, family and friends. I have many friends who are directly involved in road racing whether they race themselves, are family or friends of a racer or even part of a team. There’s a little network behind the scenes of Twitter both publicly and privately. When an incident happens we don’t gossip or share information over a public platform. If something needs to be said, it’s done privately. That little network is what holds this community together sometimes. This community knows nothing is official until a press release is published. This community knows the heartache. This community knows this is road racing and this is dangerous. This community is a family. We are all well informed of the risks, of the consequences. Please don’t try and tell us our sport should be no more, that we should suppress such natural born talent on a motorcycle because some people who aren’t even involved in this sport are worried about the consequences.

The past few weeks have been ones of loss, heartbreak and tears. Practice week of the 2018 Isle of Man TT brought up heartache and loss. The Isle of Man lost one of its own – Dan Kneen. This little island will take a while to heal from the loss of Dan, it won’t be quick nor easy. With the support of Dan’s family, the Tyco BMW team and the races went on as scheduled with the knowledge that this is exactly what Dan would have wanted. On the same evening Steve Mercer was also involved in an incident where he was said to be in a critical condition. As per the schedule, we continued knowing that these racers wouldn’t want the races to be stopped. During the Supersport Race Adam Lyon’s was fatally injured on the Mountain section after a competitive start to his Mountain course career. At the Skerries 100 only last weekend it was announced that we lost another of the Dunlop dynasty – William. Brother of Michael, nephew of Joey, son of Robert. Northern Ireland once again along with the entire road racing community are mourning the loss of another of the greatest road racing families in history. I still don’t really know what to say about William other than he was a gentleman both on and off the roads. He’ll be sorely missed by many. Only yesterday at the Southern 100 we lost another road racer – James Cowton. The death of a road racer regardless of whether they are a newcomer or experienced always comes as a shock. It always takes time to come to terms with a loss, and for some it will never leave us.

This is by no means a direct comparison, but for a bit of perspective in 2018 so far FIVE people have died attempting to climb Mount Everest. In 2017 there were SIX. In 2016 there were SEVEN. Now, you tell me that road racing is dangerous and that it should be banned? Ban it because people died doing what they loved, people died living their dream? Ban it because it’s not safe? It’s just not the answer and it’s not what the families of these racers need to be hearing. They will grieve, they will go through every possible emotion, but they will eventually find some comfort and may even find themselves back in the paddock involving themselves because it’s all they know. Whilst writing this my thoughts are with those who are no longer here to live their dream and especially with the families of William Dunlop and James Cowton. Ivan Lintin remains in a critical condition following yesterday’s incident and has been transferred to Liverpool for further treatment – keep fighting!

I’m not too sure how much more this sport, the families, friends and fans can take, but what I do know is we’ll get through it & help those who need it. Don’t get me wrong it’ll take time, lots of time. This season has been horrendous, one of the worst I’ve known, but we’ll get there, we’ll get through it. The truth is road racing is dangerous. Motorsport in general is dangerous. I hope that this gives an insight into this crazy world of road racing especially if you’re someone who just doesn’t get this sport. It’s difficult to understand at times, it’s difficult to love at times. It’s a sport I hate to love sometimes, but a sport I can’t help but love.

Steve Mercer posted something quite poignant today on Facebook for his first post since his incident at TT and I thought I would leave you with this little sentence – ‘We are bike racers and bike racers fight.’

Words by Samantha Wanless