Isle of Man Marshal | Track Time

Rookie on The Mountain

By Chris Brown, Photography by Ron Mcneill

I am standing on a traffic island in the middle of a busy intersection called St. Ninian’s Crossroads in Douglas, the biggest city on the Isle of Man. I am a volunteer course marshal and my sector location is close to the start, at the end of the Grandstand Straight atop the steep drop known as Bray Hill.

TT legend John McGuinness snaps his Honda CBR1000RR into fifth gear as he comes into view for the first time. Running 160 mph, he draws a bead on my traffic island and heads straight at me. Time slows. I peer into his faceshield as he floats past just inches away, a model of serenity, determination and total control.

The Superbike’s windblast blows me backward into a fellow marshal. “Pretty crazy, aye?” my comrade laughs. All I can mutter is, “Holy shite, he was close!” Other riders follow at 10-second intervals, displaying varying levels of ability, boldness and control. Some 17 minutes later, McGuinness rips through on a flying lap. Now running 175 mph, he carves an even tighter line. Then it hits me: I could be killed doing this!

It’s amazingly easy to become a TT marshal (www.iomttma.com). No license. No test. No CPR certificate or political connections required. You just, well, volunteer. Part of the reason is that the 37.73-mile Mountain Course requires an army of cornerworkers, so “fresh meat” is always welcome. During the 2011 TT fortnight, more than 1500 individuals served as marshals, and 350 or so were first-timers like me.

Rookies are issued a spiffy orange vest and a handy How-To booklet, and are required to watch a video describing what to do when bad things happen. Tips include: Always be aware of your own safety (a marshal was struck and killed by a racer in 2005); drag unconscious riders off the course by the back of the collar (to avoid further spine injury; talk about old school!); and don insulating gloves before touching a downed Zero Emissions (read: electric) bike.

One day I work a sidecar practice. The unlikely machines bounce awkwardly past, pilots and passengers fighting to keep them aimed downstream. A pair of TT vets running outfit number 15 intrigue me. Passenger Kevin Morgan is 59 years old; driver Bill Currie is 67—these guys are almost my age! One of the first rigs out for practice, they wail past looking like real contenders. There’s hope for us all...

Ten minutes into the session, race control orders the red flag. There’s been an “incident” near Mile 17 at Ballacrye Bend. It’s a narrow, high-speed, left-hand sweeper with a jump in the middle: typical TT terrain. We wait for the restart that never comes. Practice is canceled. Rescue helicopters scramble into the air.

We soon learn the old guys running outfit number 15 are both dead. Crossed up, flipped over and crashed out on a part of the course they’d navigated successfully so many times before. The TT claims a third victim a week later when Irishman Derek Brien meets his end at a high-speed corner called Gorse Lea.

The TT takes no prisoners and teaches all comers that none of us is immortal: an important lesson to remember whether racing or marshaling at the Isle of Man.

By Chris Brown
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