We wait for the starter’s hallowed tap on the left shoulder, lined up one by one like paratroopers ready for imminent launch into the unknown. Our equivalent is firing off the line to begin motorcycling’s infamous Isle of Man Tourist Trophy (TT), the annual contest held on a 221-square-mile island in the Irish Sea. Just prior, many of us look each other in the eyes, hoping to share a story or two at the end; more importantly, we all hope to see it through to the end. Tragically, as has become all too common in what is arguably the most dangerous motorsport event in the world, one of us won’t make it back.
As a rookie to the contest, I’m in a more precarious position than most. Track knowledge is everything around the iconic 37.73 miles of the TT Mountain Course, as racers complete most of the circuit on a thin ribbon of tarmac. Towns, villages, school zones, mountain roads and more than 15 jumps—all are encountered while traveling as fast as mechanically possible on top performance bikes.
This insular venue dwarfs all other racing arenas in both scale and level of challenge, making the 480-acre Daytona motorsport campus, with its 2.5-mile oval, seem like riding a scooter in your bedroom by comparison. Within roughly seven seconds from my first twist of the throttle, I’m doing 160 mph on a Suzuki GSX-R600, plunging through the city of Douglas and down daunting Bray Hill. It’s like riding off the edge of the world. Houses, fences and people flash by at a blinding pace and, at the bottom of Bray, the Suzuki flexes with such force that I can feel the frame twisting underneath me. For a second, my stiff aluminum bike has become a rubber band.
Next, while at close to top speed, the front wheel lifts skyward over the first and then second rise of Ago’s Leap, named after the famed Italian rider, Giacomo Agostini, himself a 10-time TT winner. The intensity of it all must be what it’s like going to war. My senses are firmly shifted into hyperdrive and I can feel my eyes extending out of my skull. They’re dry, and it takes a few tries to rehydrate them with a blink. This is just one mile into the 36-mile lap, and the race is usually four laps long.
As a boy growing up in Australia, I dreamed of the day I would sit my motorcycle on the start line of Glencrutchery Road, but life got in the way. Marriage, fatherhood and work all played their part in shifting the goal seemingly out of reach. But I wanted no regrets on my deathbed, so, in 2019, made the decision to make young me proud.
More than a race, the TT is a symbol of personal freedom, of being the one person in charge of your destiny. Naturally, that level of free will comes with consequences. Northern Ireland’s Davy Morgan, a 52-year-old veteran of 20 TT starts, is riding ahead of me before he fatally crashes on the third lap, at the 27th-mile marker.
People perish at the TT. Yet for about 90 minutes, most riders live a supercharged existence, packing a lifetime of experiences and sensations into drawn-out moments. For the record, in the two Supersport TTs, I finished in 44th and 37th position, respectively, out of a field of just over 60 racers. I’m happy with that. But not so happy that I don’t want more. The Isle of Man TT is needle-in-the-arm stuff, and I’m now irrevocably hooked on chasing this particular dragon.
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