The day I arrived a Japanese racer is killed in practice. ‘Ripped in half’ I hear some say, ‘ripped to pieces’, ‘it was a real mess…’. Whatever happened, he had a horrible death for sure that poor Japanese rider. But no one forced him to race here. His death would have been no surprise to him if he had done his homework as over 250 people have met the same fate at the TT.
I was watching the racing later at Bray Hill – paid one pound to sit in someone’s garden, less than a ruler length away from bikes hitting close to 200 miles per hour – I have never seen anything so mental in all my life, and I have been climbing a fair amount and have done some mad things! No protection for the rider, no protection for the spectator.
Imagine someone aiming a missile right at your head with someone sat on top of it in a colourful helmet – that is it. It’s coming at you and you will not be able to get out the way if it goes wrong. This missile then flies around the next bend, the high pitched screaming noise carrying through the landscape flat out zing zing zing - you are just waiting for it to explode. The guy on top on a suicide mission. I met a few of the riders ‘Oh yes, we use the spectators as markers, the lines on the road, anything to get the perfect line, to hit every apex.’
One French visitor was leaning over the dry stone wall, looking the wrong way. ‘Don’t do that mate – you will have your head taken off!’ as a bike punched through the air blowing my hat off. You cannot describe the feeling as the bikes explode past. It freaked me out. I had to stand back. Brian Reid, a former TT winner said to me ‘if you get used to that John there is something wrong with you’.
Later that week I was kindly invited by the organisors to watch the Senior Race from the top of the control tower. Here you can look down at the start-finish line, the pits and the podium. Here the bikes speed by at over 175 miles per hour.
The first thing I noticed behind the pit straight is a huge graveyard. It was very interesting that the start of the TT is parallel to a large grave. ‘I bet there are a few riders in there’ the lady next to me said. If you don’t get on the top of the tower, you will not notice it – so almost every visitor is oblivious to this fact. This is the islands crematorium. Vivid life on the edge and death side by side.
During the first lap of the Senior TT, the place where Joey Dunlop became a legend, there suddenly broke an eery silence. The riders were red flagged and stopped. One of the racers had come off on his first ever race, on Bray Hill I think, near where I stood earlier. He had slid on his stomach hundreds of yards, narrowly missing the lamp posts, kerbs, dry stone walls and any other street furniture on the narrow street. One mentalist with an extremely lucky escape.
His bike though ploughed into the crowd, injuring eleven who were all ambulanced off. His back wheel came off and flew through the air, narrowly missing people’s heads, apparently hitting someone’s front room window, which was just feet from the race track. [The race takes place on closed public roads].
The hospital and the police had the race stopped for several hours in fear they could not cope with another accident like that.
But the race eventually went ahead, won by the current God of the Island, John McGuinness, his 20th victory. My god, that man must be mental! Nerves as cold as ice. That is an incredible achievement and I was delighted to see him handed his trophy. In respect of the injured, no champagne was sprayed. Am sure they drank it later.
To get away from the racket of motorbikes and the smell of burning oil everywhere, I took the Electric Train, a hundred and twenty year old jalopy with loose seats and open sides from which stupid children could easily fall. I figured this would be a quiet way, being electric powered, to climb to the top of Snaefell, the highest peak on the island. As I arrived at the summit two guys jumped off the top with paragliders – huge colourful parachutes, disappearing down a cliff.
Two more Mentalists!
It looked beautiful and markedly silent as normal road riders screamed below imagining they are Joey Dunlop doing 200 miles per hour. There is no speed limit on Snaefell. Yet more mentalism. Followed soon after by an ambulance. You hear a lot of ambulances on the Isle of Man TT week.
What I had not realised is I had caught an infection. I had been infected by mentalism too. As the tram started down from the top of the mountain, I raced it to the station below. Bouncing from rock to rock, I thrashed that old train by one minute 4 seconds. It felt great.
My new film ‘The Man Who Conquered the TT is shown on ITV4 Sunday 9th June 9pm and is available on catchup here.
You can also buy it here.
Here you can see the biggest mentalist of them all – Joey Dunlop, King of the Roads. And you will see why he was and remains so revered here on Mentalist Island.