Oct 06

Marshalling at the IOMTT Races: Research for TT: Full Throttle

I was recently asked by the IOMTT Marshals Association to donate copies of TT: Full Throttle, for a draw my answer was a resounding, “yes!”

If there were no folks offering up their weekends and vacation days to marshal around the 37 ¾ mile course, there would be no TT practices or races. Roughly 520 participants are needed for any race/practice and, over the course of the two weeks, an average of 1750 men and women will have volunteered to help make this annual event happen.

Marshals perform a variety of tasks from picking up road debris (branches, stones, etc.) before every practice/race, and ensuring public safety (ie. clearing folks in prohibited areas) to handling course incidents (eg. a rider’s bike breaks down), and dealing with additional unexpected extras like the weather (it seems to change every twenty minutes) and general tourist shenanigans. I know this because as part of my research for writing my book, I marshaled during 2010 and 2011 IOMTT Races.

Twelve short hours after my plane set down, I was at the grandstand in a room watching marshal safety videos which discussed helicopter and fire procedures, along with various course flags and what to expect when marshalling during a practice/race. Four hours after that, I was wearing a marshal’s armband and standing by the side of the road in front of The Crosby pub and hotel, one of the fastest sections on the track, in preparation for the controlled newcomers lap. The more experienced marshals with me were great. I explained that I’d watched the videos, but had no experience and had not taken their hands-on safety training course (a little hard when I live across the pond), but I knew and understood the course flags and that I was prepared to do what was instructed. The lead marshal walked me through various pieces of equipment and who would do what in any what-if situations. He even said, “Look, Nicole, if after the first couple of bikes go by and you think, oh-no-no, this is not for me, you can hop the fence, remove your armband, and spend the rest of the night inside the pub and no one’s going to judge you for it.” I completely understood and appreciated what he was saying. They wanted a person with a cool head under pressure, not someone who would freeze or worse, flip out should something go wrong. I have a day job running large events, so I’m used to high stress situations, bossing people around and having eyes in the back of my head, but still, I nodded and tucked that free pass in the back of my pocket.

As I waited with the marshals by the side of the road (which compared to North American roads feels much, much smaller, like it’s a lane and a half wide), I could feel the impending excitement build. I listened to fans, sitting at picnic tables, discussing the favorite riders, and trading TT stories like they were bubblegum cards. Roughly an hour later, we received word on the tetra radio that things were a go and that first practice was about to begin. Over the outdoor radio speakers, the commentator announced that the Travelling Marshal was now on his way followed by the twelve Newcomers. It was 4.7 miles from the startline to The Crosby pub and the rider was expected to be coming by at around 3 minutes. I didn’t have long to chew on that incredible fact when I heard a distant drone, a buzzing that grew increasingly louder. “Here he comes,” one of the marshals said and from around the bend a Traveling Marshal appeared, wearing an identifiable neon green vest, followed by newcomers all dawning neon orange vests.

The Travelling Marshal zipped by and it was loud, fast and it felt like I could have reached out and touched him – even though he was more like a few short metres away. I was close enough that the force blew back my hair. Okay, I thought. I’m cool. The Newcomers zipped by: zip-zip-zip-zip-zip. So loud, my eardrums crackled, my heart pounded and yes, a teensy-weensy big part of me wanted to hop the fence and go order a tall pint. But I didn’t. It was absolutely exhilarating. I’d been to sporting events before like Toronto’s Honda Indy and Mosport,  but I was never this close to the track. It was phenomenal. There’s nowhere in the world you can get closer to the action than being at the IOMTT Races.

Once the newcomers had their taste of the course on a guided lap, the experienced riders were let out onto the road. Now, part of my marshalling duties was to watch the bikes for any danger signs, like smoke, oil leaking, but the bikes were flying past at around 190mph and my eyes had problems adjusting, let alone picking out the rider’s number and its background colour. What I began to notice were the differences in bike engines – once someone could identify the bike that I was hearing, I could quickly pick out the difference between a Ducati, Honda and Kawasaki engine (not bad for a newbie, eh? Or, maybe they were just humouring me – haha).

So during first practice, one of the riders, Jim Hodson, slows his bike to a stop, (engine trouble), which meant we marshals had to warn other riders. As instructed, I waved the yellow flag in a figure 8 formation as another called it in and a third directed the rider off the TT course.

When the solo practice had finished and we waited for the sidecar practice to begin, I asked to be relieved from my duties (other marshals had arrived). I sat with Jim by the side of the road, watching the sidecar riders and talked about racing and my fiction project. We had a great conversation about bikes and writing, and how, strangely enough, there were a lot of similarities between the two – particularly in its obsession and the intense pursuit of one’s passion to do it.

I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to marshal. In a way, it’s too bad that my story was written in first person, rather than in third, because there was so much wonderful stuff, particularly about marshals, that would have made for a great read. Even so, TT: Full Throttle includes scenes and characters that are compilations of people and first-hand experiences. If you think you spot one of those Easter Eggs in my novel, why not comment here or email me to let me know?

fake ticket

This is TT rider Jim Hodson, pointing to a (fake) speeding ticket he got during TT practice week.

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