Nov 12

How my first time around the IOMTT course shaped Scott’s journey in TT: Full Throttle

I treated the IOMTT course, all 37 ¾ miles of it, as a character in TT: Full Throttle. For research, you probably think I drove around it daily, familiarizing myself with the landscape and taking meticulous notes. While part of that is true, it’s not the whole picture. You see, during my first visit to the Isle in 2010, I nearly went home without completing a full lap.

There were many attempts to ride around the course, either by car or by hopping on the back of someone’s bike, but each time we drove past the town of Ramsey towards the mountain stretch, we’d have to turn back because the road was closed.

Just like my character Scott, who was trying desperately to qualify for the Supersport race, I too was feeling like time was running out, that I’d never get to lap the course in its entirety. I had been looking forward to viewing the famous landmarks depicted on TV and DVDs as well as those beautiful images in guidebooks. I wanted to see the Gooseneck, Guthries, Bungalow, Brandywell, Kate’s Cottage, and perhaps stop at the Creg-ny-Baa for a pint. I wanted to experience what it would be like to ride towards the grandstand and imagine the waving checkered flag. As my visit drew to a close, I had to accept that I had seen most of the course and that when I returned to Toronto, I’d just have to watch videos to research that last section.

On Senior Race Day, the final day of the IOMTT, I was hanging out by the startline an hour before the race. My friend Pete, a former race mechanic, pointed to someone in the crowd and told me that I should talk with him because he knew a lot about the sport. Pete made introductions and I started chatting with Nick Jefferies. I can’t remember exactly what I’d asked, but after he’d answered it, I followed it up with, “So, have you ever raced before?” and this slow grin spreads across his face. (Ha! I know, right? 64-time qualifying TT rider with 11-TT podium standings – I had no idea. See my blog post on why I didn’t over-research the TT Races.)

Nick asked if I’ve been around the TT course yet and was shocked when I’d told him no. He told me that I couldn’t leave the Isle of Man without doing so. We ended up watching the final race from his friend’s place at Signpost Corner and the next day, a few hours before my plane departed for Gatwick, I hopped on the back of his comfy-touring bike and we went for a ride.

I had no idea just how important my trek around the course with Nick would later shape an integral part of the novel.

Story-wise, I knew I’d have to give both Scott and Mags some sort of skill set to help readers believe they could tackle what’s considered the Mt. Everest of motorcycle road races. For Mags (a mechanic), needed to have a scene (at Goodmans race track) where our hero (and readers) could observe her in her element, as it wasn’t enough just to say she’s a good at what she does. We had to see her unobserved in action. Regarding Scott, I’d mentioned that he’d grown up racing with his dad, that he’d studied the TT course like it was an exam, and that he’d even had a few European road races under his belt. But still, a 37 ¾ mile course with over 200 bends/turns at top speeds? I needed something more.

As Nick drove me around the course, he pointed out where racers would enter or exit the corner’s apex, where they’d grab airtime, or what gear they would need to negotiate a particular turn. He also referred to visual markers (tree, curb, billboard, etc.) that could be used as a marker on what was coming up next, or how far they were around the course.

I received a staggering amount of information and I realized that if I was overwhelmed, Scott probably would be too. It’s no wonder newcomers are known to follow the centre yellow line the first few times they’re on the course at top speeds – it’s hard to remember what’s coming up next if you don’t know the lay of the land. So I took the essence of what Nick said and, months later with additional advice from another TT rider, John McBride, I began to shape the information into a classic hero-mentor scene between Scott and Paul Parker, a retired champ Scott meets who guides him around the course on the back of his bike. This scene would not only show (rather than tell) how challenging the TT course is for our hero, but the inside information Scott gains in that chance meeting also helps readers believe that he just might have a shot at achieving his goal.

I had a lot of fun that day and I’ll always be grateful to Nick for going out of his way to give me a tour and indulging me in my basic road racing questions. Was I freaked out when we were zipping along the mountain stretch, rounding blind corners in strong headwinds with sheep grazing by the side of the shoulder? Heck yeah, at first, but when I realized I was with a professional who knew the course like the back of his hand, I relaxed and enjoyed it.

I have a lot of great memories of my experiences researching this book, but this is definitely one for the podium.

TT Race Course

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