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The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy (TT) Races have been held every year since 1907 (except during World War II) over what is arguably the most challenging course in the world, which is also the world’s oldest motorcycle racing course. This year, two racers were killed in a single day: Dwight Beare was a sidecar-racer from Australia and Paul Shoesmith was an Englishman who died on a practice run. They are the 249th and 250th fatalities on the course.
The Isle of Man sits in the sea between England and Ireland. It is not part of the United Kingdom, nor does it belong to the Commonwealth, but is a direct dependency of the crown. Historically, it’s been settled by Irish and Scottish people, and by Norsemen. It’s language, Manx, is related to Irish and Scottish Gaelic. It’s the home of the famous Manx cat, with little or no tail, and the far-less-famous Manx sheep, which can have two, four, or even six, horns.
But about the race. The 37-mile course runs over Snaefell Mountain in series of bends and bumps and jumps and hazards like telegraph poles and stone walls. The course has its own mythology with sections of the course bearing names like Sulby Straight, Ramsey Hairpin, or Glen Helen.
Racing speeds near two hundred miles an hour over short stretches. Various races are run over a two-week period, one week of practice and one of racing, which this year runs from May 28 to June 10. Winners receive a coveted trophy.
The races are time-trials, with participants started at ten-second intervals. Trophies are awarded in Superbike, Supersport, Superstock, Lightweight, Sidecar, Senior, and Zero-Emission classes.
If you follow the races on the news or via the Internet, you should know a few of the more prominent racers. This year, Ian Hutchinson won the Supersport trophy after nearly ending up upside-down on one tricky stretch. Peter Hickman is the fastest newcomer, but has yet to win a victory. John McGuinness is out to break the 133 mph average speed over the course. He came close last year.
But it’s William Joseph (Joey) Dunlop who is King of the Mountain. He came from Northern Ireland and scored three hat-tricks at the Isle of Man TT—in 1985, 1988, and 2000—and won a total of 26 races there. He almost didn’t make it to the Isle of Man in 1985. He was traveling from Northern Ireland on a former fishing boat, with other races, their bikes and their equipment, when the boat ran aground and sank. Luckily, the passengers were all rescued by the Portaferry Lifeboat.
Joey won plenty of other races, including the Ulster Grand Prix (24 times) and, according to Motorcycle News, was voted the fifth greatest motorcycling icon ever. Joey was an unassuming man, a real working-class hero. He was awarded the MBE for services to the sport of motorcycle racing. And he receive the OBE for his work to help Romanian orphans.
He died in Talinn, Estonia, on July 2, 2000, leading a race on a wet course, when he lost control and ran into trees. Over fifty thousand people came to his funeral. Nowadays the most successful rider overall at the Isle of Man TT is awarded the Joey Dunlop Cup and a statue of Joey overlooks Bungalow Bend on the Snaefell course.
The riders who win Isle of Man TT races are professional, riding in lots of races with sponsored teams. Amateur riders get their chance to star on the course during the Manx Grand Prix in the fall. Anyone ready to go?