Isle of Man TT / The brutality of road racing

It’s 1907. Motorcycles are a relatively new form of transportation; there’s more than one, so of course a race eventually took place, with predictable results in the days of zero safety gear. Street deaths caused by these noisy machines must be controlled.

The Isle of Man, a small island in the Irish Sea, becomes the location for a road race. A circuit is drawn, basic rules are laid down and the TT is born.

The race against the clock is a unique format. The runners start at specific times with a few seconds apart; they’re racing against the clock, but there’s a runner in their sights, giving them someone to run, someone to catch up with!

Jump forward to 1911 and Victor Surridge makes history twice. At the Glen Helen corner of the island circuit, he crashed and was thought to have died instantly. Probably unknown to passers-by and onlookers, he is not only the first person to die since TT racing began a few years earlier, he is also the first person to die on the Isle of Man involved in any kind of car accident.

Victor was 19 years old. It was his first TT race. He was a member of the Rudge Racing team. The incident happened during a practice lap.

Fast forward to 1982, the races were still taking place, the speeds were considerably higher and the TT made some weird history that year… no one died. In 2001, that same note entered the history books – a year with great races, but even better, no fatalities. It hasn’t happened since.

The balance sheet for 2022

Right now, as I wait for a ferry back to the mainland, the death toll has risen by three souls this year to a total of 263 driver fatalities since racing began all those years ago on the ‘Isle of man. There are still a few days of racing to go, including the Senior TT, the main race.

If you walk the course and look closely, you will see affected areas, memorial signs of rider deaths in various places.

This year Mark Purslow and Oliver Lavorel, both relatively new to racing on the island, lost their lives in solo races and sidecar races respectively.

Most can read this and blame inexperience for the deaths. You might think that makes sense, but just a few miles from the finish line at mile 27, Davy Morgan also crashed this week and died. It was his 80th race here. He was a well-known rider on the course with his distinctive pink helmet.

This helmet was a regular and recognizable sight in street circuit racing; Morgan has competed in hundreds of races across the Manx Grand Prix, Classic TT, Southern 100, North West 200, Ulster Grand Prix, Macau Grand Prix, Oliver’s Mount and Irish National races, with many podiums and victories along the way.

Aged 52, Davy had considered stepping away from the sport in recent years, but the COVID-enforced hiatus had shown him what a life without racing would be like.

Speaking in 2020, he said:

… being away from racing has given me the opportunity to reflect on what motorcycle racing means to me, so I don’t feel like retiring from the sport yet, and it’s now been a part of my life for 27 years .

I got to see what it would be like without the bikes, and I’m glad I got it because if I had decided I was finished, I would have kicked myself!

The irony of this statement stings today, the day after his death.

The 2022 races are the busiest the island has ever seen, for both runners and spectators. The debate will resume: should this breed still exist today? Runners and spectators will tell you the same thing: it is the individual’s choice to run. They are not forced by racing teams; they do it for the love of the sport and the excitement this class brings.

There is an obvious brutality to road racing… what do you think?

The title image is one of the last photos I took of Davy entering Braddan Bridge, in a qualifying round, three days before his death.

About Lillian Coomer

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