Back in Dublin a bit over a week ago, reflecting on the day we’d just spent in Northern Ireland, I noted, “I got a little bit emotional up at the Dunlop Memorial Garden.”
“Yeah, I know,” Katie replied. “I haven’t seen you like that since Santa Maria.”
I hadn’t realized that it was quite so obvious. That long-ago trip to Santa Maria had been kind of a personal calamity for the two of us, back when we were a pair of raw, broke kids. Without going into specifics, that trip resulted in the sort of dramatic collapse that makes it abundantly clear that life as you’d been living it wasn’t going to work out in the manner you’d been banking on.
Visiting the Dunlop Memorial Garden in Ballymoney wasn’t a personal calamity, but it was a sobering and moving illustration of the brutal toll that a life devoted to motorcycling can exact. A couple of weeks before we visited, William Dunlop had died at the Skerries 100 north of Dublin. With his Uncle Joey plus his father, Robert, and now his brother William all lost to racing crashes, 29-year-old Michael is the last of the Dunlop racing dynasty still on two wheels. To consider the weight the lad must carry on his shoulders is a little heartbreaking. What’s more, American Flat Track racer Brad “the Bullet” Baker, whom I’d just seen ride up the hill at Goodwood, had-only a week later-crashed in practice at the X Games in Minneapolis and was laid up in the hospital as a result of serious back injuries.
I wouldn’t fault a man for questioning his decision to ride these things. Not after standing in front of the statue of Robert Dunlop, ringed with bouquets six deep, the flowers left by well-wishers on the occasion of his son’s death at 33 years of age. And yet, for some of us, the pull remains. And for those who ride the Isle of Man TT, the most famous event on the calendar when it comes to this sort of public-road superbike racing, death is a sort of omnipresent stalker. The Snaefell Mountain Course offers little to no runoff area as it winds through villages and fields. It’s lined with stone walls and hedgerows. The place seems to claim a life or three every year. And yet, the TT is the greatest motorsport event I’ve ever attended. As morbid as it is to say, I am not entirely sure that the TT’s greatness and its penchant for claiming lives can be divorced from each other.
- The Greatest-and Most Dangerous-Race Course in the World
- There Are Three Types of Crazy People in This World. I Finally Met the Third.
- Sidecar Racing at the Isle of Man TT Is Insane (and Insanely Cool)
Studio Kippenberger put together a short in 2015, simply entitled Isle of Man TT, which features interviews with a few of the notorious race’s riders and others involved in the sport. They’ve recently posted the film to YouTube, and it’s worth a watch. Those who race the TT are made of different stuff, perhaps more akin to the Formula 1 pilots of the 1950s than they are to today’s MotoGP or World Superbike racers. Still, I don’t know that one can truly understand the TT unless one attends the TT. Which means that you should very probably make it a point to go. As 23-time TT winner John McGuinness says, “You’ve got your Nürburgrings and you’ve got your Pikes Peak and these other events, but they’re just car parks compared to this place.” He’s right.