Sunny skies and mild temperatures greeted each traveler arriving for the 2023 Isle of Man TT. With expectations for variable weather, including sunshine, rain and mist often all in one day, fans returning here for the TT know to expect rain delays, postponements and schedule changes, with rest days often becoming race days. However, locals and longtime fans were astounded with the 2023 weather, saying it was as good as they had ever seen; some even complained about the extreme heat, with temperatures approaching 80 degrees. Personally, I thought the weather was fabulous and the best since I started coming to the TT in 2017. There was good light, mild temperatures and opportunities to capture some cool photos.
Looking back, like so many others, the Isle of Man TT was long on my bucket list. As a sports photographer, potential images of the speed, the sounds and the Mountain Course of the TT swirled in my mind well in advance of my stepping off my flight.
When I first arrived at the TT in 2017, it was a side trip on the way back home from shooting the Ironman Lanzarote Triathlon in the Canary Islands. I had to travel through Dublin, so as I was sort of in the neighborhood, my thought was the TT would be a one and done visit like so many other events I have shot! There is, however, something about this place, something that draws you in and keeps you coming back. It is not just me; based on a recent tourism survey, 65% of the 2023 TT visitors had been there before. The crowds that gather here are an eclectic and international crowd, bonded by the freedom only experienced on two wheels and fueled by collective passion. I immediately felt immersed in the community of TT devotees.
Everything about that first visit exceeded my expectations. The breathtaking skills of the riders and the speeds on the narrow, twisty course inflame the passion of every single fan in attendance. Topping all of that were new friends, the passionately involved locals who make up the lifeblood of the TT, and the island. At the end of my fortnight, I acknowledged their kind farewells of “See you next year!” and their offers of a place to stay.
On my return to Minneapolis and while I was still reveling in my first TT experience, I realized there was still something missing. As good as my time there was, I wanted to know more, see more and meet more people. I immediately put the 2018 race dates in my calendar.
And so, I came back in 2018, and I found none of my prior excitement had diminished. I was smiling from the moment I touched down at the Douglas airport. Now staying with friends who lived a half-mile from the famed Ballagarey Turn, I was ready for more adventure.
In 2018, I spent more time in the paddock, less with the top riders but more with the privateers. Mostly based in the lower paddock, privateers are exactly what they sound like–unsponsored racers riding personal bikes, self-funded, supported by family and friends and fueled solely by the passion to race. Although some have sponsorship, they all have day jobs. Some have hopes of gaining future sponsorship or a factory ride, but most only race in an effort to achieve personal goals to finish and complete the Senior TT or perhaps clock a 125-mph lap.
Dominic Herbertson is one of those riders. I met “Dom da bomb” after sticking my head into his pop-up tent in the paddock. Dom’s day job was and still is being a tree surgeon. Outside of his tent he had a sign stating that for £10, you could get your name on his bike. Although I didn’t contribute, I did buy him lunch!
A very popular rider in the paddock, Dom’s effusive personality, riding skills and attention to detail paid off, and in 2022 he had five top 10 finishes in the five events he completed, showing that he can consistently compete on par with the top seeds. For 2023, Dom’s start number was 13. Dom is just one example of the many, many privateers that race the TT each year.
After their initial qualifying, often at the Manx Grand Prix, these privateer riders return year after year, working all year toward a fortnight in May and June. Helped only by friends and funding their own travels, their tires and racing their own bikes, despite limited budgets and time they are purely fueled by their passion for riding and the TT.
As with the riders, each trip to the TT gives race devotees a deeper understanding of the TT itself. Instead of learning the nuances of each turn, visitors find the great places to watch and explore the transportation system, favorite pubs, and evening music venues, hoping to reunite with old friends.
Do you need a car or a motorcycle to get around at the TT? Absolutely not! Depending on where you are staying, you can walk to many great viewing points. The Vannin Bus system is also outstanding, and as you meet people, you can frequently get a lift!
A few weeks in advance of this year’s TT, I emailed my mates to see if it was both possible and practical to borrow a bike. While I have been given rides around the course, I had never ridden it. The return email said, “We’ll get that sorted out,” and indeed, we did. For the 2023 TT, I had a 2005 K 1200 S for my entire time there. I used it to ride back and forth to the grandstand and paddock and to get to my shooting positions, as well as for just going for a ride on a few days.
How was it? Absolutely amazing and totally terrifying at the same time! The Isle of Man is visually spectacular to ride, and to think racers ride these same roads at three or four times the speed I was traveling is mind boggling.
By the way, if you need me May 27 to June 8, 2024, I will be on the Isle of Man.