Viewing the Isle of Man TT videos that we posted a week or so ago inspired me to pull one of my favorite books off the rack. The Magic of the TT: Centenary Edition, by Mac McDiarmid, is a relaxing, informative and entertaining read for anybody interested in Manx motorcycle history. McD’s 336-page tome begins with a recap of how the TT came to be in the first place. We can thank our automotive friends for the race’s origins, which got rolling in 1904. The bike crowd was quick to join in, and eventually became the main event. And did you know that the early events stipulated mandatory fuel consumption goals? In 1907 single-cylinder bikes were required to average 90 mpg or better; twins were to go at least 75 miles on a gallon of petrol.
Most race enthusiasts know that the TT is steeped in lore, but I also enjoy the landmark names that make this one of the most colorful races in the world. McDiarmid, a former TT racer himself, takes you around the 37.73-mile course pointing out some of those classic turns. There’s Stella Maris, named after the nearby house, and meaning, “star of the sea.” You’ll also learn about Tower Bends, named in honor of nearby Albert Tower, which was erected to commemorate the visit to Ramsey by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1847. Then there are the points on the course named for some of the TT greats: Joey’s Bend, formerly the 26th Milestone, which was renamed for Joey Dunlop after his death in 2000; Hailwood Rise, in honor of Mike Hailwood; and Ago’s Leap, paying homage to Giacomo Agostini. My favorite TT landmark name, in terms of how it rolls off the tongue: Creg-ny-Baa. It translates to “rock of the cows” in old Manx.
The book also contains two sections of historic color and black-and-white racing photographs. But it’s the narrative that shines the most as McDiarmid recaps some of the more thrilling races that took place through the years in chapter 5, “Great Races.” His recount of Hailwood and Agostini’s duel during the 1967 Senior TT brought back memories of when, as a teenager, I read the original race report in Cycle World. Ditto for McDiarmid’s replay of Hailwood’s Formula 1 showdown against Phil Read in 1978, and how can we forget Dunlop’s 1980 Classic win?
Any fan of the TT who wants to get a sense of what racing on the island is really like might consider spending a little time burying his nose in The Magic of the TT. Action-packed videos are fine, but they often don’t tell the whole story as written words can. McDiarmid’s closing paragraph of chapter 6, “Risk and Tragedy,” in which he talks about some of his closest friends who lost their lives on the Mountain Course, could never be fully captured on video. The Isle of Man TT is a dangerous race, but for some racers it’s also a personal story. In McDiarmid’s words, “The Mountain has claimed six riders I counted as personal friends. While their exploits enriched my life, and perhaps yours too, we were not entitled to expect it from them, any more than we should condemn those who choose to race elsewhere.” –Dain Gingerelli