THE PADDOCK AND PITS
Nobles Park is tucked up into the hills off the Douglas Promenade. It’s the place racers and their teams get prepared, pass their inspections, fuel their bikes and start and finish their laps. It’s where their loved ones wait for their return, and where enthusiasts go to be a part of it.
Our hotel was a short, steep walk to the paddock. There’s a beautiful, shady walking path that’s lined with stone walls and canopied by huge trees, before it suddenly becomes a residential area. We passed a small auto garage and they happily pointed us towards our destination.
The streets were mostly empty and we didn’t really know what we were looking for as we approached the park. We passed through a chain linked area and The Kid says “There’s John McGuinness.” We’d only been on the island for an hour and a half and the first thing we see is Mc Pint riding his daughter’s quad! Had it not been for the unfortunate Northwest incident I’m sure he would not have been there at that moment, but his good-natured greeting left us believing that we’d landed ourselves in the most magical place on the planet.
Pushing further into the grassy pit area, we were surrounded by pop-up tents with faux floors displaying bikes of absolutely every shape and size. Bikes with racing bodies that make them unrecognizable. Bikes stripped of plastic, while their owners make adjustments. Bikes being started and revved, their smoke signals acting as sirens to anyone within range.
Only a few steps away, guys are laid out on the floor tinkering on this or that. I have never been given this type of VIP access before in my life. There are rows and rows of these tents, filled with busy people preparing for the evening of racing to come.
Continuing our walk, we approach bigger, more branded tents, and I spot Dean Harrison. As I step towards him he returns the gesture and kindly takes a photo, appearing not to mind my taking up his time. (We also passed him the next morning, and he held up his coffee cup and wished us a good morning.)
We found a restroom in the paddock area, and I was surprised to find women doing laundry there. They chatted with each other with friendly familiarity and didn’t seem to notice me at all. As I stepped outside and looked around, I realized that it’s the intimacy that makes the Isle of Man special. These women are part of families that live and breathe this experience. They continue with their day-to-day responsibilities in different places all the time, doing their best to be comfortable. The children flying by on their bicycles, navigating the paddocks and crowds with ease are not fans like I’d originally thought. They are also family. And at 10 years old, they likely know more about racing than I will ever know.
It’s a gorgeous day, and we decide to reward ourselves with some refreshments in the sun. We take a few minutes to gloat and call our dear friends The Mrs. and Don to express our excitement. For a moment I become homesick chatting with them and realize how much I wish they’d come with us. But from the beverage garden we can see a handful of pop-up souvenir shops set up and ready for us to visit and I get over it pretty quickly.
We’d hiked the hill with just t-shirts in anticipation of the loot we’d find later. We cloaked ourselves in everything IOM for the evening- t-shirts, hoodies and beanies, so we were ready when the clouds began rolling in.
A quick lunch-stop in the food truck area found us leisurely enjoying the company of another California couple. Nearly neighbors to us, Becky and Yuri have ridden many of the same local roads that we have, only Yuri is here to race the Snaefell Mountain Circuit. He’s done it before and surprised everyone a few years back by qualifying and competing on the first Yamaha YZ450F to ever try the circuit. Becky had taken time off from work and flown halfway around the world to support him. A dedicated partner, she showed no worry as she dutifully took photos and patiently waited with him, displaying commitment and courage rivaled only by the riders themselves.
They were both so personable that I was compelled to ask questions. Having read the racer’s guide twice in preparation for our trip, I still didn’t know exactly what to expect for the next few hours. Yuri explained the inspection process to me and how and when they’d all line up on the grid. Our anticipation builds as we set off towards the inspection area, a long row of bikes attended by their caretakers.
The main grandstands are right next to the inspection area. I had bought tickets months before, hoping to see the riders re-fuel their bikes between laps. Unfortunately, with practice and qualifying sessions being limited to only two laps, there’s no need to pit. (Experienced riders need only complete one lap, but newcomers to the circuit must complete two.) They also line up two at a time, instead of individually.
From the bleachers we could see the riders below; their leathers, gloves and helmets on as they wait for their opportunity to ride. Looking across the starting grid, trees from a cemetery frame the rider timing boards, its location slightly unsettling and a not so subtle reminder of why we all chose to be here right now, while we can.
As the clouds came in, the ocean breeze increased and the chill was undeniable. I raced down to the coffee truck during the break between practice sessions, but I’d forgotten the no credit card rule. Another trip up the bleachers to get some cash from The Kid, and I return to the truck to find the sweet woman had my order waiting for me.
Together, bundled up warmly in our swag, we sipped cappuccinos and shared warm donuts while we watched the races. As the riders returned from their laps, it was impossible to imagine that another moment could be as memorable as this one.
But the Kid and I can’t decline an opportunity for further enjoyment. As we strolled down the hill away from the paddock, we noticed a pretty little garden area that lead to a two-story restaurant, The Grill in the Park. The wrap-around veranda and beautifully manicured landscaping beckoned us to partake in one more pint before bedtime. As we visited with others on the porch we watched the clouds disperse, delighting us all with the most cliché of memorable moments, the sunset. And though I hate to admit it, I absolutely loved it and will never forget it.
We encountered a mini setback with breakfast at our hotel before our departing flight. It seems during the week, restaurants close after breakfast (around 10AM) and don’t open again for lunch until around 11:30AM. We tried several restaurants, and they all kept similar hours. I believe they also close between breakfast and lunch on the weekends.
At Nobles Park, there were several food trucks available, and we rather enjoyed everything we ate. All the food trucks were cash-only. There was a fresh donut and espresso truck, a bap truck, an ice cream truck, and a couple of other savory options. They opened early and remained open until the races were done.
A Tour on a Trike
We’d initially booked a TT course tour with IOM Trike Tours. They were incredibly accommodating, from arranging to pick us up at our hotel, to assisting us with our foreign currency. They offer several types of tours for two people, with stops at some of the island’s most iconic race points.
Unfortunately, I felt compelled to cancel due to The Kid’s spinal surgery just a short time before the trip. They were gracious and kind, and I look forward to going back to ride that trike.
Beverages are a bit interesting at the Isle of Man. There are no real drinking laws, as far as I can find. There is an official-looking sign posted at every single bar stating that the customer is entitled to a full pint.
In Nobles Park, near the food trucks and concession stands is a huge white tent serving beer and cocktails. There are tables and chairs spread around the lawn, within a big roped off area. Considering the lack of drinking laws, there are signs everywhere stating that you cannot bring your cocktails outside of this area. This was fine by me, as it was a lovely day, and we enjoyed resting our feet for a bit. There is also no drinking allowed in the grandstands. Another interesting detail; the beers are served icy cold, but they do not have ice available for cocktails.
The following day at Ballaugh, we were able to grab a couple of cold ones from a local shop and enjoy our drinks right on the side of the road while we watched the races. In Parliament Square there’s a bar that serves pints in disposable glasses (cash only) for you to take outside to the track.
Grandstand tickets can be purchased directly from www.iomtt.com, but they’re shipped from Duke Video. It might be easier to go directly to www.dukevideo.com to purchase tickets, because you can also more easily shop for merchandise from that site, and they also have some amazing tour packages available (EX: a lap around the TT course with a racer as your guide.) They ship items quickly and are very communicative with inquiries.