For two weeks every year, a small island in the Irish Sea becomes the centre of the universe for motorcycle fans across the globe. Run on a 37.73 mile track that consists entirely of roads that are in daily public use for the other 50 weeks of the year, the Snaefell Mountain Course is the most famous and challenging ribbon of tarmac on the planet.
The opening race of the 111th Isle of Man TT, the RST Superbike race, will get underway at midday today, and will be the first of eight races around the mountain circuit throughout the week before the big one - the Senior TT - closes the event next Friday. Before leaving the place, known to fans simply as "the Island", many will stop off at the booking office to reserve their tickets for next year. Me, I will think about very little else for the next week.
Let's address the elephant in the room - the TT is dangerous. Since the first TT in 1907, a staggering 256 competitors have lost their lives attempting to win one of the beautiful silver trophies. This year already in the practice sessions one racer has died and another has been seriously injured. Dan Kneen, a 30 year old from the Island, tragically lost his life in a crash at Churchtown, while Steve Mercer from Kent was injured when he collided with a course car. Statistically, by this time next week, another name will be added to that list.
Fans who travel to the island to watch the action are allowed to ride the course themselves at the times when it ceases to be a race track and becomes a public road once again. Sadly, many of them are killed or injured too. For those of us who follow from afar, checking the website for the latest news, the most dreaded headline we can see is "Statement on behalf of the ACU". We all know exactly what it means, and the feeling in your stomach is the same every time.
I first became aware of the phase "the beautiful danger" when I got a copy of photographer Stephen Davison's book by that name. It is what made me pick up a camera. The shots you see on this page, although not from the Island, are a direct result of me getting that book. Davison has spent his career shooting road racing, not only on the Isle of Man, but also in his native Northern Ireland, where there are many closed road events throughout the season. My photography has come on a long way since I got my first "real" camera in 2013, thanks in part to some expert tuition from another hugely talented photographer, James Wright, who helped me take the shot below. I've got a long way still to go before I am anywhere near the level of these two, but without that book, I would never have started.
For me, the title for is the perfect description of road racing in general, and the TT in particular. There is something truly bewitching in watching the TT, the danger is as addictive as the speed. You are scared to watch, but you just can't look away. It is the most fascinating thing I've ever seen, but it is also the cruelest - how can anybody love a sport that kills its best and brightest? I've only been to the TT once, long before I had a camera or a clue how to take action photographs, back in 1999. That was the year David Jefferies blew everyone away on the Yamaha R1 with a hat-trick of wins. The big man repeated the feat over the next two years - a hat-trick of hat-tricks, before tragically losing his life in practice in 2003, robbing us of one of the greatest talents in the sport, and a fucking great guy.
And that's the dilemma of the TT. Watching the best riders, on the fastest bikes, racing on normal roads, complete with kerbs, trees and walls, is the most exhilarating things I can imaging. But you can never forget that they are only seconds, millimeters away from heartbreaking tragedy.
If you like your sport all glitz & glamour, if you're turned on by millionaires competing for their next big endorsement deal, if you need corporate hospitality to enjoy the action, then the TT probably isn't for you. But if you like sport in it's rawest form, normal guys & girls competing against themselves as much as each other, the best of the best doing what they love simply because they love it, then you will love the TT.
Here's wishing everybody a fast and safe TT.