TRAVELLING MARSHALS: PLAYING A VITAL ROLE
The Travelling Marshals have been providing vital support around the Mountain Course during the Isle of Man TT Races and Manx Grand Prix for almost a century. The Travelling Marshals are a dedicated group of individuals that give up their time and dedication year-round to support the races. But, what are the skills required to be a Travelling Marshal?
Everyone knows the Isle of Man’s Mountain course isn’t your average racetrack, so an average marshalling system is never going to be enough.
The TT introduced Travelling Marshals way back in 1935, when the lap record stood at 86mph, roughly 50mph slower than today. That year there were only two Travelling Marshals, one based at the start, the other in Ramsey. Their primary duty was to search for missing riders – this was long before there were radio links around the course.
Now there are seven Travelling Marshals, all riding Honda’s latest CBR1000RR-R Fireblade, which are equipped with trauma-treatment medical kits, tracking devices, two-way radios, for communicating with Race Control, and warning lights linked to the red and yellow warning boards around the circuit. Although it might look like a fun job from the outside – riding a latest-spec superbikes on closed roads – today’s Travelling Marshals have some serious responsibilities.
When the roads are closed before each qualifying session and race during the TT and Manx Grand Prix they tour the course, checking all barriers and marshals are in place and report back to Clerk of the Course Gary Thompson on road conditions – damp patches and dropped oil – so riders can be informed before taking to the track. And they are sent out when the weather gets bad, so they can tell Race Control if conditions too poor for qualifying and racing. The Travelling Marshals also assist with coaching the newcomers for the TT and Manx Grand Prix each year.
The Travelling Marshals are spaced equally around the 37.73 miles – at the start, Ballacraine, Kirk Michael, Sulby Bridge, Parliament Square, Gooseneck and Brandywell – so they can reach any part of the course within two to three minutes. Their job is to be the first responder, attending incidents, from the minor to the major.
“It’s a hell of a lot of responsibility, so we pick the right people with all the right qualities and attributes,” says chief Travelling Marshal Tony Duncan, a double Manx Grand Prix winner who has been doing the job since 2000 and has been chief for the past decade. “We’re like an emergency service, responding to whatever happens around the course, so you need to have a calm head for the serious incidents.
“Sometimes we do incident command, so when we turn up we oversee the situation and let the marshals do as much as they can. Other times we get involved ourselves.
“We do a lot of preparation – trauma training, technical-official training and firefighting courses for a start. We do our advanced trauma management training – which includes airway and heavy wound management – every year with the Isle of Man Ambulance Service. We also do the technical course with the ACU, because we’re also scrutineers, so if a bike gets black-flagged for a technical issue we have to check it over and sign it off to go back out, if it’s OK. And we do firefighting too.”
All Travelling Marshals must have raced in the Manx GP or the TT.
“Having raced the course is a requirement – we can’t have newcomers riding around the course,” adds Duncan. “We’re doing 180-mph plus down Sulby Straight, so we need the right quality of riders who know where they’re going.”
The longest-serving Travelling Marshal is Jim Hunter, who’s in his 32nd year in the job.
“Imagine it’s the second lap of the Superbike Race,” says Hunter, who raced both the Manx and the TT in the late 1980s. “You’re following the race when you’re at your position and maybe you know Peter Hickman or one of the other super-quick guys is around when you get a call to an incident. You’ve got to get out there and get to the location as quick as possible and you have to really keep your focus, because not only have you got to think about what you’re doing, you’re also conscious of the fact that there’s quicker riders catching you. So you’ve got an awful lot to think about: what am I going to do when I get there, where’s the helicopter going to land and so on.”
John McBride was a Travelling Marshal from 1997 to 2009 but now works within the organisation as a Race Official. During his dozen years in the job he saw many changes.
“When I first started they liked to have Travelling Marshals circulating all the time, moving from one position to the next – you could get in a couple of laps during a qualifying session!” says McBride, another former competitor of the TT and Manx. “Now Travelling Marshals are only used if there’s been an incident. It could be quite simple – like a sheep’s got out – or it could be something more serious, so you help at the incident, make sure the helicopter is loaded properly and so on.”
During the last few decades Honda has been the biggest supporter of Travelling Marshals, supplying a variety of machinery: VFR750s, VFR800s, RC45s, Blackbirds, VTR1000 Firestorms, Pan Europeans and numerous iterations of the legendary Fireblade, including the latest CBR1000RR-R.
“Nowadays we need a 1000cc superbike to get up to speed, otherwise it could be dangerous,” adds Duncan. “Nothing else is quick enough. The latest ’Blade is a beautiful bike – noticeably faster than what we had before and like any Honda it’s so neutral – it just does everything you want it to do.”
Hunter and his Fireblade were on duty at this year’s Southern 100 Pre-TT Classic Road Races, staged around the Billown circuit before TT qualifying got underway, and had the extra duty of riding the first lap of each race, just behind the pack.
“The idea is that we’re right there if there’s an incident on the first lap,” adds Hunter. “That was the first chance this year I’d got to give my ’Blade full gas and, wow, it was so exhilarating”
Duncan and his fellow Travelling Marshals fully understand the importance of the support they get from Honda and other suppliers.
“Honda’s help is a huge thing for us,” he says. “Plus RST are our safety partner, providing leathers, boots and gloves, Arai come up with the new TT helmet each year and Oxford Products provide the bags we use to carry our medical kits.”
“All our current riders are Manx-based, because you need to give up four weeks for the TT and the Manx and another week for the Southern 100, plus we also use the back roads to get around during qualifying and racing, so it really helps if you know the local roads.”
Hunter’s three decades – and counting – as a Travelling Marshal have brought him immense satisfaction.
“It’s great to be still involved and to give something back,” he adds. “I’ve been a lifelong fan of the TT and Manx Grand Prix, so I love what I do. It takes a lot of work all year round, to keep up with all the courses, but it’s a great thing to be a part of. Tony has put a great team together and there’s a lot of camaraderie.”