Thursday, 18 June 2009

Cheat Death

When I was at the TT I caught up with Mark Miller, the US real road racer. I met Mark at the Centenary TT, then the Macau GP, followed by last year's TT, then Macau again, and most recently caught up with him at the TT again. I spoke to him a few times during the race week and was keeping an eye out for him in the Senior at the Creg-ny-Baa. I knew he wanted a top 10 and it sounded, from the radio commentary, like he was on for it. Then at the bottom of Bray Hill... GI

'I was flying, riding smooth, knifing all the committed blind fast sections near perfect, leaping the fastest jumps with confidence in the bike’s setup, I was strong in the arms and was blowing through all of the same lads that had given us fits in the first Superbike race a week before. Every piece of the puzzle was working on top form.
'By the end of the 4th lap and our 2nd pitstop, we were sitting in 8th place out of 70 starters. If you remember, a top ten at the Isle of Man TT, and leaving there with the fastest ever laptime by an American, was the goal. By this point, I had smashed my previous lap record on the second lap with a 125.5mph average and was sitting comfortable with a 16 second lead in front of multi-time Macau GP winner Michael Rutter.
'We topped the race fuel up to the absolute brim, I started the bike in first gear, ripped out of our #24 pit slot, exited the pit lane chin down as always, entered onto the front straight, held it wide open down Bray Hill like I was fighting a bucking bronco– btw, this was the first time I felt comfortable enough on the 1000cc racebike to do that scary down-hill section wide open. I nailed the full suspension compression at the bottom of the intersection carrying more RPM than ever, wheelied full tuck in 6th gear over Ago’s Leap, wheelied the second of the two sharp rises, popped out of the bubble with light braking for two downshifts, blap blap, for this awkward little eccentric whipple-jump; a place on the track where you simply slow a bit for an indentation at the crest of a super fast hill, then roll on the gas a bit.
'The rear tire was very worn by this point in the race (the factory bikes have quick-change equipment but this year I had to go all six laps on one set of tires). I was more than happy to just slide the shit out of this harder rear tire up to this point, but when I wobbled over this indentation at the crest of the hill the bike instantly snapped sideways and highsided straight out from underneath me at 130mph! There was nothing I could do it ripped the handlebars right out of my hands.
'I clearly remember saying to myself before hitting the ground, “You’re going to crash out of this race? THIS is how the story is going to end? You’re kidding me.” Then I hit the ground. I was in a serious mindset to finish out two more laps of the six and wasn’t expecting this to happen at all. That’s when things turned really serious.
'As I came down, I kinda landed on top of the bike for just a moment, then the next thing I know I’m asses and elbows. I love when I hear young racers say things like, “Yaz got tuh learn how ta fall, tuck and roll, go limp and stuff.” Rubbish. You hit the ground at over a hundred miles per hour and you have no say in the matter, you are an unwilling participant along for the ride.
'I couldn’t believe it. I’ve crashed a roadrace bike once in 4 years. Now, I had to endure that awful ensuing silence and instant lack of vibration which comes from going flat out chest on the tank, to, the sound of your bike scraping alongside next to you and the sound of your breath being physically forced out of your lungs at a high velocity. Bouncing along the ground doesn’t always necessarily make you go, “Dough! Dough! Dough!” It more often makes you do primitive grunts, and a kind that can scare you upon hearing them. Cause you can’t help yourself.
'So, I hit the ground then see that one of the several light poles in my runoff area - wrapped in a thin foam layer of a Dainese fox logo, of course - is positioned directly in the path of my body’s projected trajectory, coming soon to a theatre near you at 100mph+. True story. But, my body gets spun around I am shortly there after sliding on my back, head first.
'The pole is coming. I am going to hit the thing and explode like hamburger inside of my leathers. It’s not a romantic fantasy, It’s no longer pleasurable for me to write this part of the story to you, to be the center of attention for seven more minutes, my body is very simply now going to hit a pole at 100mph and I’m going to die.
Sliding backwards…. I flex my stomach and calmly say to myself, “You’re going to experience this death of yours whether you like it or not, you might as well pay close attention to see how it feels to die from a blunt impact hitting something hard at the Isle of Man TT. You are going to feel something soon, something awful, its going to sound awful, you’ll probably go black instantly from it, here it comes, almost there, its going to come sooner than you’ll want it to when it does, its just now, now, now now (I’m skidding on my back head first and can’t see a thing). Now. Now. Just then, now, now now, shit, now? This sucks.” I fucking missed the pole but my bike hit it and exploded right next to me.
I slid to a stop a good 80 yards from where I hit the ground, my bike actually touched the barrier at the runoff of Quarter Bridge, all the way down the hill, maybe 120 yards from where I came off the thing. The bike was a complete and utter write off, rear magnesium wheel smashed to tin foil, the rear tire coming completely off and rolling itself away to safety, tank, forks, titanium exhaust, everything. I jumped up 100%, perfectly fine.
Um. Hmmm.
'So, that’s me crashing out of 8th place in the 2009 Senior TT. [pause] God dammit.'

Wow. Mark, you're a legend.

By the way, here's something I wrote for Hell for Leather about the TTX. GI


Iwan said...

Amazing story..thanks for sharing with us mortals.

William said...

Now that's narrative!

bubble visor said...

what iwan said, wow what an amazing story!
scary stuff

Chris said...


The Great Escape

Mick P said...

Superbly recounted, thanks. But the big question is, would you do it all again?

Utter respect to anyone who races on the roads.

daws said...

Amazingly written stuff, glad you missed the lightpole and can share it with us!

"Primitive Grunts" is a perfect description of the primeval noises that issue from your body as you hit the ground. Anyone who has been thrown from a racebike can attest to this.

Does Mark have any plans to race the boxing day road race in Wanganui, New Zealand? I'm planning on heading over, along with a contingent of other Australian club racers.

Paul said...

Brilliant! Glad Mark got away with it.

Paul said...

Great article on the TTXGP too (and great pics!)
When the TTXGP was launched, I thought it a fantastic idea and was interested in running a hydrogen powered bike. The 'electric only' rule quickly killed these ideas of competing.

The TTXGP is a start, but the organizers need to be more open minded about 'zero emissions'. Perhaps different classes based on technology or power/weight ratio.

t_s said...

Glad he walked away from it!

BCM said...

I'm not sure I needed to experience that first thing this morning.