How our Photograph saved Guy Martin’s Life.
This story took place at the TT road race on the Isle of Man, one of the world’s fastest and most dangerous motorcycle endurance events. It involves the best racer never to have won the TT who also happens to be a national treasure in the UK — a tea drinking, unassuming all round nice guy.
Guy Martin is a truck mechanic by trade but has raced motorbikes for many years. He is one of the best racers with many accolades, but the one that has eluded him is winning over the 37 mile mountain course that forms the TT races on the Isle of Man. He has yet to be crowned King of the Mountain.
Unlike many racing circuits, this trial of endurance and speed uses the regular roads of the northern half of the Isle of Man. It is a place of pilgrimage for thousands of fans each year who camp in every available space on the Island. The Islanders themselves open their homes to many guests and endure the road closures over a 2 week period — the practice week and race week. Roads are closed for several hours each day but the Islanders are well accustomed to this and take it in their stride.
We join the story half way through race week in 2014. For me, it is my first TT, but the group I am with are all old hands. I have brought my camera with me, a Sony DSLR with a fairly long lens and the group sets off early in the morning for a spot called Cronk y Voddy. It is a fast stretch of road with a sharp bend at the end. The spot is already busy with people sitting on the grass topped wall. The racers will come past at speeds of nearly 200 mph just 3 feet away. We are warned not to lean out in the road or drop any of our belongings on to it by the Marshals. The danger is very clear and we are on our guard. Setting the camera up proved interesting. No opportunity to use a tripod meant hand holding, movement of people meant slight adjustments to positioning and focus. This was going to be an endurance test all of it’s own.
I set the camera to focus on a line down the middle of the road where the riders and their mounts would fill a good portion of the frame. The day was bright and sunny and the shutter speed quite fast to avoid motion blur. The ISO was higher than I would have liked, but not awful. The first race was under way and our little portable radio was letting us know the progress on the road. Three riders were close together and about to come in to view.
At this point I should mention that this race is a time trial. Road position is not relevant as each rider sets off at intervals of 10 seconds in an order determined by performance in practice week and standings from other races. The close proximity of the racers meant that some catching up had been done and Guy Martin was fast, very fast. In fact this was starting out as one of his best performances. I had time for 2 shots of each rider as they came down the mile long stretch. I missed the first rider almost completely but knew I had bagged a shot of the other two.
Just as the riders disappeared around the corner, knees almost touching the ground, something very strange happened. A round shiny object rolled right by us and stopped at the bottom of the wall. I had no idea what it was, but one of our group, Mylar, knew exactly. And it wasn’t good news. It was a wheel nut from one of the bikes that had just passed us at such a huge velocity.
The Marshal needed to be informed, the bike needed to be stopped. But no-one knew which bike had lost it. There were minutes before the next place a message could be relayed to the riders at Ramsay. After Ramsay comes the Mountain, the most difficult and dangerous part of the course. An idea suddenly struck me. We reviewed the shots on the camera. The last bike of the three was Guy Martin. I zoomed in on the shot via the screen on the back of my camera. Unbelievably, the wheel nut was captured flying through the air just as it had left Guy’s bike.
The Marshal was quickly on the radio to the check point at Ramsay and a black flag was used to tell Guy to stop. By all accounts he was furious — until someone pointed out the condition of his bike. The mountain would not claim Guy Martin as a victim.
Guy refers to this incident in his autobiography saying he would like to meet the people who had the courage to end his race and possibly save his life. Guy, we’d love to meet you too and share a cuppa and a chinwag.
For those who don’t know of him, Guy fronts his own TV series on British television called Speed. More than just a programme about motorbikes, you can see him get involved in a range of projects including rebuilding aeroplanes. More recently he was allowed to join the Williams pit crew at an F1 race where his determination helped him reach the high standard required.