As It Happens

Despite second driver killed this year, fans still love deadly Isle of Man motorcycle race

Two racers have already been killed in crashes at this year's Isle of Man Tourist Trophy. But a woman whose brother was killed in the race in 2004 says she still supports it.

'It's the ultimate test as a racer,' says Christine Cowley

Racers practice at the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy races June 1, 2007 in Kirk Michael, in Isle of Man, United Kingdom. (Ian Walton/Getty Images)

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Every year, a tiny island between Ireland and Great Britain is transformed into one of the most dangerous motorcycle races in the world — known as the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy.

It's an event that Christine Cowley still follows and supports, even though her brother Paul was killed in 2004 when he lost his grip on the sidecar that he was racing.

At this year's event, which runs from May 26 to June 8, two racers have already been killed. And since its inception in 1907, more than 140 participants have died. 

Cowley spoke to As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner about why, despite the danger, she still goes out to watch the event known as the T-T every year.

Here is part of that conversation. 

Ms. Cowley, we just heard reports that another young man has died at this event today. What do you know about what happened to Adam Lyon?

At the moment, they haven't revealed a lot of detail.

But obviously we know that tragically he's lost his life, and my heart goes out to his family at this time because I know it's the worst possible thing that could happen and you really don't want it to happen.

This picture, taken in 2004, was the last photo taken of Paul Cowley before he died in the T-T race. (Isle of Man Newspapers)

You say it's the absolute worst thing and no one wants it to happen, but this race is known as one of the most dangerous motorcycle race events in the world. Why is that? Can you describe the course and the race itself?  

The T-T is more than just one race. It's a festival of racing. You have a week of practicing and you have a week of racing.

The course itself is 37 and 3 ¼ miles long, which is longer than any current race track. It's one of the longest ever in the world.

There are walls, hedges, lamp posts. It goes up a mountain, it goes across railway track lines and it's the ultimate race course for these riders.  

They always know that one inch out of place could be a matter of life or death.

Your brother Paul died in this race. Tell us what happened to him.

My brother Paul was a sidecar passenger. So sidecar racing is one of the races that goes on here, which is a three wheel machine. So, you have the driver and you have the passenger.

The passenger isn't strapped in in any way.

My brother ... he'd always wanted to do the T-T because when we were little my dad raced the T-T doing sidecars as well.

He decided he was going to come over and do it because it might be last chance because his partner was pregnant and he thought he probably couldn't afford it after they'd had the baby.

Unfortunately about a third of the way through the course they went through a section called "The Black Dub" and he just lost his grip.

A photo of Cowley's father racing in a Isle of Man T-T race. He is the one on the right, leaning out. (Submitted by Christine Cowley)

After he died, did it change the way you look at the race?

Yes and no. At first it was very hard to be around the T-T. The first two years I went away with my then partner. And it wasn't because I didn't want to know about the racing, it was just because it was too intense.

It takes over the whole island.  

The third year after he died was the centenary of the T-T so that year I decided to stay, and it was difficult but I absolutely loved it.

The third year after he died was the centenary of the T-T so that year I decided to stay, and it was difficult but I absolutely loved it.- Christine Cowley

You mention that your brother and his partner were expecting a child. What would you say to the child about this kind of racing?

I speak to my niece on a regular basis and she's absolutely lovely. It's obviously very hard for her that she's never met her dad.

But she understands it because, you know, her mom's talked to her about how much my brother loved racing.

She's very proud of her dad.

Why should this event be allowed to go on when it has killed more than 140 people?

There's lots of things that killed more than 140 people that happen all the time.

If you spread those races and those laps and the number of competitors — if you actually crunched the numbers — I'm sure it wouldn't actually come out as dangerous as it sounds. That's not to say it's not dangerous.

Christine Cowley with her brother Paul as children. Paul died in 2004 at the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy race. (Submitted by Christine Cowley)

Two people have died already this week.

But nobody made them.

Dan Kneen, who died earlier ... this week his father and his brother — his brother who was a racer — have said, "You know, it's what he would have wanted. It's what we want to do as family."

His brother went out and did a lap wearing his spare helmet and got a standing ovation around the course from people.

They do it because they love it. They do it because they want to. They do it because it's the ultimate test as a racer. The course is that spectacular. It's something I truly support and I don't think it should ever be banned as long as riders want to do it.

Written by Sarah Jackson. Interview produced by Imogen Birchard.