It took a crash to keep five year old Jimmy Vanderhaar off a motorcycle for 15 years, but once he got back on, he was obsessed with the need for speed – in a big way.
Vanderharr is putting his ducks in a row in preparation for his third trip to the Isle of Man TT, and it’s a place where riders take on one of the fastest – and most dangerous – road courses in the world. The Tourist Trophy is run on a snaking road course on the tiny, picturesque British island as a time-trial format race. The four days of racing begin their two-week run on May 26, and Vanderharr will be among the mad dogs willing to test their limits – and the limit of their machines – to the ragged edge of sanity.
So how did a guy from the middle of America find himself racing at stunning speed in a foreign land for the first time?
“If I had watched it in person before I rode, I might never have done it,” he said. “I sat and watched one day after testing, and they’d come down and wheelie over this little bump and then wobble, then disappear between these houses, and I started shaking, saying, ‘I couldn’t do that.’ And everybody around me looked at me and said, ‘Well, you’re on a 1,000 (cc bike). You’re going faster than that. You are doing it.’”
His preparation for the event was a little more pedestrian.
“I’d go to track days and pay $100 to ride around the track, did some driving schools,” Vanderhaar said. “And I did like most motorcycle guys — I used to ride around the backroads a lot, riding really stupid, way too fast, dumb things, not wearing full leather, just in a jacket and helmet, and I crashed twice on the street and after that said I can’t do this anymore, got rid of the street bike…”
And he studied the course in his living room. To steel himself and prepare for a race on a track thousands of miles away, Vanderhaar watched video and found an Isle of Man video game for the Sony Playstation which, it so happens, includes an version of the TT course.
As crazy as it might sound, Vanderhaar says the race is more of a mental hurdle to overcome than a physical battle. He says the course requires riders to keep the throttle screwed on in sixth gear for several miles, and says the focus required to stay on it that hard pushes the mind to the limit.
“Mentally it’s very demanding because of the speed involved,” Vanderhaar said. “When you get finished, it’s not that you’re physically tired, you just want to take a nap. You’re mentally fried.”
The Isle of Man is a hellaciously dangerous test. Last year alone two racers met their untimely end, and since the race was first run in 19o7, 232 ridden their way into the Wild Blue Yonder. That’s sobering stuff, indeed.
If you want to help out with financing what is a hugely expensive undertaking, check out Vanderhaar’s site and follow his progress during the race at his website, www.jimmyvracing.com.