Behind the scenes at the TT

Published: 04 May 2016

‘Thirty years ago women were only allowed to do admin and wash the dishes’

n just three weeks Lizzie Kinvig will become the TT’s first-ever female Deputy Clerk of the Course. She’s making history…

John McGuinness, Michael Dunlop and Ian Hutchinson may have their sights firmly set on breaking records at TT 2016 but for one woman involved in the race organisation a little piece of history has already been made. Lizzie Kinvig has been appointed the Deputy Clerk of the Course for this year’s races, the first woman to ever hold such a lofty office in the TT’s trackside management.

It has been a long and dedicated journey for the Manx woman, who started her apprenticeship in 2004 alongside her mum, Ann, helping out with rider sign-on and recording race retirements in the Manx Grand Prix race office.

“I was asked to move upstairs into the Control Tower in 2009 where I became one of the race controllers,” Lizzie recalls.

The 37.73-mile Mountain Course is divided into three sections for admin purposes and Lizzie’s first job was looking after the central section from Cronk y Voddy to Ramsey at the TT and Manx GP. The skills she displayed working under pressure were soon recognised by the powers that be.

“Three years ago I was asked to step up to be Deputy Clerk of the Course for the Manx Grand Prix and Classic TT races and last year I was offered the Deputy role for the TT,” she says. “I am absolutely delighted.”

Lizzie has worked as an unpaid volunteer, building up the knowledge necessary for her new role.

“It has been 12 years of hard work and I have paid for it all out of my own pocket, taking time off work to get the experience I needed,” she explains.

Alongside the duties she has performed on the world’s most famous road race course, Lizzie has also worked at Jurby, Aintree, the North West 200 and Aberdare Park. Last weekend she was also acting as Deputy Clerk of the Course at the Cookstown 100 in Ireland.

“I struggle with racing in Ireland,” she smiles. “The ACU (which has oversight of the TT race organisation) is so red tape but there isn’t enough red tape in Ireland. I struggle with people walking on the course between races because we don’t have that at the TT so I have to leave my ACU hat at home and put on a different hat when I go to events like Cookstown.”

Has she experienced any discrimination because of her sex?

“No I haven’t,” Lizzie says emphatically. “I think being a woman has worked out better sometimes because if there is a bit of friction a woman can often diffuse the situation.”

But Lizzie agrees that things were very different indeed in the not too distant past.

“Thirty years ago women were only allowed to do the admin and wash the dishes,” she says.

“There were pink jobs and blue jobs; pink for girls and blue for boys, and racing was very male orientated probably up until 12 to 15 years ago.

“My day job is about dealing with change and I think racing was stuck in the Dark Ages for quite a bit. It didn’t move with the times and then Paul Phillips came along and gave it the shove it needed.”

Eddie Nelson was the TT Clerk of the Course when Lizzie began working in the race office and she says he was a key encourager.

“Eddie told me I had the capability to become the Clerk of the Course and it is vital to get that kind of encouragement from people,” she recalls.

“People like John McGuinness and Michael Rutter have always been very interested in what I am doing too. John told me that I am there to implement the rules and follow the regulations. ‘As long as you listen to the riders you will be alright,’ he said. I have always been conscious of listening to the riders because I have never raced myself.”

Does she fancy taking the step to become Clerk of the Course for the TT some day? “Who knows what the future holds, but it is an ambition,” she smiles.

“Gary [Thompson] is doing fantastically well and I am not after his job but thankfully I’ve got age on my side.”

 

My TT race week

‘Whether it’s an accident or a duck on the road, it’s all recorded’

Lizzie reveals the secrets of the control room in the heat of battle

Lizzie will work as part of a team under the management of Clerk of the Course, Gary Thompson, at this year’s Isle of Man TT races.

“I will be Gary’s number two this year but on the shop floor I will still be doing many of the things I have done before,” she explains. “I will help out with rider sign-on and be about the office. Then I will go up into the tower a couple of hours before practice or racing begins. Our radios will start with the opening of parc ferme and scrutineering and the queries will start coming in.

“There is a fantastic team and everything is logged from an hour or an hour and a half before the roads shut until they are fully opened again. Whether it’s a road accident or a duck on the road, everything is recorded.”

Communication is at the heart of everything that Lizzie does.

“The travelling marshals and course cars are all on radios and there is the lead despatch in the control tower who listens to all the messages and looks after all of the radio systems,” she explains. “He can talk to the Airmed helicopters, the police, the fire brigade, the ambulance service – everyone.”

Course knowledge is another vital part of her role but, even though Lizzie is a Manx girl born and bred and feels she knows every nook and cranny of the TT circuit, she admits that she can still be caught out.

“A couple of years ago there was an accident at Ballig Cottage,” she recalls. “We all thought that must be at Ballig Bridge at the start of the Glen Helen section but it isn’t, it’s a couple of miles further on out along Cronk y Voddy.”

Should there be a serious incident, Lizzie could find herself making some very big decisions.

“Gary would only leave the room under exceptional circumstances but if he did I would take over and I might have to put out a red flag.” she says.

Does she find the thought of taking on that kind of responsibility daunting?

“No, I just love it all.” she smiles.

“I never get a chance to watch any of the television coverage of the TT during the fortnight because it is so busy but I record it all and when I sit down a few weeks later and watch it I think, ‘Wow, I am actually part of making a lot of that happen’.”

Words: Stephen Davison Photos: Pacemaker Press International