Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Carlo Carluccio
– 1981: The legendary Mike the Bike
Elizabeth McCarthy met Mike Hailwood in 1967 when the 500cc championship tour reached the Canadian shores. He asked her to marry him but she was reluctant to marry someone in such a dangerous sport. Hailwood told her that he had been told by a fortune teller that he wouldn’t live past 40 and would be killed by a truck; “so you see – it won’t happen on a track.”
It would be difficult to believe that any egotistical sporting champion would accept the words of a psychic but Hailwood was not a typical sporting God. He was, in many ways, a sensitive and introspective man who deplored the limelight and snobbery in equal measures. As he himself said, “he didn’t know how to be anything else except Mike Hailwood.”
On a foggy night thirty three years ago – Hailwood was returning home with his children – Michelle and David – after having picked up a fish and chip supper for the family. On this day he succumbed to injuries he suffered after colliding with a lorry that was attempting to make an illegal u-turn through a central reservation. He was just ten days short of his forty-first birthday.
The legend of Mike the Bike began at Oulton Park in 1957. Following in the footsteps of John Surtees – he was crowned the 1961 250cc World Champion riding a Honda. MV Augusta signed Hailwood for 1962 and continued their remarkable domination of top level motor-bike racing with Hailwood winning the next four 500cc titles. By 1966 he was back with Honda and won both 250 and 350cc World titles in 1966-67.
Despite his phenomenal success, Hailwood is best remembered for his Isle of Man TT performances. His first successes came in 1961 having won three races at the Isle of Man TT in the 125cc, 250cc and 500cc categories. By 1967 he had won twelve events on the course but it is the 1967 Senior TT race that historians generally accept as the greatest ever. He beat his great rival Giacomo Agostini and set a lap record that would stand for the next 8 years.
Hailwood’s first foray into F1 mirrored Surtees career path once again, when he competed sporadically for Reg Parnell’s team from 1963 to 1965. His passion for the biking world kept him away from car-racing but when Honda withdrew from top level Grand Prix racing they paid Hailwood the equivalent of $1.3million to not race for any other team in 1968. This forced his career towards four wheeled competition as there was no factory rides to compete with MV Augusta.
In 1969, Hailwood teamed up with David Hobbs and drove their Ford GT40 to a third place finish in the Le Mans 24hour and he raced a Lola in F5000 throughout 1971. John Surtees signed him to his team and in his first Grand Prix – for over six and half year – Hailwood finished fourth. In itself a good result but he had been in contention throughout, the top four were covered by a mere two-tenths of a second and it was the best result for the Surtees TS9 all season.
Piloting the 1972 Surtees TS-10 he comfortably won the Formula Two championship, ahead of Depailler, Reutemann, Lauda and Scheckter but in Formula One his best result was second at Monza behind Fittipaldi.
1973 proved even worse in terms of results but Hailwood was recognised for his bravery when in the 1973 South African Grand Prix he went to pull Clay Regazzoni from his burning car after the two collided on the third lap of the race. Hailwood’s driving suit caught fire, but after being extinguished by a fire marshall he returned to help rescue Regazzoni, an act for which he was awarded the George Medal, the 2nd highest gallantry award that a British civilian can be awarded.
In the mid 70’s with Barry Sheene becoming the new biking hero in Britain, Hailwood’s accomplishments seemingly belonged to another time and as happens in any walk of life, comparisons began. Most cynics believed that he was only as successful as he was due to the “old bikes” and he couldn’t possibly ride a modern machine.
On June 3 1978, the biggest ever crowds turned up to watch the TT races. They had all come to see Mike Hailwood’s return to racing.
Ian Richards would stand on the podium next to Hailwood, “When I heard Mike was racing again after an 11-year break I knew he’d be fast, but after such a long gap a lot of riders didn’t expect him to be that fast. The game had moved on. I reckoned he’d take seventh or eighth place, not a win. But then in practice Mike passed me after Glen Helen and I followed him around Sarah’s Cottage. He was so smooth and fast. The effect Hailwood’s return had was huge. There was a buzz over the island, the crowds were the biggest I’d ever seen at the TT, and they’d all come to see Mike. He was a hero.”