Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler: Carlo Carluccio
I recently wrote an On This Day article celebrating the life of Mike Hailwood. It was a brief account of his incredible sporting life and mention was made of a woman that knew Hailwood at the peak of his career – Elizabeth McCarthy.
Following the article, TheJudge13 received an email from Elizabeth thanking its publication and surprise at the mention of her name. The communication also explained briefly the reasons behind her decision not to marry him and she included the full history of their encounter. Further correspondence between Elizabeth and myself explained how the story came to be written.
The renowned author and journalist – Christopher Hilton – wrote over 70 books, the majority biographies about Formula One drivers. Possibly his most famous: “Ayrton Senna – The Hard Edge of Genius” – was the first biography of the legendary Brazilian and in 1995 he published a book about another legend – Mike Hailwood, “A Man Called Mike: The Inspiring Story of a Shy Superstar”.
After it’s publication, Elizabeth contacted Hilton and in her own words:
“The way my story came to be written was that I contacted Christopher Hilton to ask if he had been asked to leave out the prediction of Mike’s death. I was surprised when he said that he hadn’t heard about it.
As a good journalist, he asked me some rather probing questions that only someone who knew Mike and Stan could answer. Then he asked me if I would write down everything that I could remember for inclusion in a future edition of his book. As you might imagine, I left out a lot, but over the course of a couple of years a narrative began to take shape. I sent it to friends of Mike’s and asked for their comments.
When the second edition of Christopher’s book didn’t come to pass, several people suggested that it was worth publishing. I’ve given it freely. I hope that reading my story gives people a fuller portrait of Mike than they get from the dry statistics of his career. I also hope that it might inspire people to record their own memories and save their photos from that era of racing.”
Elizabeth contacted me yesterday to correct an assumption I had made in regards the writer of this article, I apologise for having credited the author incorrectly.
“Christopher Hilton asked me to write down my memoirs, or at least those that I felt comfortable publishing. He told me to write them down in a conversational style as if I were telling him the story in person. His plan was that he would then work with what I had written and include some of it in a second edition of his book which was to be part of a three part set.
As promised, I sent him my draft. When the planned second edition of his book didn’t materialize I was encouraged by several fans of Mike’s that my story was still worth sharing with others on its own.
I will be forever grateful to Christopher for encouraging me to write down my memories, but what I sent to you is entirely my writing, not Christopher’s.”
The feature is Elizabeth’s story and with her kind permission we are publishing her story. The 3rd June 1978 proved to be one of the most famous Isle of Man TT races ever witnessed. Record crowds were drawn to the Island following the announcement that legendary Mike Hailwood was returning to bike racing after an 11 year retirement.
Today’s feature is the final installment of her story.
My Memories of Mike Hailwood
By Elizabeth McCarthy
Stan took a mischievous delight in telling me this story. When Mike was begging to be allowed to leave school he asked Stan to get him a job at the Triumph factory. When Mike turned up on his first day he was expecting to be something exciting like a test rider. Instead he was given one of the dirtiest jobs on the factory floor, swabbing out the grease pits around the machinery. That was typical of Stan’s determination to keep Mike down to earth.
But, he also had Mike driven to his first race in his Bentley – hardly a spartan beginning. You can imagine the looks on the faces of the other bike racers when they saw a skinny teenager in shiny new leathers, emerge from his father’s Bentley. But, once on the track Mike had to do it all himself, and he did. In the process he won the respect of his fellow racers, and most important to Mike – he won their friendship.
When Mike began racing, Stan financed his first bike and a used van to transport it. He insisted that Mike pay him back from his winnings and then become self-financing. At least that’s the story Stan told me.
I suspect that those terms were not always strictly adhered to and more loans might have been advanced to buy a faster bike, but, I am also sure those loans were paid back. That agreement showed Stan’s desire to keep Mike from being pampered or worse in his mind – a snob.
A fascinating thing happened to that shy, skinny, insecure teenager. Mike, who had felt so out of place in an elite school, felt that he had really found his home in bike racing. Mike’s unassuming, fun-loving personality won him numerous friends and fans. He delighted in playing elaborate practical jokes. He loved the camaraderie and down to earth atmosphere of bike racing. Mike had no patience for snobs or people who took themselves seriously.
Stan had introduced me to a number of his friends as Mike’s girlfriend and then as his future daughter-in-law. I tried to correct him gently. He even brought up the subject of grandchildren. He thought that Mike and I were going to be married when Mike arrived.
I had to explain to him that it wasn’t going to happen. Stan was confused by that. He said something like “I know you two love each other. Mike has been talking about changing his life and now you are here. Why did you come if not to marry him?”
I felt I had no choice but to tell Stan the whole story of my near-death experience and what I felt I had to do with my life. I couldn’t tell him about the prediction of Mike’s death. That was Mike’s secret to tell or not to tell.
From the way our conversations went, I am sure that Stan knew nothing about any prediction. We talked about the possibility of Mike doing something other than racing. Stan felt strongly that he needed to give cars another chance for a few years. At that point, he said he just couldn’t see Mike doing anything else. We talked a lot about my work and how satisfying it was.
Stan had an interest in economic development and some very good ideas on the subject. Somehow he just couldn’t see Mike doing anything remotely like that and cutting back on his racing. Stan said that once racing is in your blood it is like a drug, you can’t give it up. He was keen on the idea of my doing some kind of volunteer charity work and still being with Mike. I told Stan that I had thought of that but it just didn’t seem to be what I was supposed to do.
Stan wanted my mother to fly down to join us.
In the end I lost my courage. I knew that I didn’t have the willpower to say no to Mike a second time. It had taken all my strength not to go back to London with him before. I knew that if I looked into his eyes once more or felt his arms around me again, my resolve would melt.
I told Mike on the phone that my mother was ill and that I had to cut short my vacation.
We never saw each other again.
We talked on the phone a few times a year. By this time Mike seemed to have made his decision to stay in his old lifestyle and was racing with John Surtees.
Mike felt that John, as a former motorcycle world champion himself was the best partner he could hope for to make the transition to cars. It was an opportunity that was too good to pass by. He said that if it didn’t go well he would give up racing as a career – maybe just doing occasional club racing – but turning his life in a different direction. Mike won the European F2 championship with the Matchbox Surtees team and it seemed that his choice was made.
Unfortunately Mike never achieved the level of success on four wheels that he had on two wheels. Bike racing always pulled him back, it was his first love. From what he told me, I would say that it was always the warmth and camaraderie that drew him back to bikes. He had a few friends in car racing, but, nothing like the extended family that he had in bike racing.
Mike felt that he was an outsider in F1. While racing for Surtees, Mike rescued Clay Regazzoni who was unconscious and trapped in his blazing car during the South African Grand Prix. For that rescue Mike was awarded the George Medal which is Britain’s highest award for civilian valor. You would think that would have made him more accepted in the F1 fraternity.
Hailwood rescuing Regazzoni
A couple of years ago a friend gave me a copy of the documentary, The Quick And The Dead which was filmed in 1974. In it Mike says that he is lonely in F1. He says that the drivers don’t even sit at the same table in their hotel. Mike says that he has more in common with the mechanics, but they don’t understand why a driver would want to spend time with them. So he remained very much the outsider.
Mike was famously un-technical. His attitude was to trust his mechanics to do their job. It was his job to ride. But, in car racing the drivers are expected to give technical feedback to the mechanics and engineers. This was very frustrating for Mike. It required learning a different language and a technical one at that. This was compounded by problems with the cars that led to numerous breakdowns. Mike began carrying paperback books to read while he waited to be towed back to the pits.
Mike left Surtees and moved on to McLaren and was beginning to have some success. After his crash at Nurburgring his close friendships with McLaren racing manager, Phil Kerr and fellow driver, Denis Hulme were among the reasons that he decided to move to New Zealand.
Mike’s rescue of Clay Regazzoni and his triumphant return to the Isle of Man in 1978 were events in motorsport history. But, for me they were part of the story of the man I loved and still love.
I realize that my story may have left the impression that I was somehow opposed to Mike’s racing – far from it. I would have supported him fully in anything that he found fulfilling.
I have a very old-fashioned attitude towards marriage in that I couldn’t imagine staying in a career that was as demanding as mine, if I were married.
That was the crux of the problem, because after my near-death experience (NDE) I felt that I had to stay in my career until I had done the things that I was shown.
My sense was that it would take 10 years – or 8 more years from the time when Mike and I met.
To be the kind of wife that I wanted to be, I would have had to leave my job and devote myself completely to my life with Mike. I was torn because I could not imagine a better life that being married to Mike, but, I also felt committed to the course I had just embarked on. If I hadn’t had the NDE, I would have been with Mike without a moment’s hesitation – but then without the experience of dying and coming back I wouldn’t have been the person he loved. Those are the eternal mysteries of life, love and destiny.
I probably made the biggest mistake of my life by not going back to London with Mike.
There were times when my work inevitably drew me into political conflicts and some danger. When I felt most threatened I drew on Mike’s tremendous courage. I remembered what he said about not dying on the racetrack because it would be a truck that would kill him. I knew that as long as I hadn’t done all the things that I was shown myself doing I wasn’t going to be killed and so I kept going.
Mike genuinely wanted to do humanitarian work of some kind. His life took a different course, but without him I couldn’t have done what I did. If there is any credit due for anything that I accomplished it belongs to Mike as well, because without his love I could not have persevered.
Our last conversation was in 1975.
He was teasing me saying something like “Are you still trying to save the world?” I joked back with something like “I am disappointed that you haven’t noticed how lovely everything is since I’ve been on the job”. We both laughed.
Then he said something about saving a broken down racing driver. I said I didn’t know any broken down ones.
Then he said,” Oh, yes, you do. I mashed my foot last year in Germany and that put paid to my racing”.
I asked him if it was at Nurburgring and he said it was. I said “I’ve never liked that place”.
Then he said – quite correctly – “but you’ve never been there”.
I told him that you don’t have to go somewhere to feel the energy of the place – very sinister – full of Black Forest trolls and such.
Of course Nurburgring is a great circuit, but I always had a bad feeling about it. Perhaps it was a premonition that something would happen there to someone I loved.
“By the way”, I told him, “I wish you’d be more original and not copy me. I had my right foot smashed by a Manx Norton last year”.
He laughed and said, “Don’t you mean on a Manx?” “What a sight – you on a Manx!”
I laughed and told him that I had just moved and was cleaning out the garage when I unbalanced a rickety shelf. The cylinder head of a Manx Norton that had been left by the previous owner rolled off the shelf and onto my foot. It dislocated a couple of bones and it hurt like blazes for weeks.
I said “it just goes to show that if you are fated to have a motorcycle accident you will have one – even if you are just peacefully cleaning out your garage – which confirms my belief that housework is dangerous”.
I could always make him laugh and it was good to hear him laughing again. It was an odd coincidence that we had both smashed our right feet within a week or so of each other. It was a lovely conversation between old friends.
After that conversation I kept in touch with him by sending cards for his birthday and at other times. I never put my new address on the envelopes. I didn’t want a reply. I just wanted him to know that I loved him and was thinking of him.
Late 1980 and early 1981 was a very dark time. My mother’s cancer had returned. I went back to Toronto for several months. Being back home I felt more connected to my old life and looked up a lot of old friends. More and more my thoughts turned to memories of Mike. He was always in my heart.
I even got his telephone number and put it by my phone. I started to call him several times but never did.
Sometime around the middle of March I sent him a birthday card.
I had lost track of which birthday this would be. In the card I wrote a note saying that I was thinking of coming to London for the trip that I should have made years ago. I was sure that he would understand what I meant. I wrote that I would call him on his birthday. (I had no idea that he was married and had two children.)
About 2 weeks later a friend of mine told me that she had found a fascinating place – a spiritualist church. She said they had regular services and then at the end the minister, or someone else, gives messages, predictions, etc. I was always curious about such things so we went that night.
At the end of the service the minister, who was a Scottish woman, began giving messages to people in the congregation.
Then she came to me and said, “There is a man standing behind you who wants to be recognized. Do you know anyone who has recently passed to spirit?”
“No,” I answered.
She said “he is disappointed that you do not remember him. He is nice looking and I think he is probably English – Does that help you?”
“No” I replied.
“He is holding a little girl in his arms who looks just like you – Now do you know who he is?”
“No, I am sorry I don’t.” I answered
Then she said, “He says he has three things he wants to tell you:
The first is, “It was so fast he didn’t feel a thing”.
The second is, “it was one of those damn lorries’ (hearing that, tears flooded my eyes)
The third thing is ‘he loves you and will never leave you.’
“Now do you know who he is?”
“Yes, now I know.” I was fighting back tears.
“He says he doesn’t want you to cry and he wanted to tell you himself. He didn’t want you to read about it.”
There was one more message that is too personal for me to repeat in this article.
And then he was gone.
The next day it was in the Toronto papers. His little girl, Michelle, had died at the scene. Mike had died two days later in the hospital. But, I believe that his soul was not in his body during those two days and so he didn’t suffer.
When I was able to collect myself, I called the man at Castrol to whom I had mailed all the cards and letters. I asked him to return the last card to me rather than give it to Pauline, Mike’s widow. He told me that Mike had picked it up two days before he was killed.
He told me. “I don’t know what you wrote but, whatever it was, Mike lit up like a Roman candle.”
If I had to choose one word sum up Mike – both on and off the track- it would be ‘grace’ in all of its meanings and permutations – from graceful to gracious.
As to the predictions that Mike was given in Durban so many years earlier –
1- It was “one of those damn lorries”.
2- He didn’t live past the age of 40. He died 10 days before his 41st birthday.
3- I don’t know if he was the last of the group to die. But the fact that the first 2 aspects of the prediction proved correct was enough for me.
I have tried to write an ending to our story. But there is no ending.
Since Mike’s death almost 30 years ago I have been blessed with some amazing evidence of his presence.
The first one happened shortly after Mike died. I was moving from one city to another. I left my house one morning to visit my mother in the hospital. She took a sudden turn for the worse and I stayed with her for 6 weeks – well past my moving day. I had to rely on the movers to do it all.
A month later I got a phone call from the property agent. She asked me if I had felt that the house was haunted. I told her I hadn’t and asked why she was asking me. She said that the new people heard music in the house and felt a very sad presence. She said they were thinking of calling in a psychic. I asked her to let me know what happened if they did.
A couple of weeks later she called to say that according to the psychic, the spirit of a man named Mike was in the house. This spirit said that I had left one morning and didn’t come back. Mike was playing his clarinet while he waited for me to come back home. He told the psychic that in life he used to play music to calm his nerves.
I regret that I have never heard Mike’s music. But, other people have heard it in every house I have lived in since then. Other things have also happened that have convinced me that Mike has kept his promises about staying with me and playing his clarinet for me.
I only wish that I could hear Mike’s music – just once
Stanley Michael Bailey Hailwood, MBE, GM (2 April 1940 – 23 March 1981)