Mike "The Bike" Hailwood - English motorcycle racing legend. 1940 - 1981
"I recall him racing a perfectly standard Manx Norton and blowing off the best in the game... He won by sheer skill and ability, and gave the crowd a terrific thrill..." - Reg Dearden
Typical of his later professional career, Mike made a quick start. The son of Stan Hailwood, a Birmingham motorcyle dealer, he was born in Great Milton on 2nd April, 1940.
The Quick Start
Growing up in a wealthy household, little was denied him, and by the age of seven he was riding a machine specially built for him. While he seemed not to be a great scholar, his sporting prowess gained him a good reputation at school. On the cricket pitch, football field and in the boxing ring, he excelled. Ever in trouble at school (Pangbourne Naval College) for failing to pay attention, his favoured pastime was to go out with friends and ride his James bike around a field at the back of the house.
He wasted no time in getting on the road, as well as on the racing circuit. He passed his driving test at age 16, and the following year, rode his first race. By the age of 18, he was a fully-fledged professional rider, finishing 12th in the 1958 TT Races Junior (from a field of 75), and 13th in the Senior, from a field of 72.
Around the Circuit
He continued to race on a variety of machines, and making excellent progress. His millionaire father was able to provide him with the bikes he needed, until in 1961 he became one of the top Honda works riders and advisors. In fact, when Honda produced their 250cc six-cylinder beast, Hailwood was tasked with taming it. He recommended a longer and stiffer frame to improve the awful handling, and a legend was born, linking both bike and man. From then until 1967, he won at least one world title every year, until Honda withdrew from racing. Deprived of his prime sponsor, and still under contract to Honda, he was unable to race any other manufacturer's bikes.
Following this disappointment, he turned to racing cars, like the great John Surtees. It was with John's help, and in his cars, that he became the European Formula 2 Champion in 1972 . He then graduated from Formula 2 and began Formula 1 racing , driving a McLaren during the 1973 season. Although he did well, cars were not his forte, and he suffered leg injuries during a crash at the Nurburgring in 1974. This effectively put an end to his motor racing career.
Disappointed once again, he retired to live in New Zealand, although boredom soon set in, and he determined that he would make a return to the Isle of Man famous mountain circuit. Desite his injury, he returned to the TT in 1978 to ride in four of the TT races, finishing in three of them and winning the Formula One race on a Ducati. Flushed with success, and delighted by the tremendous public support, he returned in TT 1979, winning the Senior TT, coming second in the Classic TT and fifth in the Formula One TT.
During his career, he rode a wide variety of machines, from lightweight 125cc bikes, up to the monster superbikes. He was best known for his time with Honda, but had ridden machines from Norton, Paton, NSU, Mondial, Ducati, AJS, EMC, Benelli, MV Agusta, Yamaha and Suzuki.
The Final Lap
After winning 14 TT trophies and 9 World Championship titles, he finally hung up his boots and retired from racing for good. He continued to work, producing booklets and films on motorcycle safety and maintenance.
He died on 23rd March, 1981, following a collision with a lorry in Warwickshire, whilst collecting takeaway food. Tragically, his daugher Michelle died in the same accident. There can be little doubt that Mike held a nation in sway. His modesty, as well as his determination, riding flair and race prowess, have guaranteed him a place in the annals of British motorcyle history.
The Hailwood Story Stan Hailwood