MOTORCYCLE HERO: MIKE HAILWOOD
"MIKE THE BIKE"
Ask race fans who their all-time favourite rider is and you'll receive a vast range of responses. Our Motorcycle Heroes series covers many great riders, some lesser known, but all of whom have made their mark in racing in some way. When it comes to "Mike The Bike" Hailwood, however, few could deny his right to the title. He is one of, if not the, greatest racer of all time. Here is his story.
Stanley Michael Bailey Hailwood was born in Oxfordshire on 2nd April 1940. He had a wealthy upbringing and was introduced to motorcycles from a young age. His father had been a racer himself before the war and ran a successful motorcycle dealership.
He learned to ride on a minibike in a field near his home and was a race spectator from the age of ten. He first participated in a race at the age of 17 at Oulton Park. By the following year, he had won ACU stars in 125cc, 250cc and 350cc classes, and was awarded the Pinhard Prize – a yearly award given to a rider under the age of 21 who has had a meritorious achievement.
By 1961, aged 21, Hailwood was riding for Honda (a very new team at the time). He was a record-breaker from the start, becoming the first man in history to win three TT races in one week (in the 125cc, 250cc and 500cc categories). He also won the first of his nine Grand Prix world championships that year, in the 250cc category.
In 1962, he signed with MV Agusta and won the first of his four consecutive 500cc world championships. Another feat which he was the first to achieve. He also got his fourth TT win, again with MV Agusta, in the 350cc Junior TT.
Between 1963 and 1967, he won a further eight TTs, two in the 250cc Lightweight, one more in the 350cc Lightweight, and five in the 500cc Senior TT. He won the last of his 500cc wins in a dramatic race against Giacomo Agostini, setting a lap record of 108.77mph, which remained unbeaten for the next eight years. To date, he stands the fifth most successful TT racer ever, in terms of overall race wins.
In true record-breaking style, Hailwood beat Bob McIntyre's 1957 one-hour speed record at the Monza circuit in 1964, beating his 141mph with an average 144.8mph.
Hailwood went back to Honda in 1966, going on to win the last four of his Grand Prix world championships, two in the 350cc category and two in the 250cc. Such was his popularity that, when Honda pulled out of the championship in 1968, Hailwood was paid £50,000 not to sign with another team, hoping for him to remain loyal to Honda. For the next few years, he would ride at selected non-world championship events.
Like a few other great riders, Hailwood also pursued a career in car racing. While he never achieved a win between his active years (1963-1974) in Formula One, he achieved respectable results.
Coming from a well-off family and being the world's highest paid rider, Hailwood was accustomed to a playboy lifestyle. He was once quoted as saying “As far as marriage goes – that's strictly for the birds”. Despite this, he married his wife Pauline, with whom he already had two children, in 1975.
In 1978, at the age of 38, Hailwood made his comeback in the racing scene by entering the Isle of Man Formula One TT. It had been eleven years since Hailwood had taken part in motorcycling events on the Isle of Man. Seven since riding at an international level.
He rode an 864cc Ducati that developed 87 bhp - much less than the factory Honda ridden by Phil Read who was favourite to win the race. Although he was described as “unfit and out of touch with the sport's development”, raced with a painful foot injury and began racing to an incredulous audience, Hailwood proved to everyone that he was still a contender by winning. He was quoted as saying “I was pretty lucky to get away with it on my comeback... I could so easily have been killed or seriously injured.”
Hailwood's amazing win resulted in Ducati producing a series of 900 SS road bikes. They were road-legal replicas of the winning Ducati, but only bore the resemblance of the model, not the parts.
To add to this amazing feat, Hailwood later raced an RG500, smashing the lap record and proving his comeback was remarkable in more ways than one.
After retiring from racing, Hailwood partnered with another former racer, Rodney Gould. Together they established a Birmingham retail motorcycle dealership called “Hailwood and Gould”.
March 21st, 1981 was a regular day for Hailwood and his family. His son David, daughter Michelle and himself were picking up some fish and chips for dinner, returning on the A435 Alcester Road through Warwickshire. Their car collided with a truck that was doing an illegal U-turn on a dual carriageway. Michelle, who was only 9 years old at the time, died instantly. Hailwood passed away in hospital two days later. His son David survived the ordeal with minor injuries.
Mike Hailwood was buried alongside his daughter in the Churchyard of St Mary Magdalene in the Warwickshire village of Tanworth-in-Arden. The pallbearers at his funeral included Giacomo Agostini, Geoff Duke, Luigi Taveri, James Hunt and John Surtees.
From the beginning, Hailwood showed an immense passion for riding. He proved himself, even when people believed he'd lost his touch. It is heartbreaking to have lost him so young, but his tombstone epitaph reads true: “Too good in life to be forgotten in death”.
Mike Hailwood Victories:
Grand Prix motorcycle racing Championships: 9 (250cc - 1961, 1966, 1967; 350cc - 1966, 1967; 500cc - 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965)
Grand Prix motorcycle racing wins: 76
Isle of Man TT wins: 14
Formula One World Championship wins: 0
24 Hours of Le Mans wins: 0
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Others in the Motorcycle Heroes series:
18/05/18 - Well mike hailwood is my favourite motorcycle racer
18/05/18 - He was the greatest, no messing.
19/05/18 - Saw his come back at IOM remember Murdoch Fulton “the best”
19/05/18 - Is there really any competition?
19/05/18 - Mike the bike, was IMHO the best but in terms of riders I’ve seen Fast Freddie Spencer took some beating.
19/05/18 - The best ever saw him at tt
19/05/18 - Greatest road racer of all time
19/05/18 - The true goat smb hailwood
20/05/18 - He was the best of the best
20/05/18 - Hail wood for natural ability, Bazza for bringing biking to the masses (only good on a good bike) on the track Eddie lawson back to back world championship with different manufacturers. On the roads Hutchy 5 wins in a week and total commitment on the roads. There are so many more
20/05/18 - SMBH....no contest!!
20/05/18 - The proper goat. Smb hailwood
20/05/18 - Mike Hailwood ￼😎
20/05/18 - Hailwood could ride & win in any class 125 to 500
21/05/18 - Mike the Bike just has to be the best. Give him anything vaguely competitive and he could ride it and even win. No moaning about this or that not being quite right.
21/05/18 - Mike Hailwood my dad said he was the best road racer he had seen back in the day
21/05/18 - Mike the bike . Humble , fun and bloody fast .
21/05/18 - No contest SMB
22/05/18 - The b*ll*cks
19/06/18 - I always wanted to be like Nicky Hayden, he was such a nice guy taken out by a dozy car driver, we all know someone that has happened to if you ride for long enough, unfortunately!
01/07/19 - I've been watching motorcycle road racing since 1963, the 1967 Senior TT is still the best race I have ever seen. Even if Ago's chain hadn't broken, Mike would still have won. He was the absolute best.
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