Mike Hailwood was one of the best motorcycle racers in history and you can check for more info here if you’re curious as to how he gained that recognition and what world records he broke during his impressive career.
Why is Mike Hailwood famous?
Mike Hailwood was born Stanley Michael Bailey Hailwood on the second of April 1940 in Great Milton, Oxfordshire, England. His nickname, “Mike the Bike”, came from his natural ability to ride various types of bikes that had a wide range of engine capacities.
Near the end of his career, he also took part in Formula One races thus making him one of the very few people who managed to compete not only in motorcycle racing but also car racing at the Grand Prix high level.
Unfortunately, at only 40 years old, Mike passed away in a traffic accident in the English county of Warwickshire.
Mike’s early years
Undoubtedly, Mike was at least a bit influenced in his career by the fact that, prior to World War II, his father was also a racer. By the time Mike was a child, his father was running a motorcycle dealership that enjoyed success.
Mike learned to ride using a minibike as a child and after working for a brief period of time in the family business he left to work at Triumph motorcycles at his father’s suggestion. Mike was also with his dad when he saw a race car for the first time at age 10.
The Start of “Mike the Bike”
Mike took part in his first official race in April 1957 at only 17 years old. He only reached 11th place, but in a short time, he would become one of the best motorcycle racers of all time. The following year he already won the ACU Stars in three separate classes (125 cc, 250 cc and 350 cc), which earned him a “Pinhard Prize”.
The prize is given every year for those motorcyclists under the age of 21 who have achieved the most in the sport during the previous year.
Mike started racing for the Japanese company Honda in 1961. While this may sound impressive today, in actuality, at that time, Honda was a relatively small business that had only been operating since the late 1940s and only started manufacturing motorcycles in 1955.
The Isle of Man TT started in 1907 and is considered to be one of the most dangerous racing events in the world. That didn’t stop Mike from taking part in the event and becoming the first person ever to manage to win three races in just one week and in three different categories (the 125 cc, the 250 cc, and the 500 cc).
The same year Mike won the 1961 250 cc world championship. The following year he left Honda and signed with MV Agusta. He would go and establish a world record by becoming the first person to win four 500 cc World Championships back to back.
While preparing for the United States Grand Prix in 1964 Mike managed to set the one-hour speed record with 233.0 km/h (144.8 mph), breaking the record set by Bob McIntyre just seven years before. Naturally, he also won the race.
In 1965 Mike took part in certain UK events as part of the Tom Kirby Team. He won the Hutchinson race which took place at the Silverstone circuit and beat the Triumph Bonnevilles. The Hutchinson was the brand new product of the season which meant Mike’s win was imperative in placing the model as high as possible in the race.
The return to Honda
Although he achieved great success with MV Agusta, Mike went back to Honda, winning four international titles between 1966 – 1967 in both the 250 cc and the 350 cc category.
Mike continued to return to the Isle of Man TT and as 1967 rolled around he had already won the island mountain course 12 times. The 1967 Isle of Man Senior TT is now seen as one of the most iconic in the history of the races as Mike on his Honda RC181 rivaled another great, Giacomo Agostini, on his MV Agusta 500 Three.
To probably nobody’s surprise by now, Mike won. Furthermore, he also established a new lap record at 175.05 km/h (108.77 mph) which lasted until 1975.
Because he suffered several breakdowns during the 1967 season, Mike agreed to continue with Honda only if the machinery for the next season was going to meet his standards. In the meantime, he relocated to South Africa with former Grand Prix motorcycle rider Frank Perris, the two starting a construction business together.
Mike declared that even if Honda wouldn’t deliver a satisfactory machine, he would still not accept other offers and that he’d rather retire before his time which he planned on doing anyway after the 1968 season was over. Honda didn’t take part in the 1968 season after all, but still paid Mike 50,000 pounds to make sure he will not go for any other company.
By doing this, Honda also wanted to keep him as their rider when they were going to return to competing. Mike rode Hondas in 1968 and 1969 in various races that didn’t have World Championship status.
Change to race cars
In the meantime, Mike had already begun racing cars and since no other factory racing team was able to compete with MV Agusta, he focused on this aspect more. He managed to place third in the famous Le Mans 24-Hour race from 1969, being the co-driver of David Hobbs.
Mike took part in some motorcycle races during the 1970s, but he would often have problems with the machinery which was not up to par; meanwhile, his career in car racing was growing. Although he didn’t reach the same heights as in the previous domain, his results were still seen as being rather respectable.
The now car racer took part in 50 Formula One Grands Prix, even as early as 1963, in the British Grand Prix from July. He had two podium finishes in 1964 and totaled 29 championship points. Upon his return, he almost won at the 1971 Italian Grand Prix for Formula One, being separated by two-tenths of a second by the podium. He placed fourth.
Mike went on to win the European title of 1972s Formula Two. As mentioned above, he placed third with David Hobbs at the 1969 Le Mans with 368 points.
A notable incident happened at the 1973 South African Grand Prix where, after colliding with Clay Regazzoni, he pulled Clay out of his burning car. The suit Mike wore caught fire, yet, after he was extinguished, he quickly returned to help Clay. For this act, he received the George Medal which is the second-highest award that can be offered to a British civilian.
In 1974 Mike left Formula One due to serious injuries at the German Grand Prix, deciding to retire in New Zealand.
Guess Who’s Back?
In June of 1978, following an 11 years-long absence from competitive motorcycling, Mike returned to the Isle of Man TT Formula I race in what is considered one of the most iconic and surprising comebacks in the history of the sport. This was a new competition, introduced just a year before.
Very few people actually believed he could pull it off after such a long absence and because he was now in his late 30s, but they seem to have forgotten his literal drive and ambition. To their surprise, Mike won, placing first!
He returned the following year where he placed second with a time span between him and the winner of only two seconds. Following this, he retired, aged 39.
A Death Is Announced
Mike retired from the world of sports in late 1979 and started a Honda retail motorcycle dealership with another former racer, Rodney Gould. The business was operating in Birmingham.
On a Saturday, March 21st of 1981, Mike and his two children, Michelle and David were returning from food shopping when a truck which had taken an illegal turn collided with their car. Michelle, who was only nine, died on the spot. Mike and his son were taken to the hospital. The former racer would die two days later, while David managed to survive.
Mike had spoken before that a fortune teller from South Africa told him he would not live to be 40 and will die because of a truck.
An ex-lover of Mike confirmed this in her memoir saying that Mike had asked her hand in marriage and he told her the prediction in order to calm her down and convince her to accept his proposal as the woman was worried about his racing job which could have killed him.