Mike Hailwood is regarded by very many as the world’s greatest-ever motorcycle racer. He won nine world championships (including four successive 500 cc titles in 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1965), 76 grand prix races and 14 Isle of Man TT titles – at a time when the latter was probably the most demanding and important motorcycling race in the world. A major sporting figure of the 1960s, magic moments remained for the 1970s.
With nothing left to prove in the two-wheel sport, Hailwood turned in 1968 to motor-car racing with modest success. He earned the admiration of all in 1973 when, during the South African grand prix, he stopped his car and, wading into flames with his own driving suit ablaze, pulled a trapped Clay Regazzoni from a burning car. He was awarded the George Medal, Britain’s highest award for civilian bravery.
A crash in 1974 finished his own Formula One career. By 1978 he was living in New Zealand. Yet, he was persuaded to return to TT motorcycle racing after more than a decade away from motorcycle competition. Aged 38, surely he would not be able to compete at the highest level again? Riding a Ducati, he won the F1 category at the Isle of Man TT with thousands of fans flooding the track in exhilaration as he crossed the finishing line. The following year he won a 14th TT victory on a Suzuki in the prestigious 500cc Senior race. Murray Walker enthused: “I don’t think there’s ever been a more dramatic motor sporting occasion.”
Just two years later, Hailwood was tragically killed in a road accident. A statue now stands, with Hailwood in his racing overalls and hands on hips, close to the main entrance gates at Mallory Park. ‘Mike the Bike’ will always be remembered as one of the all-time greats of motorcycle racing.