This serialisation is taken from a 1966 magazine by Stan Hailwood about his son Mike…
I am continually being asked: ”Which was Mike’s finest race?” People are amazed when I tell them that his best rides were in races which he did not win and that they have all been in the Isle of Man.
No doubt I am expected to say the 1964 Senior TT when Mike was lying in bed with a bad dose of ‘flu and a temperature of 102. He went to the line having lost 10lbs and feeling very weak. I remember the time very well because we had to go before the RAC doctor for permission to race,
He was blunt to the point of rudeness but I admired him for it knowing in my heart that he was right.
He told Mike: ”If you want to ride I can’t stop you. You have thrown off the ‘flu but are horribly weak and in my opinion you would be mad to ride. And you Mr Hailwood are even more mad for allowing him.”
I pointed out that Mike was over 21, they were MVs machines not mine and there’s was nothing I could do, other than persuasion, to stop him. I knew I would be wasting my time but managed to make him promise to pull in if he felt dodgy.
On race day, he pushed off and as he passed the little gate halfway along the pits where I always stand gave me a big grin and put his tongue out which cheered me considerably. However, I have never had such a worrying two hours and was almost speechless with relief when he came in. At the end of the race looking absolutely knocked out.
And then there was that terrific ride in 1965 when he fell off in terrible weather, kicked the bike straight and jumped on again. The tension of his pit stop while the MV mechanics checked it over and the worry of that agonising last lap when one of the four throttles was stuck wide open. A stone had jammed in the carburettor and the throttle slide had to be taken completely out.
They were exciting races but I do not count these a long his finest rides. For instance the 250 TT of 1959 held over the old Clypse Course. It was terrific. Imagine a youth of 19 with only two years riding behind him riding on an eight year old privately owned Mondial against the two most brilliant 250 riders of the day, Carlo Ubbiali and Tarquinio Provini, dozens of race wins and world championships behind them, and the best machines the mighty MV factory could provide.
It was like David and two Goliaths. No one gave him a chance and yet to the amazement of everybody, including me, Mike was right behind them at the of the first lap. For the next three laps it was the same. The commentators were stuck for words. The spectators round the course and in the grandstand were on their toes with excitement.
I was trying, but not succeeding, to keep cool and praying that Mike would just stay there and follow them. Then on the fifth lap the commentator described how Mike had ridden round both Provini and Ubbiali and taken the lead. Past the grandstand they came with the old Mondial fifty yards ahead. The excitement was fantastic.
This went on for another lap and then… bang… Mike was missing. There was a groan from the crowd and then dead silence. It turned out the ignition had gone but what a ride. Mike came in, all smiles as usual, happy to have had such a wonderful dice even though he failed to finish.
Then there was 1962 when Mike had no 125 or 250 to ride and he badly wanted to race in those classes. Joe Ehrlich had offered Mike his 125cc EMC two-stroke earlier in the year and at the Spanish Grand Prix he rode magnificently, leading the race at record speed until the expansion chamber split.
The engine was terrific but the handling was terrible. Joe tried everything to get it right even to the extent of making a new frame but all to no avail. Mike told me he could hold the Hondas on the straights but lost yards on the corners. We did not think he stood much of a chance but had reckoned with his determination. The little EMC screamed through, splitting the hitherto unconquerable Hondas, but on the last lap having been driven to its limit the motor went pop.
For the 250 TT, Fron Purslow offered us a very ancient Benelli he had acquired. Now Fron was an old pal of ours and one of the first riders Mike had been up against, particularly at Scarborough. He was also a good mechanic and tuner but sometimes skipping the finer points of preparation. I took one look at the machine. It was Fron all over, bits of copper wire here and there, odd nuts and bolts, the battery hanging on - just.
I would have gambled it wouldn’t complete a lap without something dropping off and so sure that we wouldn’t be at the meeting that when asked by Derek Minter if I could run his signalling from my ‘phone I agreed. He won on the same Honda that Mike had won on the year before but ‘shock’ Mike was lying fourth on the first lap, and the second, but on the third came in with the fairing dangling, With the big race on Friday in mind I shouted “Pack it in” but Fron and Mike just ripped it off and away he went, no fairing, screen or numbers. It all ended, however, with one lap to go when the engine did pack in.
But the finest performance which, in my opinion, Mike ever put up will not appear in any history books. It was the 350cc TT of 1965. Let’s examine the circumstances of the race. The three cylinder MV was a new machine, practically untried. He had ridden it for a few laps at the West German GP until it packed up and he had to ride the old four-cylinder behind Giacomo Agostini who took the three to its first big win.
In the Isle of Man, Mike completed only two laps. The machine was handling like a camel and in the last practice session it was pouring down and impossible to make a fair test. The MV mechanics worked all night to make one good steerer from odd bits of the 500 four but the only test before the ‘weigh in’ was a brief trip up the road which told us nothing.
So to the race morning. Over breakfast we discussed possible race tactics but agreed it was a waste of time and the only thing was to go as fast possible and hope for the best. Jim Redman was favourite having won the previous two years and being world champion in that class. He had 30 seconds lead on the road before Mike took off, the MV looking sluggish.
Then the news started coming in from round the course, Mike was actually catching Redman. It seemed incredible, I’d have given my best shirt to have seen Mike throwing that hack MV round those corners. From a standing start he cracked his own record and pulled back 19 seconds on Redman to lead the race.
However, we were not surprised next lap when Mike came through giving the thumbs down signal and when he came in next lap with oil all over the place and the chain stretched beyond recognition wise knew it was all over. I was a proud father that day and didn’t care less that he had not won. He showed he could ride the tough TT course better than anyone on a machine that was far from perfect…
Part three of four will be published on Saturday.
About the author
Stan Hailwood was a self-made millionaire who made his fortune selling motorbikes. He was so successful earning commission as a salesman for Kings of Oxford he eventually ran the company and able to spend most of his later years in the Bahamas. He was affectionately known as ‘Stan the Wallet’ in Grand Prix paddocks all over Europe.
This tribute to his son Mike was written from his suite at the Montagu Beach Hotel in Nassau at the end of 1965 when the switch had just been been made from MV to Honda. It therefore doesn’t cover the latter part of the career of a rider who, to many people, remains the greatest of all time having, at the age of 21, won three TTs in a week and the 250cc world championship. And then went on to complete a tally of 14 TTs, 76 GPs and 9 world championships.
Nor his motor racing career where he became European F2 champion in a team owned by John Surtees, the only man to win world championships on two and four wheels; and successes in F1, F5000 and Le Mans. He was awarded the George Medal for rescuing Clay Regazzoni from his burning Ferrari in 1973 but a year later his motor racing career came to an end from leg injuries sustained in a crash while driving a Yardley Maclaren at Nurburgring.
Stan Hailwood was to die only months before seeing what many believe to be his son’s greatest achievement, his winning return to the Isle of Man in 1978. Nothing would have made him prouder.
These edited extracts are taken from the magazine book “MY SON MIKE - THE HAILWOOD STORY” the original content of which was written by Stan Hailwood, edited by Robin Miller and published in 1966.
This year’s Classic TT is a celebration of the greatest comeback of all time, forty years on, when the original Ducati will be ridden round the TT circuit by John McGuinness, and a new version the V2 Hailwood will be launched by David Hailwood assisted by his mother Pauline.
Full details of the event, the Hailwood collection and merchandise can be viewed and obtained via the official website mikethebike.com.