On January 22, it will be 50 years since the road crash which claimed the life of Britain’s first World Champion racing driver, Mike Hawthorn, ironically after he had retired from competition.
In the past few months, the half-centenary of his title, Hawthorn the champion has been much discussed.Here we would like to remember Hawthorn the man, with a couple of photographs and recollections from someone who knew him well.
Nick Syrett worked at different times for the RAC and the GPDA, but when these pictures were taken he was Secretary of the BRSCC and Clerk of the Course at Brands Hatch. He was also a close friend of Hawthorn and has these photos on his wall.
“The bigger picture (above) is at the 1958 Boxing Day meeting at Brands Hatch, and a very unpleasant day it was. Those meetings didn’t half mess up your Christmas, having to get up at 4.30 in order to be there at first light.”
Hawthorn had already announced his retirement by this time, so he was simply there as an enthusiast. Syrett, pictured with Mike, was the Secretary of the Meeting. “I rang Mike the day before,” says Syrett, “and asked him to come down and present some garlands and awards, and he did, just for the jolly. It was the last race meeting he attended. I can’t remember what he’s saying in the picture, but I’m pretty sure he’s trying to get me to do something I don’t want to, like run the next race backwards!” Mike was known to like a joke, but Syrett thinks some of the tales are dubious. “Some of them sound cruel, but I don’t believe them. That wasn’t him.”
The second photograph, topically enough (see p113), was taken at the BRDC awards ceremony late in 1958, in the Oak Room of the Park Lane hotel.
“Mike has just been awarded a BRDC Gold Star for his World Championship,” says Syrett, “and Stirling is collecting one for his performance throughout 1958. Mike claimed not to have much time for Stirling – he never forgave him for driving for the Germans. You can see his cheery way of making his point!”
Mike Hawthorn was never one for convention, and these shots say it all: irreverent, enthusiastic, always smiling.