Obituary: Mike Hailwood, MBE, GM

Mike Hailwood motorbike rider and Formula One race driver

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When a racing man dies in action, in a race or while testing, it is sad. When a racing man dies in old age, having led a long and full life, it is also sad. In neither instance is it a shock, it is just part of life. A racing driver who dies in full action is part of the hard side of motor racing which we must all face up to; death in old age is as inevitable as night turning into day. But when a racing man dies neither in action nor in old age that is awfully hard for us to bear.

Stanley Michael Bailey Hailwood died as the result of a banal road accident on Monday March 23rd after doctors had spent two days fighting to save his life. Driving his family Rover saloon Mike crashed into a lorry not far from his home in Tanworth-in-Arden. The circumstances of the accident were completely unjustified.

Known affectionately all over the world as “Mike the Bike” Hailwood was World Champion more times than most people can remember, he won more races in the Isle of Man than most people can remember, and was quite simply the greatest racing motorcyclist that has ever lived, not just because of what he won but more importantly because of the way he won. There must be more true legends about Mike Hailwood and his motorcycle racing than all the rest put together. When he turned to car racing he did not excel in quite the same way, but equally he was no sluggard, but he upset some car people because he enjoyed life too much, and was not as “serious” or “dedicated” as they would have wished. This, of course, was complete nonsense, for you do not win races on the Isle of Man if you are not serious and dedicated, but that does not mean you have to be boring and gloomy. After a bad crash in a McLaren Formula One car at the Nurburgring, Mike gave up car racing and tried to “retire” to a dull life of normality, but it was not for him and he returned to have another go at motorcycle racing. After an 11-year gap he went back to the Isle of Man and won two more TT races, with rides that brought tears of emotion to the strongest men’s eyes, none more than his own.

Mike Hailwood in McLaren M23 Ford

Mike Hailwood in his McLaren M23 Ford

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Then he really retired and set up a motorcycle business in Birmingham with an old friend and sparring partner Rod Gould and at the age of 41 was enjoying life to the full, happily married with two growing children. That he should die as the result of a stupid road accident makes one wonder just who is in control of our destinies. Mike the Bike may be dead, but he will not be missed, for he will never go from our thoughts, wherever there is a racing motorcycle Mike will be there. For motorcycle and car racing enthusiasts Mike Hailwood will always be there. He was and always will be the greatest motorcycle racer of all time. You cannot destroy a personality like Mike Hailwood by simply killing him. — D.S.J.