There are many shows out there about the racing world, from Netflix’s Drive to Survive to CMT’s Racing Wives. While these shows give viewers a glimpse into the lives of racers, they don’t show you the stories behind the greats. There are few true greats in the world, and they often go before their time. One of those is Mike “The Bike” Hailwood, considered the greatest motorcyclist that ever lived.
While a movie hasn’t been made about him — yet — a documentary was filmed back in 2014, sharing a bit of his life with those outside the motorsports world. He tragically died along with his daughter Michelle at just 40 years old when a truck turned suddenly in front of his car. He is survived by his wife, Pauline, and his son, David. Here’s a look at his life.
The great Mike “The Bike” Hailwood
As a record-setting motorcycle racer, with nine Grand Prix Motor Cycling championships under his belt along with over a dozen Isle of Man races, Hailwood earned his name. He was held in high esteem by the sport he loved and chose to live with a here today, gone tomorrow attitude that existed in the sport in the ’50s and ’60s.
His wife would admit that he was “a little bit wild,” and others would say he was “a party animal.” He would also take several years off from motorcycle racing to race cars with Formula One, where he would also win races, including finishing first once at Le Mans.
He was well-known within the racing circuit, if not outside of it. Pallbearers at his funeral included James Hunt, John Surtees, and Giacomo Agostini – friends and fellow racers.
Winning the Isle of Man races
One of Hailwood’s greatest achievements was winning an incredible number of Isle of Man races. After all, it’s considered the deadliest race track of all time.
His first go of it was as an 18-year-old in 1958. At that time, he won a record 12 Isle of Man races. In 1967, Hailwood would retire from racing bikes at the peak of his career. But he wouldn’t stop racing altogether, and it wouldn’t be his last go around the Isle of Man track. His last would be the race in 1979, a year after his big comeback race in 1978.
More than a great motorcyclist
Between his retirement from bike racing and his comeback race, Hailwood raced for Formula One, taking on 50 Grand Prix rounds. Here, he would walk away with two wins.
He was always Mike “The Bike” Hailwood, though, and he never felt completely comfortable as the lowly bike rider in the big boys club. But he was good at certain aspects, like being more comfortable than some drivers with the mechanics of it all.
But it was one moment in Formula One that helped reveal the man beneath his popular playboy exterior. In the 1973 South African Grand Prix, he would become known by his selfless and unthinking heroism.
On the second lap, Hailwood collided with driver Clay Regazzoni. He would rush to an unconscious Regazzoni’s aide, working to get him out of his fiery car, only to catch on fire himself.
After having the flames put out by a fire extinguisher, Hailwood went back again to try again. This time, he succeeded, and ultimately saved Regazzoni’s life.
While he didn’t win the race due to stopping to render aid, the winner, Jackie Stewart, said, “That’s the symbol of a brave man, of a great man. That’s typical of Mike Hailwood.”
A comeback for the ages
Despite all his achievements, Mike “The Bike” Hailwood wanted one last go at the Isle of Man TT. After more than a decade away from the sport, he would enter the race a bit out of touch with the sport and new developments that took place since he last raced.
He was also a bit unfit, being pot-bellied and older. No one thought he could do it, but he climbed aboard his Ducati bike, ready to take back his crown. When he did, it solidified him as one of the biggest comeback stories in racing history.
Will there be a movie soon?
The honor of being able to tell one of the greatest comeback stories in racing goes to Eric Bana and Robert Connolly. They’ve signed on to make a movie about Mike “The Bike” Hailwood.
Bana is said to be writing the script and will co-direct with Connolly. He’ll also be playing the part of Hailwood. According to Deadline, the family of Hailwood is “absolutely thrilled that Eric Bana and Robert Connolly have taken Mike’s story to adapt into a feature film about his historic ‘comeback’ race win.”
They note that Bana is especially right for the part as “an actor with an immense passion and knowledge of motorsports, Mike’s career, and a rider himself.”