Despite a lack of academic achievements Mike Hailwood was a champion boxer and a very accomplished musician on several instruments. Even in his early days he displayed the will to win that made him such a talented competitor. He spent a short time in the family business before his father sent him to work at Triumph motorcycles near Coventry. His first race was at Oulton Park, Cheshire, on 22 April 1957. He finished eleventh in the 125 cc race, riding an Italian MV Augusta machine. With encouragement and financial backing from his father his career blossomed. He won his first race on 10 June 1957 at Blandford Camp, Dorset. He repeated that success many times during his first season and gained more experience racing in South Africa in the winter.
In 1958 Hailwood competed in his first tourist trophy (TT) race in the Isle of Man and finished third in the 250 cc event. At the end of an outstanding year he was British champion in the 125, 250, and 350 cc classes and had won seventy-four races. He was fourth in the world 250 cc championship and sixth in the 350. A year later Hailwood won the first of his seventy-six grand prix victories in the Ulster 125 cc race. In 1961 he captured the first of his nine world titles when he won the 250 cc championship on a Japanese Honda machine. The same year he made history at the TT races by becoming the first rider to win three TT races in one week. At the end of the season he joined the world-famous MV Augusta team and dominated the 500 cc world championship for the next four years. The combination of his ability and the superb Italian machinery proved unbeatable but typically Hailwood was bored at winning so easily. The large Japanese Honda factory had achieved great success in the smaller classes but had not won the blue riband, of the 500 cc class. Hailwood joined Honda in 1966 and won both the 250 and 350 cc world titles for the next two years. The unstable handling of the 500 Honda prevented him retaining his 500 crown.
When Honda quit grand prix racing in 1968 Hailwood switched to car racing. He had already tried to combine the two sports, without having much success on four wheels, although he scored one formula 1 point in 1964. He won the European formula 2 championship in 1972 but never repeated his motorcycle racing successes. He competed in fifty formula 1 grand prix races, and scored a second place in the 1972 Italian grand prix. He was nineteenth in the 1964 world championship, eighteenth in 1971, eighth in 1972, and tenth in 1974. His career came to a premature halt in the 1974 German grand prix at the Nurburgring. He crashed and broke his right leg in three places and could not race cars again. He then retired to New Zealand. In 1978 he made an exceptional comeback when at the age of thirty-eight he decided to return to the Isle of Man to compete in the TT races after an absence of eleven years. In front of record crowds he won the formula 1 race on the Italian Ducati machine. A year later he returned and won his fourteenth TT race, the senior, riding a 500 cc Suzuki. He then felt it was time to retire. He was appointed MBE in 1968 and was awarded the George Medal when he rescued Clay Regazzoni from a blazing car in 1973. Following his TT comeback he was also awarded the prestigious Segrave trophy (1979).[caption id="attachment_42" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Mike The Bike"][/caption]
Away from the track Hailwood was a modest, shy person with a great sense of fun. He hated fuss and unwanted attention but was hero-worshipped by thousands of fans throughout the world. On 11 June 1975 he married Pauline Barbara, daughter of Alfred Henry Nash; they had a daughter and a son. Hailwood died on 23 March 1981 in Birmingham Accident Hospital two days after being involved in a traffic accident on the A435 road in Warwickshire. His daughter, Michelle, also died in the crash. Thousands of mourners attended his funeral to honour a man simply known to many as Mike the Bike. His wife survived him.