40 Years Ago: Mike “The Bike” Hailwood’s Isle of Man Comeback



Forty years ago, Mike "The Bike" Hailwood made one of motorcycle racing's most famous career comebacks. Following an 11-year hiatus from motorcycle racing, Hailwood, who had switched to Formula 1 car racing, decided to return to the Isle of Man, where he had first ridden as an 18-year-old in 1958, to take another stab at winning on one of his favorite circuits. Given his long absence from motorcycle racing, he was considered by many a long shot to win, but win he did, coming in first in the 1978 Isle of Man Formula 1 race aboard Steve Wynne's Sports Motorcycles Ducati 900SS.

Hailwood had actually quit car racing following a bad crash at the Nürburgring in 1974. In an interview with motorcycle journalist Alan Cathcart, Wynne said that Hailwood's re-entry into two-wheeled racing came about after a chance meeting at Silverstone, where Wynne had one of his Ducatis. According to Wynne, Hailwood threw a leg over the Ducati and said, "This is the kind of old-fashioned bike I understand — wouldn't mind doing another TT on this!" Wynne basically said, "why not," and after a brief discussion and a handshake — followed later by a contract for a mere £1,000 (roughly $1,900 U.S.) — Hailwood's victorious return was set in motion.

Already a legend for his race-winning years riding for MV Agusta and others, Hailwood's win permanently etched his name into the history books as the greatest motorcycle racer of all time. He raced the Isle one more time, in 1979, before retiring for good at age 39, leaving behind a legacy of 76 Grand Prix wins, 14 Isle of Man victories and nine World Championships.

Two years later, on a Saturday afternoon, March 21, 1981, Hailwood went out for fish and chips with his two children. A delivery truck making an illegal turn struck his car, critically injuring Hailwood and killing his 9-year-old daughter instantly. Hailwood held on for two days before succumbing to massive internal injuries. The truck driver was reportedly fined £100.

Tom Stephens
7/29/2018 7:54:18 PM

In 2011, Ducati ask if anyone had a MH900e they would loan Mike Hailwood’s son, David, for the 100th anaversery lap of honor. Having a MH900e Carbon Dream, and wanting to go to my first TT; I offered to fly my bike from Sacramento to the TT. I agreed to meet with David at the VIP tent on the morning of the Senior TT. David was with Mick Doohan no less. David told me Honda had flown the original bike his Dad had won his first TT, to the IOM. Honda wanted him to ride that bike in the lap of honor. He felt bad that I had flown my bike half way around the world, so he offered for Mick Doohan to ride my bike after the lap of honor. “Hell Ya!” So David is riding this priceless Honda and who should be in front of him on his factory MV, was Ago himself. Well, one thing lead to another and before you knew it, David Hailwood was right on Ago’s back fender. Ago, being the guy he is, wasn’t about to let anyone named Hailwood pass him, parade lap or not. Ago turns up the wick and Hailwood Jr turns up the wick. As they went through Ramsey, heading to the Hairpin, the Honda went straight when it should have turned right. When the dust cleared, the Priceless Honda was in two pieces, and young Hailwood was on his way to the ER. Because of the excitement, Mick Doohan never did ride my bike. Just as well, I was glad the young Hailwood was not on my bike. I still had a blast.

George Worth
7/5/2018 8:01:24 AM

I was there, watching at Kirk Braddan, (excellent cakes and sandwiches from the lovely ladies of the Church) and had pins and needles as Mike closed on Phil Read. Rather unsporting, I suppose, but the cheer that went up when Read's Honda went through on the third lap and was visibly smoking. Mike Hailwood was and is a legend, with that return win on the Island stamping an exclamation mark on a glowing career. RIP.

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