Nostalgia TT special: Mike Hailwood

Mike Hailwood 1967 TT

Mike Hailwood 1967 TT

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YOU can almost sense the atmosphere and tension as Mike Hailwood fires the works 500cc Honda-4 into life at the start of the Diamond Jubilee Senior TT in 1967.

It was undoubtedly one of the most thrilling and exciting races in TT history when Hailwood, the hero of the home crowd, took on Italian superstar Giacomo Agostini in a gripping and memorable race.

In front of an all-time record crowd of spectators, Ago smashed the lap record from a standing start with a speed of 108.30mph to lead Hailwood by 12 seconds.

Mike responded by going even faster on lap two and had reduced the margin to three seconds as they entered the pits almost together.

Hailwood was experiencing problems with a loose twistgrip on a machine that was already notoriously difficult to ride. ‘Get me a hammer,’ he shouted as the mechanics started to refuel.

He battered the twistgrip back into place before pulling down his goggles and roaring off again.

The extended stop enabled Ago to push his lead back up to 12s at the end of lap four. Determined as ever, Hailwood had again reduced the advantage to 2.5s at the Bungalow on the penultimate circuit, but the Italian ace’s heart was broken (on his 25th birthday) when the MV’s chain snapped at Windy Corner a few seconds later.

Hailwood soon got the message and ‘toured’ home to win by a huge margin of almost eight minutes from Peter Williams (Arter Matchless), despite holding onto his loose throttle.

Sportingly, he later admitted that he had been lucky to win the race, saying: ‘If Ago’s chain hadn’t broken, I don’t think I could have won. That second lap was just about as fast as I could go.

‘I made up quite a bit of time, but lost it at the pit stop when I had to fix the throttle.

‘It started to work loose again on the fifth lap and on the last lap I was riding virtually one-handed. In fact I almost had to stop once to push it back on again and was holding it for most of the lap.’

It was Mike’s 12th TT win and his third that week, but it was 11 years before he would grace the circuit again.

His lap record of 108.77mph remained unbeaten until Mick Grant achieved 109.82mph in 1975 on a 750 Kawasaki.

Tragically, Mike Hailwood died in a road traffic accident in March 1981, along with his young daughter Michelle.

l The Mike Hailwood Foundation was established later the same year in response to the wish from his many fans to find a way to commemorate the life, talent, success and popularity of the eight-time world champion.

In the Isle of Man, the scene of 14 of his greatest triumphs, the wish to remember Mike was willingly taken up and a committee was formed under the leadership of Geoff Duke to establish the foundation and raise funds to build a riders refreshment centre in the TT paddock.

This was successful and, on May 27, 1984 the Mike Hailwood Centre became a reality with Mrs Pauline Hailwood performing the official opening.

Since then, the centre has served refreshments to competitors, trade support and officials for nearly 30 years and latterley is now open to the general public.

It is interesting to reflect that when the centre opened, the Grandstand area looked a very tired old place which had lacked serious investment since 1926, the year the previous asbestos-clad grandstand was erected.

In contrast to this, the Hailwood Centre was a shining light and, in his opening speech, Geoff Duke expressed his wish that it would become the catalyst in a major re-development of the area.

Two years later a new grandstand, control tower and press centre were built. In the intervening years, it is pleasing to record there have been many more improvements and the lesson of continual investment in the event has hopefully been learned.

Until last year, the centre had a shared occupancy with Vagabonds Rugby Union Football Club who used it as a clubhouse as their pitch was adjacent to the TT paddock.

Following re-location to Ballafletcher, this arrangement has drawn to a close and efforts are now underway to refurbish the Mike Hailwood Centre to its former condition, hence the appeal to Hailwood fans for photographs/pictures that can go display.

Since the late 1980s, the Mike Hailwood Foundation has done a lot of work to attract newcomers to the MGP and TT, a process which is on-going and an extension to its original remit. The charity is run by a small band of enthusiasts and people are being urged to support them in giving the centre a new lease of life.

Anyone willing to support the Mike Hailwood Foundation and/or would consider loaning images (preferably framed TT shots) for display on the walls of the centre, please email adrianearnshaw@manx.net or phone 628973.

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