Those Were The Days - Stories and Anecdotes from the Golden Age of Motor Racing
Those Were The Days - Stories and Anecdotes from the Golden Age of Motor Racing

Two to Four

Mike Hailwood

Mike Hailwood

Back in the early seventies, when I was a director of a publishing company and was, nominally, editor of the motoring magazine, I did a series of portraits of various drivers and personalities that wandered around the circuits in various capacities.

There was even a section of rather posh WAGs that could be relied upon to sit on a tyre on the counter of a draughty pit garage and time the cars by hand. Two of the best of these were Bette Hill and French sizzler, Michelle Dubois. Michelle was so hot at it that if the official timekeeper made a cock-up he would turn to her to sort him out. The series of pen-portraits was firmly based on the fact that I was telling original, behind the scenes, racing stories and not a catalogue of racing statistics.

Le Mans was and probably is, a bit of a mess. In those days it was even possible that drivers turned up with cars that hardly made it as a road worthy runabout and piously hoped to fight it out, wheel to wheel, with the highly organised works teams such as Ford and Ferrari. If you weren’t actually engaged in preparing the cars or working on the track there was always a plethora of tents and caravans laid on in the paddock, for those lucky enough to have access, to stuff their face with the very best cuisine and vintage. Companies like Renault, Moet Chandon, Marlborough and dozens of French hotels that linked up with a racing team for the duration of the race to promote their service. Naturally, it was a field day for hangers-on like me. For four days I was able to drift from facility to hospitality tent and chat to anyone who wasn’t chewing their nails in the Winnebago or trying to make 100mph cars perform at 200mph.

In 1973 Mike Hailwood was a bit of a maverick on the motor racing scene. He had been picked by ex-Motor Cycle and F1 Champion, John Surtees, to drive his F1 and F2 cars. Both are remembered as masters of the Bike world and John even became World Champion in Formula 1. Mike was usually very fast in early practice but while other drivers were able to improve, Mike didn’t have the technical ability to make the necessary improvements - as he was quick to admit as we lounged in the Moet tent and let the tape recorder take the strain. He was one of the very few racing drivers that were genuinely able to relax when out of his car.

MIKE HAILWOOD – Le Mans – 1973

All the bullshit that is attached to racing is too much for me. All the other drivers seem to be rushing off to make personal appearances and opening fetes and things but I don’t like doing any of that sort. There should be more people around like Innes Ireland and that type but, of course, motor racing, as it is today, is so professional and people have to be so dedicated that it would be difficult for someone with his attitude to get on in today’s money-obsessed sport. That’s why he is driving a desk at Motor and I’m still going around in circles.

I’m very fortunate. I’ve got John Surtees and he understands me. In fact I think I am turning him around to my way of thinking. Not too much, just a little bit.

Nope! When a race is finished I’m not really interested in sucking up to the chequebooks. I’ve done my bit and just want to go out with any of my friends that happen to be around and have a drink, a meal and whatever else is going. Just forget all about racing. I’m not obsessed with racing as such. I just like driving!

John Surtees

John Surtees

If anyone asked me what Group 5 is or the regulations for F3 I wouldn’t be able to tell them. Everybody probably thinks I’m an ignorant twit, which I am, I’m just not interested in racing as such. Only the driving. If anyone asks me questions about the car, I can’t answer them, I tell them to speak to the mechanic. I don’t want to know. When things get bloody frustrating with tyre problems and suspension problems and silly things that go wrong I just switch off and leave it to John. If I don’t I can’t enjoy my driving.

If you notice at the beginning of practice sessions I can go out and go faster than most of the other drivers to start with. At Monaco I was fastest until my engine let go and then after that, while everyone else was fiddling around with their cars and getting things right and going a bit faster, I was just stuck in the garage. My fault, I guess, because I’m just not capable of sorting my car out for the various circuits.

Practice is only tyre testing now - all wrong! You do ten laps and then come in to have the tyres changed and you never get a real chance to learn anything about the car. John, of course, helps a lot. Up to a certain point he is able to understand what I am trying to say. He never tells me what he has done. Just fiddles around and sends me out again. I go out, do a few laps and come back in and tell him whether I think it is better or worse. A matter of trial and error I guess you’d say. It must be very confusing for him. He is very mechanically minded. I’m often asked what he is like to work for. The general opinion of him is that he is a grumpy old sod. I don’t find that. Quiet, hardly ever says a word that’s not to do with racing and I’m always surprised that he puts up with me. I guess it’s our backgrounds that keep us together. I sometimes think he deserves someone like Jackie Stewart – a brilliant driver who has all the likely situations weighed up and studies all the other drivers so that he knows what to expect from them. A really intelligent bloke. Whether he enjoys his racing or not I couldn’t say. All I know is I couldn’t go through all that palaver. Emerson (Fittipaldi) is another Stewart type – not anyway as fast as Ronnie (Peterson) – but a race winner anyway.

To some extent motor racing is a means to an end. If, when I had finished with bikes, I had just skulked around doing nothing for a while, I would probably have been bored out of my mind and had to get into some sort of naff business. Motor Racing is a way of doing what I like and getting paid for it. It allows me to lie around on a foreign beach or water ski or snow ski or just sit and listen to music. Going from country to country you are able to eat the best food and drink the best wine, not what some Cockney back street chef imagines it should be like. Look at last night. When did you ever taste a Bouillabaisse like that? And we aren’t even near the sea.

I guess I haven’t got any strong views on anything. Not anything I would get and walk to Parliament Square on a wet Monday morning for anyway.

I’m just selfish!

I know what I like, and get it with the least aggravation possible.

Mike Hailwood died in a bizarre accident after taking his two children, Michelle and David, for some fish and chips. He was driving along the A435 near his home in Tanworth when a truck attempted to make a U-turn in a gap in the central barrier. Michelle and Mike died in hospital shortly after but David survived. It is said that a Gypsy fortune teller in South Africa had told him that he would be killed by a truck when he was 18.


As a sort of cack-handed dedication to Mike, I thought I would suggest my Grandfather's favourite supper - although the way he did it was a lot more basic.


9oz plain flour
3/4pt skinny milk
2tbsp Brandy
sea salt and black pepper
Olive oil or substitute
2 lb large potatoes
1 1/2 lbs (4) cod or haddock fillets (unless you want to be posh and use monkfish)


1. Put flour into a large bowl through a sieve, gradually whisk in the milk until you get a smooth, thin batter. Add the Brandy and continue whisking until you are overpowered by the bouquet. Salt and pepper to taste.

2. Put sufficient oil in a deep frying pan to cover the fish and heat to around 130 degrees.

3. Peel potatoes and cut them into regulation chips. Cook for 8–10 minutes or until soft but not browned. Drain and hold until needed.

4. Increase oil temperature to a smoky 180°C. Coat fish fillets in batter and place carefully in the oil. Fry for 3–4 minutes until cooked through, turning to maintain even browning.

5. Deep-fry the chips for about 7mins until crisp and golden. Season with salt and pepper.

6. Put fish on warm plates and serve with delicious chips.

7. If you still need something to bolster the Brandy Fish, you can use Sauce Tartare and vinegar, maybe even some mushy peas. You can get them plate-ready from the Supermarket. But I don’t recommend them.

Posted 10/12/2008

Those Were The Days - Motor Racing Stories, Tales and Anecdotes from the Golden Age of Motor Racing