HAILWOOD DOWN UNDER

HAILWOOD DOWN UNDER

Mike Hailwood’s TT comeback in 1978 is the stuff of legend. Indeed, his victory in that year’s Formula 1 TT is perhaps the most famous moment in the entire history of the world-famous event. Hailwood’s return could be traced further back than 1978, however. A full decade after he first waved goodbye to the Isle of Man TT Races, the nine-time World Champion pulled on his leathers for something approaching a serious motorcycling race: the 1977 Castrol Six Hour in Australia. Mike’s team mate ‘down under’ was Aussie ace Jim Scaysbrook, and who better to recall the story of Hailwood’s ‘original’ racing comeback? 

FUN TIMES 

Mike had one stipulation in agreeing to race: it had to be fun. Considering the level of competition he’d faced over the previous two decades, it isn’t that difficult to place the Castrol Six Hour in such a category. Yet for the vast majority of the field, it was anything but fun. This was the big race of the year and there was serious money invested in producing results.

It’s fair to say that since his accident in the German [Formula 1] Grand Prix that left him with a shattered right ankle, Mike Hailwood had struggled to come to terms with a life that no longer involved racing of any sort. The prospect of holding down a real job sat uneasily with him and his new home of Auckland was about as far from his previous jet-setting playboy existence as it was possible to be. Even marriage, a union that he had previously scoffed at, was now a reality following his marriage to Pauline on 11th June 1975.

Given the advancing level of ennui that came with his job as a partner in McLaren Marine in Auckland, it came as little surprise to his close friends that Mike began to embrace a proposal to saddle up for the 1977 Castrol Six Hour. That proposal blossomed from an on-air conversation between Mike and radio personality Owen Delaney, who was doing a short stint at the time in Auckland.

Most onlookers believed the 1967 TT would be the last time they would see Hailwood race on the island.

Owen was a real ‘petrol head’ and cheekily suggested that he and Mike team up on a Yamaha RD350 before realising the folly of that idea. I had known Owen for a while, mainly because he was engaged as the series commentator in the Mr Motocross Series, but it still came as a shock when the phone rang. “How would you like to team up with Mike Hailwood for the Castrol Six Hour Race in October?” Owen had a reputation as a bit of a joker so my immediate reaction was to tell him to piss off! But it wasn’t a joke, and with typical gusto, he set about making it happen. 

PUTTING THE TEAM TOGETHER 

Owen had a friend, Malcolm Bailey, who was a former car racer and who owned a successful motorcycle business called Moreparts. Somehow, he convinced Malcolm to buy a new 750SS Ducati and assemble a team to run it. There were a few other minor issues to deal with too. In a letter agreeing to do the race, Mike had said with typical off-handedness, “Of course I should expect my expenses to be paid.” There was not a mention of any kind of fee, and from a nine-times World Champion, this was quite remarkable. 

Still, some sort of cash budget was going to be necessary, or, in other words, a sponsor. Fortunately, I had a lot of contacts in the advertising industry, and in fairly short order a deal was struck with Amatil, a giant of a company that handled, among other things, Coca Cola. They had a new brand of potato chip called Snack, so the Moreparts entry became the Snack Racing Team. Avon importer Lindsay Walker provided the tyres, but there wasn’t much more in the way of assistance. The pit crew consisted of Malcolm, his wife June, and some mates from Newcastle, with the chief mechanic from Moreparts, Neil Cummins, in charge of the spanners.

Already firm friends, Jim and Mike ‘having fun’ at the 1977 Castrol Six Hour.

LOW KEY

Most of the top teams were at Amaroo Park weeks ahead of the event, but Mike did not even arrive until the middle of the week prior to the race. Although we had kept everything low key, as instructed, a phalanx of television journalists was at the airport. Jack Brabham miraculously appeared, as did a Ducati on which both the champions were photographed. Then it was off to the track, where everyone was thrashing around, testing tyres and practicing pit stops.

Mindful of our comparatively meagre resources we did few practice laps, and nobody seemed to consider that a fuel consumption test was necessary, so we didn’t do that either. Mike seemed to take to the Ducati easily (naturally!) and we got through the official practice sessions without any dramas. In qualifying I was slightly quicker with a lap of 60.2 seconds and we lined up 13th on the grid, 3rd among the 750s.

BIG DRAW 

The Six Hour was a big event in its own right, but I have a feeling Mike’s appearance had something to do with the size of the crowd that was queued up for several kilometres along Annangrove Road. Because of Mike’s gammy leg it was decided that I would take the Le Mans style start. This involved kick-starting the Ducati while the majority of the others simply pushed a button. I was extremely nervous about the race start because the opening laps were hectic affairs invariably punctuated by pile-ups. If I chucked the bike away before Mike took his stint, I reckon I would have been lynched!

Jim doing all he can not to get lynched by the massive crowds at Amaroo!

Things turned out for the best and although there were a few prangs I avoided them. I even put in some sub-60 second laps before handing over to Mike when the race was 72 minutes old. It was here that it became obvious that I should have stayed out until the 90-minute mark, thereby reducing our pit stops from four to three, because there was plenty of fuel left in the tank. It also meant that I would have to do three sessions to Mike’s two. All that may be true, but I was never so glad to get off a bike. Finally, Mike motored out of pit lane and into the race, to a thunderous roar from the spectators packed on the hill.

At the end of the six hours, we had racked up 350 laps to claim sixth outright, the second 750 home. We practiced, qualified and raced on the one set of Avon tyres, and the bike had run like clockwork. After the chequered flag fell, I did one more lap before being ushered into Parc Ferme. I clearly remember feeling that I was about to faint, but there was no time to give in to exhaustion; there was too much back slapping and popping of corks. In fact, so many corks were popped that none of us was in a fit state to drive home.

Who did get us back to our house in Cammeray I have no recollection, but the next morning I awoke to find Mike sound asleep on the Chesterfield in our living room, still fully clothed. We had rather exceeded our own expectations - and we certainly fulfilled Mike’s directive that it had to be fun.

The Golden Breed! Jim and Mike teamed up once more for the 1978 Castrol Six Hour.

The Golden Breed! Jim and Mike teamed up once more for the 1978 Castrol Six Hour.

THREE MORE HOURS

That should have been the end of the story as far as long-distance racing was concerned, but the Amatil people were pleased with the publicity generated for their Snack brand, so a plan was hatched to reform the team to compete in the Adelaide Three Hour Race in April 1978 – by which time word was out that Mike planned to return to the Isle of Man TT. 

Adelaide International Raceway was a strangely-designed track that used a partially banked oval combined with a conventional road circuit. The trickiest part was where the oval’s high-banked final turn met the main straight. It was here during Saturday’s qualifying that I sent bike and rider crashing through the hay bales and into the concrete fence behind. I knocked myself around quite a bit, but nothing was broken. The bike was a mess, however, and it looked like the very bloke the crowd had come to see would be a non-starter.

That was clearly not an option for the members of the local Ducati club, who descended upon the wrecked machine and soon had it stripped back to the chassis, which was then hustled off to Andrew Wilson’s workshop in Adelaide to be straightened out. In the meantime, several members pulled bits off their own bikes and by midnight our machine was a runner again, albeit not quite in the immaculate state it had been a few hours earlier!

Nevertheless, we lined up for the race where my first problem was once again the infernal Le Mans style start. The Ducati responded to the kick start instantly and I got away with the main bunch, but under heavy braking for the first corner at the end of the long main straight, the forks bottomed out and the front wheel locked. Instinctively I released the brake and somehow made it around the corner, but something was clearly wrong.

Jim pictured in the paddock at the 1978 TT on the NCR Ducati.

Jim pictured in the paddock at the 1978 TT on the NCR Ducati.

BUGGERED

Meanwhile, the refuelling strategy went out the window when the bike started to run dry a few laps too early. I spluttered around to get back to the pits. In the change-over I yelled to Mike, “This thing is buggered, the forks don’t work!” He jumped aboard and yelled back, “I can see that, I’ll just go out and have some fun.” And that’s exactly what he did, to the delight of the crowd.

In his inimitable style, Mike would motor high up on the banking and ride the top line in a perfect arc, then swoop down the banking and onto the main straight miles quicker than anyone else. On one such swoop he rounded up young Ron Boulden and slapped him on the backside as he rushed past! Once again, the Ducati ran out of fuel with just three laps to run, and Mike had to pit again as the leaders started their final lap, which dropped us back to ninth at the finish.

Mike had bought a 2-litre glass flagon of local white wine with a ring on the neck so you could hold it with one finger. During the post-race revelry, he wandered around with it on his shoulder, drinking through a plastic tube, telling everyone it was the greatest invention of all time. While we were having a good time, Neil was hard at work dismantling the Ducati and returning parts to their original owners so they could ride home!

Friend turned sponsor; Mike sponsored Jim on a TZ500 Yamaha for the 1980 TT.

Friend turned sponsor; Mike sponsored Jim on a TZ500 Yamaha for the 1980 TT.

FINAL CHAPTER 

A couple months later Mike returned triumphantly to the Isle of Man TT and, with new found stardom, I doubted we’d see Mike in Australia again. In fact, he was very keen to saddle up once again for the Six Hour, so the 750SS was dusted off and the process of getting the team together began all over again.

If the Adelaide Three Hour was a nightmare, the 1978 Six Hour was traumatic with two rebuilds for a tired and rather bleary-eyed Neil – the first after a big blow up on the opening lap of qualifying. The team stood in a state of shock, staring at the silent Ducati in pitlane, waiting for someone to come up with a plan. Mike duly came up with a plan. While the other Six Hour Race contenders hurtled around in qualifying, the two of us ended up at Obelisk Beach on Sydney Harbour, which was not only topless, but bottomless as well.

GOODBYE 

Just two years later, Mike was gone, killed in a road accident with his daughter Michelle. Mike’s leathers from the 1978 Castrol Six Hour hang in my office, and 40 years on, it all seems rather surreal. As another friend said to me at the time, “You’re the luckiest bloke since Ringo Starr.”

Jim pictured with Mike in Parc Ferme at the 1980 Isle of Man TT Races.

Jim pictured with Mike in Parc Ferme at the 1980 Isle of Man TT Races.

Number 69, Jim parading the famous NCR Ducati at the 2017 Festival of Speed at Eastern Creek.

Number 69, Jim parading the famous NCR Ducati at the 2017 Festival of Speed at Eastern Creek.

Jim and wife Sue, reunited with the Moreparts Ducati. Today, Jim and Sue are the team behind Old Bike Australasia.

Jim and wife Sue, reunited with the Moreparts Ducati. Today, Jim and Sue are the team behind Old Bike Australasia.

Continuing the family’s association with the island, Jim’s son Rennie makes his TT debut in 2022 with PRF Racing.

Continuing the family’s association with the island, Jim’s son Rennie makes his TT debut in 2022 with PRF Racing.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

We would like to thank Jim Scaysbrook for kindly allowing us to reproduce his words and images. This article was first published unabridged in Old Bike Australasia, the classic bike magazine that he and his wife Sue are so dedicated. If you’d like to discover more TT stories from ‘down under’, why not visit www.oldbikemag.com.au where you’ll find articles on Tom Phillis, Kel Carruthers and more.

FROM PEAK TO MOUNTAIN 

45 years after father Jim first teamed up with Mike Hailwood, Rennie Scaysbrook is set to race in both their wheel-tracks as he takes on the TT for the first time in 2022. Having set the forever-record time for motorcycles at Pikes Peak, Rennie comes to the TT with form, but what does he expect from his first year, racing on the Mountain? Read more

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