Kel Carruthers Remembers Mike Hailwood
by evan williams

Kel Carruthers has a unique perspective on Mike Hailwood. Before Kel was "tuner to the stars", he was a fellow Grand Prix competitor and friend to Mike the Bike. According to Kel, a man that rode against Agostini, tuned for Roberts, Lawson and Spencer, and watched Rainey and Schwantz from pit lane, Hailwood was tops.

"I think he was the best rider. I mean he won on all sorts of bikes," Carruthers says. "My reckoning is the bikes were a lot harder to ride in those days, in my opinion. I think now to win is just as hard as it's ever been, but to do fairly good now it's a lot easier now than it used to be because all of the equipment is so good. I mean I don't think people realize how difficult things like that 500 Honda and the big MVs and that would have been to ride. Those were damn fast motorcycles and pretty poor tires and not good suspension and the tracks were really rough and you were racing on eight, ten, and twelve mile tracks all the time and regular roads. I mean he was just the best."

Kel came to Europe in 1966, in the midst of Hailwood's domination, but he found Mike the Bike to be a shockingly regular guy. "He used to come in my motor home and my wife would make him a cup of tea and all that sort of stuff," says the 1969 250 World Champ. 

"You know a lot of time, I mean he'd come in there and hide from the crowd. I mean, God, the poor guy, they'd follow him into the bathroom and everything. I mean he was "the guy" so to speak."

Today's bike racing paddocks are fairly open and friendly compared to some types of car racing, but those of the 60s were even more so. "He had a tent at the racetrack and he slept there a lot of the time. At the international races he just had a van and a mechanic guy that drove it around and he'd just show up and he was one of the boys. Just the way things were (it) made him more of regular guy, more than maybe the way the top guys would be today." Can you image Doohan or Biaggi in a tent?

Carruthers learned of his friend's death in Europe while tuning for Kenny Roberts. 

"The day he died, I'd flown into Amsterdam from America and I got to Yamaha's workshop," remembers Kel. "A guy by the name of Jerry Woods was a really good friend of Mike's. Up until a couple of years ago he was the workshop doorman/caretaker type guy up at the Yamaha workshop in Amsterdam and I kind of met him at the door and he was pretty upset and he told me then."

Carruthers believes it ironic that Hailwood lived through a dual racing career when safety standards were shockingly bad, then to die in a street car crash after he had retired. "To go through what he went then get killed on the streets ... You know he used to drive cars fast but, I mean, I don't think he was stupid. It was just one of those things that wasn't his fault."

Time shouldn't diminish Hailwood's achievements to the die-hard enthusiast, according to Kel. "To anybody that was around or knows a bit of history of motorcycling, I would think people regard him as being the best. I certainly regard him as being the best and I also just regard him as being one of the guys. I think being in that era it was easier for him to be one of the guys. I just think of him as being a good friend and a good guy."


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