New Zealander Denny Hulme drove for McLaren not just in Formula One, but also in Can-Am and the Indianapolis 500. During his time with McLaren in Formula One, he won six races, joining the team in 1968 off the back of his world championship with Brabham.
Being a Formula One world champion brings a certain aspect of celebrity. For Hulme, however, it was this aspect of racing he did not like and instead preferred to be low-key. He was generally well liked but was given the nickname “The Bear” due to his gruff nature, especially if someone got on the wrong side of him. He left school aged 17 and became a mechanic, saving up to buy himself an MGTF and then racing in an MGA which was a present from his father. He then purchased a Cooper-Climax and became joint winner of New Zealand’s Driver to Europe Scholarship, which funded a season’s racing abroad. Hulme and fellow winner George Lawton moved to London, where Bruce McLaren helped them set up. Lawton was tragically killed but Hulme perservered. He worked as a mechanic for Jack Brabham and in return was given drives in Brabham’s cars.
He joined the F2 team in 1964 and, after dominating, he was promoted to a drive in Brabham’s Formula One team. He finished the year 11th overall, with five points altogether from France and the Netherlands. 1966 was a more successful year where he finished on the podium in four out of nine races, unfortunately retiring from the remaining five. His team-mate, and boss, Brabham himself won the world championship that year. Hulme became world champion in 1967, scoring his first Formula One victory in Monaco and backing that up with a victory at the notoriously difficult Nurburgring.
Hulme complimented his Formula One season with a run in the inaugural season of the Can-Am racing series. There he drove a McLaren M6A but scored no points. In 1967, however, he finished the year second to team founder Bruce McLaren with three out of six victories. The team continued to go from strength to strength when Hulme won the championship for them in 1968 and they dominated the 1969 season – winning every race. After the tragic death of Bruce, Hulme raced on and again won the championship winning six of the ten races and having more than double the points of his nearest rival. He continued racing in the Can-Am series until 1972.
Hulme joined McLaren in Formula One in 1968 following his world championship. The team started the year with the M5A at the first race (the South African Grand Prix) where Hulme finished fifth. At the next race he finished second and by the end of the season he was in contention to win (another) world championship. When it came down to it, however, he suffered suspension failure in Mexico, the last race of the season. The next two seasons were not so successful and Hulme’s best finish before he retired was third overall in 1972. Overall in his McLaren Formula One career he took six victories, 15 further podiums and, surprisingly, only one pole position. Following the death of his good friend and former McLaren team-mate in 1974, Hulme chose to retire from the sport at the end of the season. Following F1 he returned to his native New Zealand but still continued racing. He died at the wheel of a BMW touring car at Bathurst after suffering a heart attack.