After a stint as a jockey and jockey/trainer, John Hawkes became a full time trainer in the 1972-73 season. He soon came to national attention with Group 1 successes with his three-year-old fillies Little Papoose and Toltrice.
By the 1980s Hawkes was achieving regular success at eastern state meetings, and decided to move his chief base of operations to Melbourne. Four years later he was appointed trainer at the Ingham brothers' Crown Lodge in Sydney. A presence was also established in Brisbane giving Hawkes a four-state operation.
Results were soon forthcoming. Between 1993 and 2007 he won the Sydney trainers' premiership nine times. In 1995-96 he re-wrote the record book with combined Australian earnings of $11 million, which he exceeded in 1998-99 with $11.2 million. In 1999-2000 he finished the season with an Australian record of 315 ½ winners. His Group 1 wins number more than 90.
Outstanding horses trained by him include Octagonal, Australian Racehorse of the Year for the 1995-96 season, and Octagonal's champion son, Lonhro.
Hawkes left his training role at Crown Lodge after the 2006-07 season and established his own training enterprise with his sons Michael and Wayne.
Hawkes was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004.