Great Cites Races Le Mans and Watkins Glen victories and Pride Month as cause for celebration
DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – Throughout so many years of his illustrious sports career, June has been an important and especially rewarding month for Hurley Haywood.
From the opening race five decades ago at Watkins Glen International, hosting the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship this week at Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, to Haywood’s three recognized victories in the annual summer 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance challenge. . To the deeply personal story of Haywood in a month dedicated around the world to celebrate LGBTQ+ pride.
Although Haywood says that most people in the sport have known – to one degree or another – about his sexual orientation for most of his career, he only came out as gay officially recently in the movie Hurley, which was executive produced by the actor and sports car driver. Patrick Dempsey. The film, which details Haywood’s rise to superstardom and subsequent impact on and off the track, was released in 2018 and proved to be nothing less than a breakthrough for the sport and for Haywood.
“Patrick Dempsey and (writer/producer) Derek Dodge just did a really powerful job and I think the response from everyone has been very positive,” Haywood said.
Positivity is certainly something Haywood can claim in all aspects of his life.
He certainly races sports cars at Mount Rushmore. He ended his Le Mans race with a win on his debut in 1977 and his last race in 1994, and a win in 1983.
Watkins Glen served as a career launch pad
For all intents and purposes, his career began at the historic Watkins Glen circuit in 1969—ironically with a hastily obtained NASCAR license that eventually helped him secure a six-hour race at the track in July of that year. It was his first professional race.
“I often think about it, because it really was a kind of stepping stone that, so to speak, brought me into the light. Before that, I really did not participate in real professional racing,” said Haywood. “Most of the races I’ve raced up to this point have been regional races – I think I’ve only raced three or four. Then (navigator) Peter (Gregg) said, “I think we should run together in Watkins Glen, the six-hour race for the title of world champion.” “
“When I arrived at Watkins Glen, the sanctioning authorities were in complete hysterics, asking, ‘Who is this guy? We’ve never heard of this man,” Haywood continued with a laugh. “And Peter stood up and said, ‘Trust me, he’ll be all right.’
“I was driving a factory built (Porsche) 911 so it was a really good car but I had never raced against a driver of that caliber so I was a complete, absolute rookie against the best drivers in the world, most of them. manage prototypes. It was really a revelation, but it was intoxicating and I just loved it and Peter and I won part of the GT race and I was on Cloud 9.”
It soon became clear that Haywood was on the road to success and ready to take on bigger challenges, bigger races. He returned to Watkins Glen, racing frequently in IMSA sanctioned races, and won a couple of supercar races there in June 1991 and June 1992.
From losing at Le Mans to topping the podium
For most of his career, Haywood still divided June into competitions at Watkins Glen and Le Mans. Listening to Haywood reminisce about his early days at Le Mans is special – his fond memories and stories are so alive to this day.
“My only connection to Le Mans before I actually went there in 1977 was a Steve McQueen movie called Le Mans,” Haywood admitted. “I saw this movie and fell in love with the whole concept.
“I always had this in my heart, but I didn’t really know the geography of exactly where Le Mans was, and apart from watching the movie, you had no idea what the real city of Le Mans looked like. ”
Haywood tells the story of renting a car at a Paris airport and driving to Le Mans without understanding French and not knowing exactly where to go to meet his racing team, many of whom he had never met before when he arrived .
“I was just wandering the streets hoping I would run into someone in a Porsche jacket,” Haywood said with a laugh. “Finally, that evening, at 10 pm, I was driving down a small lane and saw a guy in a Porsche jacket. I stopped, he looked out the window and said, “Oh, Mr. Heywood. We were worried about you. Where have you been?'”
It turned out that it was the chief of the crew of his team. And a couple of days later, Haywood lifted the trophy and celebrated on the famous Le Mans podium – the first of his three triumphs there.
Such was Haywood’s life at the time. In addition to his later victories at Watkins Glen and the Twelve Hours of Sebring (1973 and 1981), Haywood eventually set the standard for winning the famous Rolex 24 At Daytona five times (1973, 1975, 1977, ’79 and ’91), a feat that will never be eclipsed.
He will return to Le Mans in 2019 – not as a driver, but to be celebrated as a grand marshal – an honor he received again last winter at the Rolex 24.
Share your personal story for the benefit of others
Yet for all the appreciation Haywood deservedly received at the racetrack, these days he finds solace and greatest joy in being able to not only share but cherish life with his partner of many years, his husband Steve. Openly.
Haywood said he hopes his story will benefit others.
“I did it because the youth of today are facing all sorts of problems,” Haywood said, agreeing to do the film with Dempsey. “When I was young, at that age, we didn’t have all the major events that are happening today that kids have to hold hands and deal with.
“I just felt that if I could be useful in this way, then I agreed to do it. And the reception that I got from the film, from the general public – not only from those who race, which I would say was very supportive – but just the general public supported me.
“Fathers called me and said: “I saw this film with my son, and he really opened the window and we were able to talk about it.” It really makes me feel good that the effort was worth something.”
And Heywood admits that times are very different now than when he was a young man making his way.
“I think people have become more aware of what it means to be gay,” Haywood said. discuss it with people who were not part of my family or part of some kind of support system.
“But if you fast forward to today, it will pretty much become mainstream. You’ve got a lot of Hollywood actors, a lot of professional athletes – soccer players, professional basketball players, tennis players, everyone. I’m one of the few race car drivers – winning racers – that’s come out and I think this sets up a whole new platform for what you can do.”
Heywood recalled a story that he remembered for many years. Many years ago, an aspiring young journalist in his teens gave an interview to Heywood and revealed that he was gay. The young man struggled with how to reveal this information to his family and how to reconcile them in his daily life.
“So I gave him a couple of pointers and pointed him in the right direction,” Haywood said. “And then I never heard from him again. About two years after that, I got a call and it turned out to be his mother, and she said, “I don’t know what you said to my son, but you saved his life.”
“And that’s a hard thing for a mother.”
Since then, this experience has influenced Heywood and helped him gain perspective.
“People say, ‘How did you manage that?’ and I say, “It was easy,” Haywood explained that throughout his career, he was very private. “As long as I held my leg stronger and longer than the guy next door, no one was going to complain.
“And that’s pretty much the way it was.
“It was something that was not really discussed. Everyone in the racing industry knew about it, but it wasn’t discussed. As long as I was competitive and could win races, no one had a problem with that. Then when I retired and the young man came to that interview, I thought, “You know, maybe it’s time for me to give something back.”
“All my life I’ve been generous and able to run the best equipment for the best teams, and I said, ‘Maybe it’s time to pay me back.’
His gift? A legacy of admiration both on and off the track that offers example and perspective. And hope.