Hurley Haywood is one of the most accomplished sports car and endurance drivers in racing. After being drafted and serving in Vietnam, Haywood immediately went out and became a championship racer. A three-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a five-time 24 Hours of Daytona winner and two-time winner of the 12 Hours of Sebring, Haywood is certainly one of the best ever.
Haywood is also a very private person, and while his homosexuality was known in the racing community among his teammates and competitors, it didn’t seem as important to him to divulge that to the general public. But after doing an interview with a gay high school student, the 69-year-old Haywood was inspired to write his autobiography and reveal that he is indeed gay.
The young man, Haywood recalls, “was very professional. He sat down, started the interview, and he was asking some really good questions.”
“But halfway through, he just stopped cold. And he said, ‘I have been bullied my entire life. Every morning when I wake up, I think about suicide. I have absolutely no respect for myself.’”
The young man was gay, and he knew Haywood was gay, too.
Haywood has never publicly come out until now, but it was not a well-kept secret in the racing community.
Immediately, Haywood turned from interviewee to counselor. “I said, ‘Listen, it’s not what you are, it’s who you are. That’s what people remember.’” The conversation continued. And when it ended, Haywood says he felt pretty good about how it had gone.
But then, about a year and a half later, a woman called Haywood. “You don’t know me,” she said, “but you gave my son an interview about racing, and…”
“Immediately I thought, ‘Oh, God. What’s happened?’”
Then the young man’s mother said, “You saved my son’s life.”
Knowing that, Haywood thought that maybe by coming out, he could help others who might be struggling and may not have had the kind of support system he has had in his life. And so, Hurley: From the Beginning is set to go on sale in March while a documentary that’s produced by Grey’s Anatomy star and former sports car owner/driver Patrick Dempsey is seeking a broadcast partner.
Haywood has had a deeper understanding of mental health ever since his friend and driving partner Peter Gregg killed himself in 1980. After suffering permanent vision problems from an automobile accident, Gregg had a falling out with Haywood and Haywood today felt Gregg couldn’t accept being forced to end his racing career. Suffering from manic depression and growing up knowing his mother killed herself on his seventh birthday, Gregg shot himself a week after getting married and a day after seeing Haywood for the first time in six months. Included was a note that read, “I just don’t enjoy life anymore. I must have the right to end it.”
In a sport that one would think would have stereotypically negative views on homosexuality, Haywood noted that he has always had major support from the garage. “The racing community has been extremely supportive. I’ve never not gotten a ride because I was gay.”
But at the same time, Haywood also realized that he was one of the lucky ones who had a great support system and realized that many gay people haven’t been as fortunate.
“When I grew up, life seemed simpler” Haywood said. “Kids didn’t have all these distractions. Now, there’s so much more competition, so much more peer pressure. The suicide rate is just out of control. Bullying is out of control.
“And the way our leaders talk — they’re bullies, too. It trickles down. We need more people to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough.’”
Every time someone famous comes out, and anybody reports on that or anyone writes a post on that, there’s always a few comments that will say similar things. I know that there will be some replies to this story on social media and in the comments section that will say, “Why is this news?” “Who cares if _________ is gay.” “I don’t care if _________ is gay. Why are you making a big deal out of this?”
Stories like this is why it’s still a big deal when someone famous comes out. Maybe it actually doesn’t affect you that someone you likely never met revealed he was gay. But when people stop being bullied due to their sexuality, when people stop being killed due to their sexuality, when people stop committing suicide because they think their sexuality is somehow bad or evil or immoral and feel it’s somehow their fault, that’s when it’ll stop being a big deal. If Hurley Haywood’s story helps one person be happy and proud of who they are, coming out is worth it.
[Autoweek/Photo: The Drive]