Hurley Haywood: 'If my voice is strong enough to help one kid …'
A few years ago, a young man, a high school senior, asked for a sit-down interview with Hurley Haywood, arguably the greatest sports car endurance racer in history, for a term paper.
Haywood assumed they’d talk about his career — a record five overall victories at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, three at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and two at the 12 Hours of Sebring. Maybe his Trans-Am title or his two IMSA GT Championship titles. Maybe the kid was interested in Haywood’s 18 IndyCar races, including an Indianapolis 500. Maybe even Haywood’s military service, when he was drafted in 1970 and sent to Vietnam, which postponed but did not derail his racing career.
Indeed, they talked about all that, and about Haywood’s retirement from racing in 2012, and how he has been busier than ever as a spokesman and high-performance driving instructor for Porsche, and as an executive at Brumos Porsche in Jacksonville, Florida, a dealership once owned by Haywood’s longtime friend and driving partner, Peter Gregg.
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.”
Haywood was the grand marshal of the 2013 Rolex 24 at Daytona.
As she went on about how well her son was doing, Haywood had a revelation. “Hearing from that mother — well, it was very emotional. And I thought, if my voice is strong enough to help one kid, it might help two kids, or five or a hundred.”
Very few drivers have guarded their personal lives as closely as Haywood, now 69. “I’ve always regarded my private life as just that — my private life.” Until now. Is this the end of the private Hurley Haywood?
He smiles. “Well, I guess it is!”
The first week of March, at a book fair in Los Angeles, Haywood’s autobiography will go on sale. “Hurley: From the Beginning” was written by Haywood and Sean Cridland. It’s 420 pages, with more than 650 photos.
The book will then be formally released at the Amelia Island Concours in Florida where, on March 10, Haywood will be part of a seminar called “Drivers of the IMSA Prototypes,” along with fellow legends Davy Jones, Brian Redman, Tommy Kendall and Chip Robinson.
As the book’s marketing pitch claims: “Haywood tells it all, from the beginning.”
Later this year, the book will be followed up with a documentary about Haywood’s life that is currently in post-production. It is being produced by actor and former racer Patrick Dempsey and directed by Derek Dodge. Producers are hoping to place “Hurley” with a broadcast network or film distributor.
Hurley Haywood was a driver on three winning 24 Hours of Le Mans teams. He stood on the top step of the podium in 1977, 1983 and 1994 (winning car pictured).
According to Imdb.com’s summary of the documentary: “Racing legend Hurley Haywood reveals the lifelong secret that threatened his picture-perfect image and sets the record straight about his co-driver’s shocking death.”
We know about the life-long secret, and now we know a bit more about “his co-driver’s shocking death.” That would be Peter Gregg, the wealthy, star-crossed Harvard graduate who met Haywood, eight years his junior, at an autocross in Florida. Haywood, driving a Chevrolet Corvette, beat the ultra-competitive Gregg, who was driving a new Porsche 911, attended to by a pit crew. The two men struck up a relationship that lasted until Gregg died at age 40.
To say Haywood and Gregg were close is an understatement: The two men even shared a birthday, May 4. But decades of rumors that cast the two as a couple are patently false, Haywood says. “The idea that Peter and I were lovers — totally not true.”
What was true: Gregg was a difficult, complex, brilliant man, with mental health issues that could be controlled by medication. “But Peter thought he was too smart to have to rely on medication,” Haywood recalls. Once, Gregg lined up his lithium pills on his desk, then brushed them into the wastebasket. “I’m stronger than any drug,” he said then.
“He thought,” Haywood says, “‘I can deal with this on my own.’”
He couldn’t. He married Deborah Marrs, a 25-year-old art director, “a really nice girl,” Haywood says, “who had no idea what she was getting into. Nine days after they were married, he killed himself.”
Hurley Haywood’s five Rolex 24 at Daytona wins came in 1973, 1975, 1977 (pictured above), 1979 and 1991.
Deborah Gregg was a young, and suddenly wealthy, widow. Among the four car dealerships she inherited, at the time worth $19 million, was Brumos Porsche, and Haywood, along with Bob Snodgrass, not only helped her run the Porsche store, they helped Deborah start a successful racing career of her own, in IMSA and Trans Am, racing against Scott Pruett, Pete Halsmer and Paul Newman.
Peter Gregg ended his life with a .38-caliber bullet on Dec. 15, 1980. His body was found by a hiker near the beach south of Jacksonville. In his briefcase, he had left a suicide note that said, in part: “I just don’t enjoy life anymore. I must have the right to end it.”
His death affected Haywood deeply. By then, Haywood had moved on to other teams, but he and Gregg remained close, and pledged to try to drive together at least once a year. “We were good friends up until the last six months, and that’s when it got rocky.” The two didn’t speak for those six months, and shortly after he married Deborah, Gregg called Haywood and invited him over for lunch and to meet his new bride. All seemed well, and Gregg even made plans for the future that involved going Indy car racing.
It was not to be. Seven months earlier, Gregg was involved in a traffic accident in France en route to Le Mans. He was unable to race and was replaced in the 24 Hours by Derek Bell. Gregg’s eyesight was affected, and he missed half the IMSA races that season, a tough blow for a man who was the winningest IMSA GT driver in series history. He and Haywood did race a few weeks after Gregg’s crash, in the old IMSA summer nighttime race at Daytona, the Paul Revere, on July 4. Gregg didn’t feel well and left most of the driving to Haywood. It was a hot, steamy night. The final 30 minutes, Haywood was exhausted and came to the pits in their Porsche 935, which was leading. He asked Gregg to take over.
He did, and he dropped back to third, and that’s where they finished, behind two other 935s. Gregg couldn’t keep up, and it seems likely his vision issues were the cause. Still, he blamed Haywood for making him look bad, hence the six-month silent treatment that came to that odd end with the unexpected invitation to lunch. One day later, Gregg bought a pistol in the morning, killed himself in the afternoon.
Hurley Haywood, winner of more endurance classics than any other driver in racing history, was honored by the Road Racing Drivers Club with the 2014 Phil Hill Award. RRDC president Bobby Rahal …
No one knows what ultimately led Gregg to suicide, but Haywood suspects it was multiple factors, not the least of which was the realization that the man other racers called “Peter Perfect” was no longer the best. Drivers like Bob Wollek and Hans Stuck were coming over from Europe, Haywood says, and driving the same kind of car, a Porsche 935. They were faster. “Peter could not accept the fact that he was not the top dog anymore.”
Which is another reason why Haywood is willing to reveal all in the new book and movie: the misunderstanding of mental health issues of the sort Peter Gregg suffered from. It’s reasonably apparent he was manic depressive. His mother also committed suicide; on her son Peter’s seventh birthday, she left to buy him a birthday cake, but on the way home she set it down on the subway platform and stepped in front of a train.
Ultimately, that Gregg took his life is, in retrospect, not that surprising. But when it happened, it was to Haywood. “If I had been trained to look for trigger points,” Haywood says, “I would have been able to see it well in advance.”
Haywood is well aware that his sexual orientation will be the central takeaway for many readers and viewers. But then he began thinking about how a conversation with a high school senior may have changed the young man’s life and decided the time was right to go ahead with the project.
“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.’”
That, however, doesn’t extend to the motorsports world, or at least it hasn’t in Haywood’s long career. “The racing community has been extremely supportive. I’ve never not gotten a ride because I was gay.
“But what the outside world will think about it? I guess we’ll see.”
For more information on “Hurley: From the Beginning,” visit Hurleybook.com.