Hurley Haywood is a racing legend: He holds 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.
Then there’s his Trans-Am title, two International Motor Sports GT Championship titles and 18 IndyCar races, including an Indianapolis 500. He seemed to have it all—fame, fortune and beautiful models on both arms. But Haywood also had a secret. It was one of those “open” secrets, whispered about from time to time in racing circles, but when a high school student asked to interview the driver for a writing project, Haywood decided it was finally time to come out to his fans.
The boy confided to Haywood that he was gay and he seemed to know the driver was gay, too.
“He told me, ‘I have been bullied my entire life. Every morning when I wake up, I think about suicide. I have absolutely no respect for myself.’ Later, his mother called and told me I had saved his life. It was a powerful experience to be able to help him get through that and I knew it was time,” Haywood recalled. “When [executive producer] Patrick Dempsey came to me with his proposal, we were at a race in Atlanta. I told him maybe it was time that I did something. If my voice was strong enough to save one kid, it may be good enough to save more.”
In “Hurley,” a new documentary being screened on Nov. 16 at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, Haywood speaks for the first time about being gay in the macho world of motor sports during the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Throughout his career, the longtime Florida resident had always been reserved, even shy when dealing with the media. Haywood quickly developed trust in filmmaker Derek Dodge. They would work together for three years to complete the documentary.
Haywood first saw a rough cut several months ago in New York.
“It was sort of an emotional roller coaster for me. Then [the film] went into the polishing phase. There were some areas that were cleaned up and the end product was really good. We had a showing at Patrick Dempsey’s studio in L.A. and it was seen by friends from the racing industry and friends from all over the place,” he said.
Haywood, who retired from competition in 2012, is no longer burdened by his secret. Many in the industry have met his husband Steve and the film and a recent biography will tell his story to fans around the world.
“The most important thing to remember is not what you are, but who you are, whether you’re gay or black or Indian or whatever,” he said. “The biggest medicine for suicide is discussion and conversation, regardless of the demons that a person may be facing. If you give somebody a road to go down—throughout my life and everybody’s life—there’s barriers you have to get over. If the barrier stands in front of you and you don’t go around it, then that’s your fault. We knock down barriers all the time in all the things we do,” Haywood concluded.
“Hurley” will be screened on Friday, Nov. 16 at 9 p.m. at Savor Cinema, 503 S.E. 6th St. in Fort Lauderdale, as part of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. Hurley Haywood will sign copies of his book, “Hurley: From the Beginning,” at 7:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, go to FLIFF.com.