Until now, Hurley Haywood, a five-time Rolex 24 at Daytona champion, has kept his personal life out of the public eye. But the 69-year-old racing champion is opening up about his sexuality in his forthcoming autobiography, Hurley! From The Beginning.
In the book, Haywood, who was widely rumored to be gay, recalls an interview a few years back with a high school reporter.
The interview began as a standard gig, with the young reporter asking Haywood about his racing wins, but it quickly became a more personal encounter: The teen revealed to Haywood that he’d been bullied his whole life because he was gay. He was having suicidal thoughts.
Haywood responded with compassion, he told Autoweek: “I said, ’Listen, it’s not what you are, it’s who you are. That’s what people remember.'”
And, about a year and a half later, he received a call from the teen’s mother: Haywood’s kind words had saved the young man’s life.
“Hearing from that mother—well, it was very emotional,” Haywood said. “And I thought, if my voice is strong enough to help one kid, it might help two kids, or five or a hundred.”
Though he’s only now coming out publicly, Haywood confirms that his sexuality was well-known within the pro racing circuit, but it never impeded his career: “The racing community has been extremely supportive. I’ve never not gotten a ride because I was gay.”
Haywood has had a tumultuous life outside of his sexuality: His co-driver and best friend, Peter Gregg, committed suicide after the two had a falling out. Gregg reportedly struggled with mental illness. The two were rumored to be lovers, but Haywood denies the claim: “[It’s] totally not true,” he told Autoweek.
Hurley! From The Beginning will be available for purchase on March 10. A documentary about Haywood’s life, Hurley, is slated to open in June.