American race car legend Hurley Haywood told HuffPost that coming out as gay has gifted him with the “awesome responsibility” of representing the LGBTQ community in a sport he views as a “last bastion of really macho” chauvinism.
Haywood, a five-time winner of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, first spoke publicly about his sexuality in a February 2018 interview with Autoweek. A little more than a year later, a new documentary traces the now-retired driver’s rise to prominence in the 1970s and 1980s, even as he kept his personal relationships a secret from many fans.
HuffPost got a sneak peek at “Hurley,” which hits major streaming platforms on Tuesday, via the exclusive clip above. In it, executive producer Patrick Dempsey explains why he thinks Haywood’s days on the track would have been numbered had the driver opted to come out while he was still racing.
Directed by Derek Dodge, “Hurley” debuted at the 2018 Inside Out LGBT Film Festival following the release of the driver’s autobiography, Hurley: From the Beginning, which was co-written with Sean Cridland. Together, Haywood sees the two projects as offering a “really honest portrayal” of his life and hopes that by sharing his journey, he can help make things easier for the next generation of drivers.
“I’ve been really lucky my entire life,” Haywood, 70, told HuffPost. “I had a great childhood, I had a great professional racing career, and I just thought, well, maybe it’s time to give something back.”
He told Autoweek that his decision to come out as gay last year was partly inspired by an encounter he had with a high school student who was interviewing him for a term paper. At one point in that interview, Haywood recalled, the teen said he’d been bullied for being gay, prompting the driver to begin counseling him. Months later, Haywood said, he received a phone call from the boy’s mother, who said he’d helped save her son’s life.
That experience made him want to detail his personal journey in both the documentary and the book. “I thought, ‘If my voice is strong enough to save one kid, then maybe I can save two or 10 or 100,’” he told HuffPost.
While the world of race car driving may not look particularly LGBTQ-friendly from the outside, Haywood stressed that he “was never discriminated against” by fellow drivers, many of whom knew he was gay in the ’70s.
“The only thing they looked at was how long I kept my foot down on the throttle,” he said. “As long as I was winning races, people were OK with it. I let my right foot do the talking.”
Dempsey, an actor who is a race car driver and enthusiast in his free time, had previously collaborated with Dodge on a number of smaller projects for social media. Having come to view Haywood as a personal mentor, the “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Bridget Jones’ Baby” star told HuffPost that he was excited to join “Hurley” as an executive producer and that he believes the documentary’s message of LGBTQ inclusion is “more important today than ever.”
“We have people who aren’t tolerant, who are judgmental, who are taking Scripture [out of context] and reversing it in a way that has nothing to do with the teachings,” Dempsey said. “I hope, in a way, that we can get that type of person to look at the world differently by calmly opening up the discussion of compassion and acceptance.”