Sports Heroes Who Served is a series that highlights the accomplishments of athletes who have served in the United States Army.
Harris “Hurley” Haywood is a world class racing driver and Vietnam veteran.
Haywood, born in 1948, said he had his ambition for the automobile when he was young. The Chicago native spent summers working on his grandparents’ farm west of the city, sometimes driving a van to help. He was later given a car which he drove on the property.
âI started driving a full-size car on farms when I was 12,â he said. “So by the time I was 16, I was pretty familiar with driving a car.”
This early start paid off.
He won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1977 (Porsche 936), 1983 (Porsche 956) and 1994 (Dauer 962 Le Mans) and is tied as the most successful driver at the 24 Hours of Daytona with 5 wins (1973, 1975 , 1977, 1979 and 1991).
He won the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1973 and 1981. He also competed in the 1980 Indianapolis 500 finishing 18th. He has represented the International Motor Sports Association four times in the International Race of Champions (1986, 1989, 1992, 1995).
In 1970, during the Vietnam War, Haywood was drafted into the military. He served as Specialist 4 with the 164th Aviation Group near Saigon.
Of his experience in Vietnam, he said, âYou had to grow up pretty quickly when you were shot. It tends to get you sober quickly. “
As to how that Vietnam experience applied to racing, he said: âOne of the things I used in the military every day in my piloting career was the ability to adapt to the race. change. People tell me, ‘What trait does a racing driver need to have?’ I’m saying it’s the ability to adapt to change because the environment was constantly changing in a race car, and if you don’t adapt to those changes you’re going to end up at the back of the pack.
“It’s the same in the military. If you get too locked into one thing, you won’t be able to react quickly enough. That part has been extremely beneficial to me on the professional side … I think when I am I came back to the US in 1971 and started running, I had a huge advantage over my peers then because they didn’t have that experience. “
Today, Haywood is the chief driving instructor for the Porsche Track Experience, held at Barber Motorsports Park outside of Birmingham, Alabama.
In February 2018, Haywood came out publicly as gay in his autobiography “Hurley: From the Beginning”.
In 2019, Patrick Dempsey produced a documentary film, “Hurley”, on the life of Haywood.