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Icon Haywood To Take Last Ride

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, January 29 2010
Hurley Haywood will take one last Daytona ride in a Brumos Porsche this weekend. (Photo courtesy of the Grand-Am Series)

Hurley Haywood will take one last Daytona ride in a Brumos Porsche this weekend. (Photo courtesy of the Grand-Am Series)

Hurley Haywood has learned a lot of things during his many years of driving sports cars. And one of those things was on his mind this week as he prepared for this weekend’s running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

And that is; do it right or don’t do it at all.

No longer able to to it right, Haywood is opting to make the 2010 24 his last race.

“I retired from full-time racing at the end of the 2007 season,” Haywood said during a phone conversation this week. “In 2008 and 2009, I only did the long-distance races and it became very apparent that it was very difficult to stay in the top of the game when you’re doing only three races. I just felt I don’t want to drag the team down.”

Haywood has been pulling teams up for four decades. Pulling them up so high that he is generally regarded as the greatest sports car driver of all time.

The 61-year-old native of Chicago won Le Mans three times, the Daytona 24 five times. He’s won Sebring twice.

He also has the 1988 Trans-Am title to his credit, as well as two IMSA GT championships, three Norelco Cup championships, a SuperCar title and 18 IndyCar starts. He was the fastest rookie at the Indy 500 in 1991.

Haywood – whose career got started when, as a college kid in the late ‘60s, he brought down the great Peter Gregg (who would be come a friend and mentor) in an autocross event in Florida – has driven many kinds of sports cars, but has become the face of Porsche.

The car which sport car lovers want to hear the most about is the iconic Porsche 917 which Haywood drove in the Can-Am Series in the 1970s.

Versions of that car possessed up to 1,500 horsepower and had track speeds up to 240 mph.

But while sports-car lovers – and those who loved the Steve McQueen movie “Le Mans” – remember the 917 with a romantic obsession, Haywood remembers it in a different way.

“You know,” Haywood said, taking a long, awkward breath, “the 917 was a great car. But it was very difficult to drive. It had immense horsepower. But the 917/10 was short wheel based so it was not a particularly pleasant car to drive.”

The cars which were pleasant to drive, Haywood said, well, those came a bit later.

“The 962s were great cars,” he said. “They remained competitive over a 10-year period of time. But when people ask me what my favorite car to drive was, it was the 936.

“The last version of that, which we ran in the early 1980s at Le Mans, we had the Porsche Indy engine in it and it was just a sweetheart of car. It was light, it was nimble and it was very fast. You could throw it around the corners, it was very forgiving and that was just a really beautiful car to drive. And also, it was beautiful to look at. Had a very nice shape to it.”

Daytona holds a certain beauty for Haywood as well.

He’s so much of a fixture on the infield course, they should name the ferris wheel after him next year.

He snaps out his answer when asked his favorite Daytona race: The first one he won overall.

It was 1973 and Haywood was co-driving with Gregg.

“It was pretty special,” Haywood said. “We were not expected to do well. We were expected to win our class and that was when we were in, basically, a slightly modified 911 Porsche RS. It certainly didn’t have the legs at the front to stay with them, but it was reliable and it was fast enough and we went on to win.

“Penske had a car and Peter really wanted to beat Roger badly. We had some great races during the night with (George) Follmer and (Mark) Donohue and that was a great win. That win sort of put me in the limelight as an international win and then we backed it up with Sebring. So I won the two most important races in the United States back to back and that kind of set the tone for the rest of my career.”

That career is scheduled to come to an end this weekend – the Daytona part of it for sure and the career overall almost for sure.

And Haywood admits that it will be a bittersweet running of the 48th Daytona race for him.

“It’s the close to a 40-year career which I have enjoyed immensely,” he said. “I’m really trying to win Daytona for the sixth time. We’ve put together a fantastic group of drivers (which includes David Donohue, Mark’s son) who I want to drive with. A great (Brumos Racing) team. A great car with the Porsche Riley, so, I’ve gotten all the stars aligned and now, if everything sort of meshes together and works properly, we’ll win the race.

“If we don’t win, and so many things can go wrong, I still can retire with my head high and be proud of what I have done.”

Haywood said driver duties this weekend will be adjusted as the race progresses. And he insists he only wants to bring the car to the finish line “if it’s convenient”.

“I’ve done that so many times in the past. As long as we win. That’s what’s the most important thing. I would not want the team to make a special stop for me to get in.

“I remember,” Haywood says with an embarrassed laugh, “we had a wax company come up here and we had a big lead in the 24-hour race and they wanted us to (stop in the pits and) wax the car. Like $30,000 to do it. Peter (Gregg) said, nope, didn’t want to do it. He said you never know what will happen, whether the car will fail to restart or something like that.

“So, it’s the same thing (with putting him in the car to take the checkered flag). It’s an unnecessary stop.”

Perhaps, but perhaps not as there might be a lot of road racing fans out there who would love to see the gentleman from Chicago bring the car home one last time.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, January 29 2010