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Sports Car Legend Haywood Grateful for Chance To Drive in Indy 500

One of the greatest names in the history of American sports car racing crossed paths with the Indianapolis 500 in the early days of his racing career.

It was 40 years ago that Hurley Haywood was behind the wheel of the No. 99 Sta-On Car Glaze/KISS99/Guarantee Auto Special in the 1980 Indianapolis 500. Haywood started 25th and finished 18th after dropping out of the race when his car caught on fire after 126 laps.

“Lindsey Hopkins, who I drove for, called me, and he and Peter Gregg were talking and said Hurley would like to try Indy,” Haywood said. “Lindsey stepped up to the plate and offered me the car.

“I came there in 1979 and didn’t get qualified. I had some problems in qualifying, and in 1980, I qualified. For me, that was a real big thrill, but I was never comfortable with the cars. Lindsey had a good team, but it was not a front-running team, so I thought my efforts would be better to focus on the GT stuff. I had probably 15 or 20 INDYCAR starts over the years, but the Indy 500 was, of course, the big one.

“I’m very glad I did it. From a driver’s standpoint, to run in the Indianapolis 500 is a big thing. To be able to experience that and have the knowledge of whether it was something I wanted to do more of or if I wasn’t going to be successful at it was a valuable lesson for me.”

Racing in the Indianapolis 500 was far different back then than the way the race plays out in recent years. There were a variety of different racing machines and some fairly older cars in the field compared to the latest and great innovations of that era.

Safety was not at the same level that it is today, so it was a fairly high-risk proposition for any race driver.

“When I was running, we had articulated skirts, so at the start of the race the car was terrific, but as the race went on, the skirts wore down and the handling got to be iffy at the end of the race,” Haywood said. “You had to be very precise. In that day and age, there was only one line through the corner, and if you got off that line, you were in the wall. Now you can really run anywhere through some of those corners.

“Aerodynamics play such a key role. The racing has got a lot better than in the days when I ran there. It was really one of the easiest physical races I ever ran because you would run 10 or 15 laps, and then the yellow would come out and you could regroup yourself and start over. It was stressful but not physically straining.”

When it came to innovation, car owner Jim Hall brought the famed “Yellow Submarine” – a Pennzoil-sponsored Chaparral/Cosworth to Indy that year. With Johnny Rutherford behind the wheel, it was the first successful ground-effects car at the Indianapolis 500. Rutherford had the “Yellow Submarine” in front of the field seven times for 118 of the 200 laps and easily won the race by 29.92 seconds over Tom Sneva in a McLaren/Cosworth.

Ground effects would forever change INDYCAR racing.

“I remember the first time we drove ground-effects sports cars was in 1962, and that was an awesome car,” Haywood said. “All of your wishes and dreams as a driver came true with the advent of ground effects. Cars were glued to the road, and you could do anything you wanted with them. You could move around, and aero didn’t make that much difference because the cars were stable. That technology changed the face of racing through INDYCAR, formula and sports cars in the GTP days.

“It was great technology, but I’m of the mind of old-style of racing where the drivers make the difference in the car and not the technologies and electronics and stuff. I think ABS brakes and traction control have been limited in all forms of racing and given it back to the driver is an important thing so the driver can make a difference.”

Haywood was born and raised in Chicago and intently followed the Indianapolis 500. He attended the race with his father as a spectator in the early- to mid-1970s before making his only start as a driver in 1980.

“I liked watching Jochen Rindt and Mark Donohue, who turned out to be a really good friend of mine,” Haywood said. “His son (David) drove for our team. Mark was instrumental in helping me adapt when I went from true sports cars over to Can-Am racing. When I got to Indy, he had already passed away by that time, but I had a pretty good grasp of the things I needed to come to grips with.”

Haywood is a select group of drivers that has competed in the Indy 500, won the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 24 Hours of Le Mans – the most iconic events in all of racing.

“Each race presents its own set of problems,” Haywood said. “The Indy 500 was an endurance race where you had to pace yourself and do all the things that you do in a long-distance race. A.J. Foyt has won at Daytona, Le Mans and at Indy. He is one of those iconic names that win in anything he drives.”

Haywood has long been known as the “Master of Daytona” as the famed sports car driver won the 24 Hours of Daytona five times during his legendary career behind the wheel. He also drove to victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times and was twice the winner at the 12 Hours of Sebring.

Haywood’s last race as a driver was in the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona, but he continued to guide the fabled Brumos Porsche team at sports car races throughout the schedule. Since retiring as a driver, he also has served as the chief driving instructor at the Porsche driving school at Barber Motorsports Park and as a spokesperson and executive with Brumos Automotive dealerships.

Actor and fellow sports car racer Patrick Dempsey also produced a documentary about Haywood’s life and career, “Hurley,” that was released in 2019.

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