International Sports Car Racing Great Hurley Haywood Gives Key Driving Tips


Hurley Haywood has won more grueling sports car endurance race classics than anyone in racing history, with a total of nearly a dozen victories. He’s won the 24 Hours of Daytona five times, the 24 Hours of LeMans in France three times and the 12 Hours of Sebring twice. He was the first to win the 24 Hours of LeMans and the 24 Hours of Daytona in the same year. Haywood has appeared in advertisements for upscale products such as Rolex and television productions for Porsche. Haywood, who was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2005, long has competed in Porsches. Among other activities, he’s the chief driving instructor for the Porsche Driving Experience school that helps motorists become sharper at the wheel. Dan Jedlicka interviewed Haywood at a Porsche preview of its latest Cayenne and Panamera models at the Barber race track in Birmingham, Alabama.

Q. What’s the biggest mistake most drivers make on roads?

A. They just focus on the car ahead of them. They’re looking at its bumper instead of as far as possible beyond it. On roads and tracks, I’m always looking ahead, but also to the rear and sides. 

Q. I’ve followed professional racing drivers on roads and they always smoothly pull away from traffic around them on, say, freeways, without speeding or driving recklessly. How do they do that?

A. They’re looking ahead for openings in traffic others don’t notice and concentrating entirely on driving. Average drivers should get into the habit of noticing various scenarios around them. It can keep them from accidents, even save their life.

Q. Do new, young drivers in America get proper training that enables them to be good, safe drivers?

A. No. They have awful training, when, say, it comes to handling emergency situations. They text and talk on a cell phone and are distracted by friends riding with them. One of the best things a parent can do for a son or daughter is take them to a high performance driving school that teaches good car control—how to quickly and instinctively handle such things as skids and safely avoid or drive from emergency situations without panicking. In Europe, it can take four years for a young person to get a permanent driver’s license. In America, anybody 16 can quickly get a driver’s license with minimal instruction. 

Q. What kind of car should parents get their kids who have just gotten a driver’s license? 

A. Many kids will want a car that’s flashy and fast--something “cool”  Or cute, like the small Smart car. But they should be given an auto that’s safe. For instance, a used Mercedes-Benz or Volvo sedan is safer than, say, the Smart. 

Q. What affordable cars are popular with young drivers today?

A. Modified Japanese cars. Detroit no longer makes the kinds of affordable fast cars, such as 1960s Pontiac GTOs, that young drivers once took to drive-ins and drag raced. So  today’s kids have turned to fast, hopped-up affordable Japanese models.


Q. I’ve found while doing some amateur sports car racing that racing on a track and driving on roads seems very different.

A. In some respects racing is different, but in other respects it’s no different than driving  on roads. For instance, besides the vision aspect we discussed, smooth driving counts a lot on both roads and tracks. 

Q. Can you tell just by riding with a driver on the street if he or she has the potential of becoming a good racing driver?

A. I can tell in about five minutes.

Q. How can that be?

A. For one thing, a good potential racer is planning moves in traffic. On tracks, there’s a mixture of small and larger cars that are traveling at various speeds—just like on roads. Consider cab drivers. Some are really good, others are terrible. The smooth ones, for instance, see holes in traffic. They’re not jerky—on and off the brakes a lot. 

Q. Many young folks who are, for example, outstanding golfers or tennis players begin playing at a very early age. What about young aspiring race car drivers.

A. Lots of new racing talent has had much experience racing go-karts. Go-karts have been with us a long time, but once were used mostly for recreational reasons.

Q. Where do they go beyond go-karts?

A. Unfortunately, it’s kind of a hit-or-miss situation in this country. But NASCAR, for one, has a good “farm system.” It features various types of race vehicles in subdivisions that can prepare someone to drive the regular, most-powerful NASCAR race cars. In Europe, they have various “Formula” classes that lead up to the ultimate race cars—found in “Formula One.”

Q. Did you get started racing go-karts?

A. No. I just got into a car on a track and drove as fast as I could. I actually started driving my grandmother’s full-size car, with her permission, when I was 12.


Q. Do you think that today’s passenger cars have become too technically sophisticated, overly computerized?

A. Features such as anti-lock brakes and stability control systems help make cars safer. But it’s true that some computerized components in cars can be distracting.