The 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona, Jan. 28-29, marks a half-century of sports car racing on the high banks and twisting infield of Daytona International Speedway. In the coming weeks, we'll be counting down to that milestone with a series of stories looking at some of the drivers, marques and stories that have shaped 50 years of a 'round-the-clock classic. We're kicking things off with the Rolex 24 at Daytona's most successful driver, Hurley Haywood...
DAYTONA'S MAGIC ENDURES FOR FIVE-TIME WINNER
When it comes to defining the essence and the challenge of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, few have the insight and experience of Hurley Haywood, the Floridian racing veteran with a record-setting five victories in the 'round-the-clock sports car classic on his résumé.
Haywood made his Daytona debut in 1969 and earned his first win four years later, sharing a Porsche Carrera RSR with Peter Gregg. After that, he made a habit of winning in odd-numbered years, racking up victories number two, three and four in '75, '77 and '79, but would have to wait another dozen years before taking a fifth win in 1991.
He acknowledges that every win has special qualities, but that first one in 1973 (BELOW; all photos by LAT archive) stands out not only for how unexpected it was, but also because of where it took him going forward in his career.
“Our car was entered by Brumos Porsche, and Roger Penske's sister car had Mark Donohue and George Follmer at the wheel,” recalls Haywood. “With a bunch of prototypes from Mirage and Matra heading the field, we never dreamed we could win overall, but things just worked out that way. The prototypes all ran into problems and Penske's Porsche retired, so Gregg and I ended up winning by more than 20 laps.
“I guess people thought it was a fluke, but we backed it up with a win at the 12 Hours of Sebring and that sort of propelled me into the international limelight.”
The 1977 win was particularly special as Haywood did a mammoth eight-hour shift at night! In modern sports car racing, such feats of endurance are no longer allowed, but Haywood just viewed it as the task at hand for that particular 24-hour race.
“My co-drivers didn't like driving at night,” he deadpans...
Haywood has also scored three overall victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (1977, '83, '94), so invariably the question arises: which is more difficult to win? Based on the length of the Floridian night in January and the degree of difficulty imposed by a larger starting field on a shorter track, Haywood says Daytona.
“Compared with Le Mans in the middle of June, where the only true darkness is for five or six hours, Daytona has a lot of night-time activity,” he says. “Also, the Daytona banking puts tremendous forces on the car, and there are huge differences in speed and in driver capabilities to contend with, too. Le Mans has stricter regulations, whereas Daytona is more open and has bigger fields. Some years, there's been more than 70 cars out there, whereas Le Mans capped it at 55 starters. With much more traffic, the speed differentials and a smaller track, there are more unknowns at Daytona.”