Hurley: Baby, You’re Much Too Fast, by David Bax
According to Derek Dodge’s new documentary on the guy, Hurley Haywood is like the Wayne Gretzky of the endurance racing motorsport. But I’d never heard of the guy. Then again, I’d never heard of any of his contemporaries either. Come to think of it, I’d never heard of endurance racing, a truly fascinating sport in which a team of drivers switch off racing a single car for as long as 24 hours. Turns out I’m the one who was wrong, then. Hurley, as the movie is called, could be seen as an introduction to the niche sport. Or maybe it’s about what it means to be so celebrated in so focused a subculture. Or perhaps it could be about Haywood’s life both in and out of endurance racing, which, as we’ll soon learn, has some pretty compelling specifics of its own. Dodge’s failure is that he tries to do all of these thing without trying particularly hard to do any one of them, and all in such a short time, it’s over before a professional endurance racer would even notice it had started.
Though no longer racing, Haywood is still involved in the sport as a mentor and instructor. He casts a long shadow over this particular world so it came as a shock—to fans, if not to his friends, who had known for ages—when he came out publicly as gay in early 2018.
This is, ostensibly, the crux of Hurley, even though the movie spends far more time in marketing puff-piece mode. When Dodge isn’t selling you on Haywood’s legacy with effusive talking heads saying things like, “He is the quintessential race car driver,” or tossing the man himself softball questions like, “So you always strive for perfection?” (to which Haywood answers, “Yep,”), he’s making sure to include references to Dempsey/Wright Motorsports, a concern operated in part by actor/racer/producer-of-this-film Patrick Dempsey.
Hurley’s look at Haywood’s sexuality, once it gets around to that, is the most thoughtful aspect of the movie. Even when it offers up simplified, regressive notions about Haywood distracting from his homosexuality by disappearing into a masculine pursuit like motorsports, it also reminds you that, superficial as such thoughts might be, they were in keeping with the kind of people Haywood was spending his time with and, therefore, useful to him. It does, however, feel poorly considered when Dodge accompanies comments about how often women were sexually harassed in Haywood’s heyday with a close-up of a woman’s ass. Still, the closest Hurley comes to thinking critically about its subject is in the interview with Haywood’s husband, who’s been by his side for a quarter century, except for in those moments of victory, when the cameras were flashing and Haywood’s supposed partner in life was forced to offer support from a distance that wouldn’t arouse suspicion.
Powerful as that stuff is, it’s baffling that Dodge diverts to the story of another man from Haywood’s past, Peter Gregg, a teammate and rival whose star burned out as quickly as it had risen. The story of Haywood and Gregg is ripe with drama but Dodge confusingly chooses to give it less screen time than it would need in order to be fleshed out but just enough to make Hurley feel unfocused.
Dodge’s insistence on keeping things light and short robs us of Hurley’s potential power. The closest we get to an antagonist is the supposed friend of Haywood’s who insists, “If he comes out and he’s militant, it kills him.” That even someone who ostensibly knows the man still refuses to see homosexuality as anything other than an agenda is a vein worth exploring. If only Dodge had an agenda of his own.