Earlier this year, Porsche race legend Hurley Haywood’s autobiography was released. Here, America’s greatest ever endurance race driver shares some additional memoirs with Total 911’s Tony Mcguiness
My friend, mentor, the owner and founder of the Brumos racing legacy, Peter Gregg, shot himself dead on 15 December, 1980.
I first met Peter in 1967 when I raced against him for the fastest time of the day at an Autocross event and beat him. I am not sure what made our personalities work as we were very different, yet we worked well together and had a friendship that lasted 13 years.
Many people thought we were related. We had a lot of similarities in appearance. Something that was a little freaky is we shared the same birthday! Our backgrounds were similar. We both had been educated at Ivy League schools, both had been in the military and, interestingly, we both had raced Corvettes. Meeting him changed my life. Because of Peter, I’ve had a successful racing career.
He got the name “Peter Perfect” from his perfection with doing things. He left nothing to chance. He thought of every possible scenario that could develop when racing and planned for those instances. If something went wrong, it wasn’t a surprise and he was ready to deal with it.
Because of Peter I had been able to win Le Mans in 1977. It was his training that put me in a position where Porsche wanted to use me in that drive. From a teacher-pupil aspect he was happy and proud of what I had accomplished, but I think there was a professional jealousy that I was put into that position with Porsche before he was.
At Le Mans in 1980 he was on his way from the hotel to the race track in a 924 with Frank Stella and his girlfriend on board when a tractor pulled out from a side road. Peter swerved to miss it but ended up in a ditch upside down. Nobody was badly hurt, but Peter knocked his head on the steering wheel. It left a big mark and affected his vision. Porsche doctors would not let him race. That was the start of his downfall.
Peter was really upset, but I thought things would be okay. At the next race, which was at the Paul Revere Night Race at Daytona, he gave me the responsibility of setting the car up, which I did. I also put the car on pole position.
Even though this was a night race it was in the middle of July and incredibly hot. I had given us a one-lap lead, but I had worn myself out and was dehydrated, so I called in over the radio and asked if Peter was ready to go. The crew chief said, “Yes! He is standing here with his helmet ready to go.”
I said, “I want to come in for the scheduled pit stop so we can make the change.” We had about 45 minutes left in the three-hour race. Peter got in the car and we finished 3rd. I was shocked that afterwards Peter blamed me for losing the race. He said I had done that on purpose to make him look bad. Yet I had built up the lead in the race and Peter had lost it.
After we got back from the next race, which was the 6 Hours of Watkins Glen, he came into my office and said he didn’t want me there anymore. He basically threw me out of the dealership and said I was no longer welcome at Brumos.
Peter could be difficult, but he had an unimaginable tragedy occur on his tenth birthday. While out in New York celebrating with his mum she jumped in front of a train, killing herself as Peter watched. Every birthday he was reminded of what happened.
On 6 December, 1980, he got married to a girl named Deborah Marrs. I didn’t get invited to the wedding, but on 14 December Peter called me and asked me to come down for lunch to talk. I hadn’t spoken to him since he told me to leave Brumos.
I was shocked that I got the call, but I knew Peter well and knew these were moods he went through all the time.
I went down to see him and it was like nothing had ever happened. He gave me a big hug. We talked about the very first time we met all through the racing up to that point and what we were going to do in the future. He was going to field an Indy Car team and he wanted me to drive for him and be a team again. There were all kinds of things he was talking about.
I can’t answer if he had planned to kill himself. If I had been trained in how to look for signs I would have had the red flags in the air. I think that he maybe wanted to clear the air and that if he did decide to do something he and I were good.
The next day Peter bought a gun, went for a walk along the beach and shot himself. It has been a long time since that terrible day. I still miss Peter. He will always be in my heart.
In the 1980s I was part of the Rothmans Porsche Team. That team really was the stuff of legend. In 1983 I was involved in one of the most exciting and dramatic finishes in the history of Le Mans. Along with Al Holbert and Vern Schuppan in a Rothmans Livery 956, we were leading the race. Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell’s 956 was closing in on us. Then, on the last lap, something happened…