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Famous Car Numbers: 59 Owes Legacy to U.S. Navy Carrier

In this First of a Series, Hurley Haywood Explains the Genesis of the Iconic No. 59 in Sports Car Racing


By Holly Cain


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The story behind one of the most legendary car numbers in IMSA history absolutely lives up to the performance of the very car it designated for decades.


The famed No. 59 Brumos Racing Porsche, long driven by Motorsports Hall of Famer Hurley Haywood and the late racing legend Peter Gregg, won IMSA’s inaugural race in 1971 at VIRginia International Raceway – the 50th anniversary happening earlier this month.


The duo would establish themselves as the original sports car greats and the car No. 59 would establish itself as a memorable and significant designation in all of racing. It is a numerical ambassador of sorts.


Gregg earned 41 race victories driving the No. 59 and his co-driver Haywood finished with four championships and 34 career wins. In all, the No. 59 Brumos Racing Porsche collected five Rolex 24 At Daytona crowns, a pair of Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts wins and three 24 Hours of Le Mans trophies.


Yet, for all the grand connotation, “59” became “the number” in a rather random and personal manner in the mid-1960s.


“Peter was a naval intelligence officer based here in Jacksonville (Florida),’’ Haywood explained of his late friend. “One day he was flying – as a passenger – in a fixed-wing aircraft and landing on an aircraft carrier.  As they were circling the aircraft carrier, he looked down and he saw the number ‘59’ on the stern and the bow.


“He liked the font of the 59 and he said, ‘I’m going to have that as my racing number.’ And so that’s how the 59 came about.”


Haywood recalls that Gregg specifically chose both the number and the font used on the carrier to replicate on his racing car and decided to change his racing Porsches’ color from the original orange.


“Someone pointed out to Peter that orange cars don’t photograph well in black-and-white photos, so that’s when we developed the white and red-and-blue stripes and that was on our ’73 car,’’ Haywood said. “That’s how our how our whole number and paint scheme came about.


“Peter wasn’t the kind of guy that looked at a number as being good luck. It was just a number he liked, and we kept that number. That number and that red-white-blue color scheme are something that everybody realizes whose car it is.”


The new look was an immediate hit, earning acclaim from its first race with Gregg and Haywood. The team celebrated the car’s fresh patriotic paint scheme in Daytona International Speedway’s victory lane with a win in the 1973 Rolex 24 – the first of Haywood’s record five overall wins – a top mark of excellence he shares only with Scott Pruett.


After Gregg’s passing in 1980, the number was essentially retired. But the Brumos team brought it back with Haywood driving again and teaming with a variety of other drivers. J.C. France co-drove the No. 59 Porsche for six years (2003-09).  Joao Barbosa drove the car in 28 races from 2006-09.

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“It was a little bit unexpected and then a special possibility to carry on that heritage with Hurley and that I got to race with him and share the car and continue the Brumos tradition with the 59 car and the Brumos colors, of course,’’ Barbosa said.


“I would think (it is most iconic) because the 59 has a long tradition and legacy of 50 years. It’s a number that carries a big tradition for many years.


“You just don’t see an iconic number that’s such a part of a successful team and tied to one team,” Barbosa continued. “It’s something that got lost a little bit with the current times. So obviously, I think the 59 is the most iconic number with IMSA.’’


In a most appropriate way, Haywood closed his IMSA career by winning his last race in the No. 59 Brumos Porsche, competing in the 2009 Homestead-Miami Speedway season finale. It was the happy ending to a decades-long story of sustained excellence. Haywood in victory lane, alongside that No. 59.


“All over the world people know the number and that paint scheme,’’ Haywood said. “To me as a driver, 59 is very important.”