Pedal to the metal

How the need for speed took Riverside teen around the world

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Anthony Landahl

Randall Haywood comfortably pushes the gas pedal. The speed of his car hits 100 mph, and he continues to top 150 and then even 180. 

These types of speeds are felonious, no matter what part of the country you're in. But there are no police here to stop Randall from speeding, let alone racing with other drivers. 

The Riverside native and recent Riverside-Brookfield High School graduate is staring at a screen in his mother's basement. He's sitting on a chair that is low to the ground, close enough so he is positioned perfectly in relation to the steering wheel, which is also his video game controller.  

Haywood is an avid player of "Gran Turismo," a car racing video game. Well, he is more than just an avid player. He is a global competitor. 

In late June, Randall competed in the Gran Turismo Championship World Tour 2019 in Nürburg, Germany, as a part of a team representing BMW.

In "Gran Turismo," players have the option of signing a contract with a car manufacturer for one season, which lasts two months. Haywood signed with BMW and is on his third contract, competing in live races with 15 other players through the game. 

He said he practices every day, racing against a clock to see how long he takes to complete a practice lap around the track. His record stands at 45.9 seconds, but he does not care for the milestones.

"I don't look at lap times too much because, at the end of the day, it matters where you finish," he said.

Haywood had to be a top-performing BMW driver in the game and win a regional competition to qualify for the championships. After receiving an email with a lengthy itinerary for Germany, he sent it to his mother, Priscilla Gulley, who was not convinced it looked like a legitimate trip until she saw the plane ticket. 

Haywood would leave the country, and the state, for the first time in his life to fly around the world to do what he had always loved. 

His interest in cars stemmed from the game and from an automotive class he took at RBHS. For his 16th birthday, Gulley took him to the Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet and he had the chance to drive in an actual race car at 200 mph. 

He enjoys the high speed and so does Gulley, whose father owned a body shop and raced. In a way, the need for speed is in Haywood's blood, and the trip gave him a chance to show everyone what he was made of.  

The championship took place on June 21-22. In one of the several races, Randall's defining moment came when he pulled off an incredibly challenging pass from second to first place before the final lap, eventually giving him the win. 

The victory helped the three-person BMW team finish third overall in the competition out of 12 teams and 36 players. Most of the players came from countries around the world including Brazil, Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom. 

The third-place prize is a trophy, which Haywood displays in his house, and the event also gifted him a jacket, sweater, racing gloves, racing shoes, a BMW hat and three competition shirts. 

It is the first-place prize, however, that Randall eyes with intent: a watch from the Swiss brand TAG Heuer. He will have another chance to battle for the watch in August when he travels to New York for the same competition. 

After New York, he will set his sights on qualifying for the September championships in Austria. He is also in talks with the video gaming equipment company Thrustmaster to sign a contract to represent them in races.

Like some of the other competitors, earning some cash to play video games is not a bizarre idea to Haywood.

"I want to be like that, too," he said. "You just sit there, have fun and get paid."

However, he also sees the other side of that career: being paid to play video games is not guaranteed. Work can be plentiful and then it can be sparse. His mother, aware of this, keeps supportive but provided some cautious advice.

"I just told him to have a backup plan," she said. "Once it dies down, you at least want to have a backup until it comes back. Keep your opportunities open."

Haywood's true passion lies in cars and he is looking to go to automotive school to be a mechanic one day. Video games continue to be fun, but after seeing how some of the competitors reacted negatively at the competition, his attitude is to not take it too seriously. 

"At the end of the day, you can't play video games for the rest of your life, and you can't let a video game affect your [thinking] to the point where you're socially awkward or get angry towards people," he said.

One day, he hopes to own a BMW himself and quench his thirst of speed. But until then, you can find him traveling the world a little more often and riding around in an Infiniti G35 that he is planning to get soon.

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