“It’s hard being open and honest about being homosexual,” Danny Watts, a recently retired professional racing driver, tells me. “When you’re a contracted driver you always have to think about the sponsors and whether they might be proactive or anti-LGBT. I always assumed and thought it would go against me if I came out whilst racing if the sponsors and teams were not supportive.”
And that’s why Danny Watts has waited until he’s retired to come out as gay, in this exclusive interview. After a long and successful racing career, Watts opens up to me about how his life has changed dramatically in the recent years.
“I’m sure everyone is going to be shocked but that’s normal and, unfortunately, I expect a few haters,” he says. “There maybe even be some verbal abuse but what can I do? I can’t help who I am and what I feel. Hopefully, some people will embrace and accept it but I am guessing that I’ll soon find out who my friends are.”
Danny Watts started to make a name for himself when he made the move from karts to single-seaters in 1999. In his inaugural season, he dominated the UK Formula First Championships with a staggering 12 wins.
In 2000 he made the jump to the Formula Renault championship, where he partnered Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and had a highly successful three years in the series. This, ultimately, kick-started his endurance racing campaign.
For the 2009 season, he raced for Strakka Racing in the Le Mans Series and the 24 Hours of Le Mans driving a Ginetta – Zytek GZ09S. In the opening round of the Le Mans Series in Barcelona, he claimed overall pole on the team’s LMP1 debut.
2010 was another good year; he retained his seat for Strakka Racing in the Le Mans Series. However, the team moved down to the LMP2 category. Nonetheless, the car took the class victory at Le Mans finishing 5th overall.
In 2012, Watts went on to put in a hero’s drive at the World Endurance Championship round at Silverstone. He drove a double stint of three-and-a-half hours to finish within 0.6 seconds of 4th place.
“Winning Le Mans twice in my class is definitely a career highlight for me. But also winning at Macau was incredible… and winning the Formula Renault UK Championship,” he says. “I am very fortunate to have had a long and successful driving career with many, many moments that I look back on at smile at. I had enormous fun.”
Whilst his racing credentials are impressive, this interview is not about that.
“I’ve finished racing so that makes coming out, as gay, a whole lot easier as I’m not involved so much, competitively, and the fact that hiding it for such a long time built up inside. Hiding my secret was fine but it got to the point where it slowly started slipping out to close people and it felt good to hear the responses I was getting which in turn gave me confidence that being different is not so wrong,” he comments. “Yes, I expect that I will get some negative responses from people but that is normal as they are shocked about this part of me.
“I read up a lot about other people’s experiences of coming out, especially as athletes, and they inspired me to do the same.
“Nobody specifically inspired me, but reading stories of athletes in various sports whether it be soccer, netball, rugby or running, their story shows how hard it was for them and how free and happy they felt coming out and how they are proud of who they are and supporting the LGBT community. Helping others to embrace themselves and to be open and honest about their own feelings is important, and it’s good to be like this. I want to be like that.”
Danny also emphasises how there is a need for the motorsport industry to accommodate for people in the LGBTQ community. This is why Danny Watts is now going to dedicate his time to both racing coaching and helping out with the gay community.
“Coaching is my job now and I get a huge reward from seeing drivers improve and develop after I have helped them to go faster,” he explains. “For some, it’s seconds they take off their time and others a few tenths but, either way, seeing a driver you’ve helped get better in either their approach, mental focus or driving technique, is a great feeling. Seeing a driver on the podium I’ve contributed to is also an excellent feeling!
“In the future, I want to be continuing to coach drivers in motorsport. I have a beautiful eight-year-old boy who is my world and I will give him everything. But, at the same time, I want to travel the world and do other sporting activities, whilst also being a role model for promoting LGBT in society. I think the promoting will be especially important.”