Instead of recapping Paul Newman's biography as many have done today, I'm going to share some personal memories of the man.
As is well known, Newman was involved in motorsports for many years, initially as a national champion club racing series driver in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), and was a several time winner in the professional Trans Am series. He was also a team owner in the Can Am series, and with partner Carl Haas, fielded Indy cars for such luminaries as Mario Andretti and Nigel Mansell.
Although Newman and I shared a common bond of SCCA participation back in the 70s, our paths didn’t cross until 1981, when I was doing a stint as the PR guy at Summit Point Raceway, in the eastern panhandle of
Before the first such event in 1981, I got a call from Sharp’s PR guy asking my help to co-ordinate logistics for the team’s appearance at our venue. I happily agreed, because whenever Paul Newman competed in an SCCA event, the paid gate for the event always swelled by better than 50 percent. I made the arrangements and met the team plane when it arrived, complete with several Audis for team member transportation, and after introductions were made ( a handshake, and “Paul Newman” to me, as if he was some guy I’d never heard about), we headed to the track, some 14 miles away via winding country road.
I led the pack, driving the Porsche 911 that was to serve as the race weekend’s pace car, and Newman followed behind the wheel of one of the Audis. As is usually the case when race folks make a trip like this, we exceeded the speed limit within the first 15-20 seconds of travel, and at times exceeded the 55 mph limit by a factor greater than two.
Sharp, a many time national champion driver in his own right, was riding shotgun with me, and was a little white knuckled by the time we arrived, which I took as an unspoken compliment. Newman, however, was a bit chagrined, not being able to keep up with the quicker and more nimble Porsche, and his first words to me upon arrival were “I’m buying dinner tonight, but I drive the Porsche.”
Various versions of this story played out twice a year for the next couple of years, until I left the racing business, and got a haircut and got a real job. I ran into Paul a number of times over the years at race events I covered as a free lance motorsports writer, and he always had a kind word to share with me.
Here’s what I remember about his character.
Paul Newman was a man’s man, and he possessed no artifice in dealing with the people around him. His talents were multifold, and he lived to no standards other than those which he set for himself. He found the “playing the movie star” role in public life distasteful, but he was mindful of his responsibilities in public life. He set a standard for many who knew him.
And, for a race car driver, he was a pretty good actor.