Did You Know Paul Newman Was a Racing Icon?
Paul Newman was many things, including an award-winning actor, food manufacturer, philanthropist, husband and father and, possibly most important, a championship race car driver.
At Center Valley Automotive, we have seen Paul Newman movies and know about his salad dressing, but who knew he was such a great car racer? I bet many people in Reseda, CA probably aren't aware of this part of his history.
Born in Shaker Heights, Ohio, to a Slovakian mother and Jewish father who ran a sporting goods store, Newman began acting at age 7. He briefly attended Ohio University, before serving in the Pacific theater as a U.S. Navy sailor, which he’d initially joined to become a pilot. His color blindness prevented that, and he trained instead as a radio man and rear gunner.
After the war, Newman earned his Bachelor’s degree in drama and economics and joined several summer stock companies, later attending the Yale School of Drama, before moving to New York to study under Lee Strasberg. He landed his first motion-picture role in 1954, and starred in many important films. Because of his car racing interest Newman was the voice of retired race car Doc Hudson in Disney/Pixar's Cars, which turned out to be his final major feature film role.
Newman came out of acting retirement in 2007, to narrate a documentary about NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, and for the 2008 documentary The Meerkats.
Newman’s interest in car racing emerged while he trained at the Watkins Glen Racing School for the 1969 film Winning. In 1971, he agreed to host a TV special, Once Upon a Wheel, on the history of auto racing, which was produced and directed by David Winters, with whom he co-owned several race cars.
The 1972 Thompson International Speedway was Newman's first professional event, which he “quietly entered as ‘P.L. Newman,’” the moniker by which the racing community always knew him. He was 46.
He competed frequently in Sports Car Club of America events for the rest of the 70s, eventually winning four national championships. In 1979, he took second in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in Dick Barbour's Porsche 935. In 2000, Newman reunited with Barbour to compete in the Petit Le Mans.
From the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, he raced mainly for Datsuns (later Nissan) for the Bob Sharp Racing team, in the Trans-Am Series and became closely associated with the brand, having a special edition Nissan Skyline named after him and even appearing in Japanese ads for them.
At 70, Newman won in his class at the 1995 24 Hours of Daytona becoming the oldest driver to be part of a winning team in a major sanctioned race. Among his last major races were the 2004 Baja 1000 and the 2005 24 Hours of Daytona.
During the 1976 auto racing season, Bill Freeman introduced Newman to professional auto racing management, and they formed a Santa Barbara-based company specializing in Can-Am, Indy Cars, and other high-performance racecars.
Their "Newman Freeman Racing" team did well in the North American Can-Am series in its Budweiser sponsored, Chevrolet-powered Spyder NFs. Their partnership culminated in the Can-Am Team Championship trophy in 1979.
In 1983, Newman co-founded Newman/Haas Racing with Carl Haas, and went on to win eight drivers' championships, one of the most successful and enduring teams in Indy car racing. The 1996 racing season was chronicled in the film Super Speedway, which Newman narrated.
Newman competed into his 80s, winning at Lime displaying his age as his car’s number. His last professional race was the 2007 Watkins Glen International, though he drove in a 2008 run at Lime Rock, arranged by friends.
In later years, Newman's relationship with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway soured; and when the Speedway changed its catering rules in 1995, allowing only certain suppliers, Newman had his team chefs prepare food, which he personally brought into the garage area for his crew. He was fined.
In February 2009, Newman was posthumously inducted into the SCCA Hall of Fame.
Newman died of cancer, on Sept. 26, 2008. His racing life was chronicled In the documentary Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman.
Sources: Wikipedia, ESPN, roadandtrack.com