Remembering Paul Newman, the racer

By Nancy Knapp Schilke

Paul Leonard Newman passed away last night, September 26, 2008. The actor, director, a U.S. Navy Air Corps war veteran and humanitarian is remembered by those in the racing community as a racer and a team owner. This story is not about his life as an award winner in film and television but his life in motor sports.

Paul Newman.
Paul Newman.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

There are many memories of Newman, beginning with his early days in SCCA amateur competition to racing in the Trans-Am Series. From winning at the 24 Hours of Daytona to his being a team owner in Championship Auto Racing Teams and watching the first Newman/Haas Racing driver earn the series championship.

Never one to soak in the rays of the Hollywood scene, Newman and his wife Joann Woodward lived quietly in Westport, Connecticut. While the two were "stars", they enjoyed and protected their privacy.

When Newman was filming the movie "Winning", he wanted to do the story justice and not use a stunt-double for the racing scenes. Thus he attended the Bob Bondurant Racing School and Newman was easily bitten by the racing bug! While Woodward was not into racing, she supported her husband's new challenge as much as he supported her love of ballet. Their respect for one another was shown even at the SCCA Runoffs for the top National amateur drivers when Woodward would attend the events but chose to quietly sit in a motor home, knitting or reading -- anything but watching her husband's on-track activities.

In 1995, when racing in the Daytona 24 Hours event, Newman thoughts before climbing into the "Nobody's Fool" Ford for his night stint was on his wife and her performance that night in the opening of a Broadway play.

Newman was not the first actor to race cars and while some have lightly dabbled in the sport, Newman did not. Being active in racing, as a driver and team owner, was taken very seriously by Newman. Born in Shaker Heights, Ohio, the actor found the world of racing to give him the "competitive edge" he desired. Newman truly enjoyed his career as a racing driver. "I love racing," he said. "I enjoy the challenge and the fact that the person racing against me could care less who I am."

When he turned 70, he formed a partnership with Jack Roush to compete at Daytona in '95. His teammates were his long-time friend Mike Brockman, Trans-Am champion Tommy Kendall and NASCAR star Mark Martin. It was a race to remember and as a team member for the 24 hour race, I cannot pinpoint my favorite memory of the weekend. During the team's pre-race meeting, Roush informed the four drivers to carry extra hats or cash in the car in case they had to pull off and needed the corner workers help to get them back into the racing action. Newman piped up with "I might even give them an autograph"! He was known for not ever giving out autographs.

Roush also informed them to call in if they felt that they had a problem at any time in continuing their stint. The goal was to finish and if anyone needed an early driver change, no problem. During his night stint, Newman did call in but it turned out he was concerned about keeping up the pace. Every time he was in the car, Newman ran consistent times. Once the team radioed him his lap times, all was okay. Newman came in later for fuel and tires and went back out, doing a double stint. He was a true racer.

The Nobody's Fool team earned the victory they sought in the GTS class at Daytona that year. Newman was 70 years and 10 days on that historic Sunday (February 5th).

"Paul Newman - a real American hero, an inspiration to me in much that I have attempted in my adult life. Not so much for the parts he played but for the man that he was. He was one of Hollywood's greatest. He could not only talk the talk on film but more importantly could walk the walk as a private citizen," commented Roush. "As a young man he was an American hero who served his country in one of the U.S. Army Air Corps' most dangerous assignments in western Europe. Additionally, his charitable enterprises have generated 10's of millions for the benefit of hundreds of thousands of underprivileged Americans. He will be never forgotten, may he rest in peace."

When he first came into the racing world, he used his initials on his entry forms: PL Newman. Partnering with Bob Sharp, his first Trans-Am victory in the Newman-Sharp Datsun came in 1983 at Brainerd with Tom Gloy taking second and Tim Evans in third. On the podium, Newman quipped, "wait until Joann hears about this," with a huge grin.

Newman-Sharp Racing also competed in the IMSA GTO series.

Podium: race winner Sebastien Bourdais with Carl Haas and Paul Newman.
Podium: race winner Sebastien Bourdais with Carl Haas and Paul Newman.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

His partnership with Carl Haas started 26 years ago; the two formed a team to run in the Can-Am series. They moved to CART (later Champ Car) with Mario Andretti in 1983 and notched their first team championship the following year.

Before the merger between Champ Car and IndyCar, the team had earned a total of eight championships. Besides Andretti, his son Michael Andretti (1991), Niegel Mansell (1993), Cristiano da Matta (2002) and Sebastien Bourdais (2004, '05, '06 and '07) won titles running for the team. The final championship came with co-owner Michael Lanigan under the team banner Newman-Haas-Lanigan Racing.

"On behalf of Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, my wife Bernadette and myself, I want to express our most sincere condolences to Joanne and the entire Newman family on the loss of a great human being," said Haas. "Paul and I have been partners for 26 years and I have come to know his passion, humor and above all, his generosity. Not just economic generosity, but generosity of spirit. His support of the team's, drivers, crew and the racing industry is legendary. His pure joy at winning a pole position or winning a race exemplified the spirit he brought to his life and to all those that knew him. We will truly miss him."

In 2008, the NHL Racing team made the move to the IndyCar Series with Justin Wilson and Graham Rahal. They have one race left to run, a non-points event in Australia. Both drivers were race winners in a year that was not easy on them due to Newman's cancer. Rahal is the second generation to race with Newman as team owner, his dad Bobby also did in his racing career. The elder Rahal owns his own IndyCar team.

"It has been a very upsetting 24 hours for the team and my family," commented Graham Rahal who races the Hole in the Wall Camps for NHL Racing. "Paul has been a huge part of both my success as well as my father's and he will be greatly missed. He was a tremendous man, one that everyone should model their lives after. My sincere condolences go out to the Newman family."

Eddie Wachs and Newman were rivals in Can-Am and last year the two formed an Atlantic Championship series team. After their years of competing in the mid-70s, their friendship remained strong. The team currently prepares for their final race this season with Simona De Silvestro, winner at Long Beach, and Jonathan Summerton who has two wins and is one of three with a chance to earn this year's championship.

Haas said it best, Newman will be missed, not just as an actor, a director or a racer/team owner but for the type of person he was.

Newman extended his good fortune to others, mainly children. His Newman's Own food company's profits and royalties went to charity including his Hole in the Wall Gang. When he founded the organization for children with serious illnesses twenty years ago, Newman did it with compassion that many saw in him. His vision of the first Hole in the Wall Gang Camp has grown to become the largest camps of its kind in the world. His dream will live on in many ways.

It is with deepest sympathy to his family, close friends and racing teams that we at Motorsport.com express our feelings. Many of us in auto racing have had the opportunity to have seen Newman race, to have met him and worked with him.

Newman led a wonderfully rich and diverse life and enjoyed it to the fullest.

A statement from Newman's Own sums it up best: "Paul Newman's craft was acting. His passion was racing. His love was his family and friends. And his heart and soul were dedicated to helping make the world a better place for all. Paul had an abiding belief in the role that luck plays in one's life, and its randomness. He was quick to acknowledge the good fortune he had in his own life, beginning with being born in America, and was acutely aware of how unlucky so many others were. True to his character, he quietly devoted himself to helping offset this imbalance."

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series ATLANTIC , CHARITY , IMSA , INDYCAR , GENERAL , SCCA , VINTAGE
Article type Obituaries