A True Racer

The loss of Paul Newman to cancer on September 26 is a tragedy difficult to deal with by those from many walks of life. He was larger than life as a movie star, and became highly endeared by the racing fraternity. He was truly a racer.

The facts of his careers and accomplishments can be found throughout the media, so I just wanted to share a few personal recollections:

I don’t recall the exact year, but in the late-1970s, Newman was running a sports car at Daytona. He often went by P.L. Newman for whatever sort of anonymity that may have afforded him. It was daytime, and I was positioned along the backstretch watching a few key portions of the course action. He fell out near where I was standing and slowly approached the chain link fence on foot where a small crowd was gathered.

“Can I bum a cigarette?” were his words to no one in particular. What a regular guy, we all thought. And, it was widely known that, during his times in Daytona Beach, he could be spotted out on the town at night. Wonder if he shot pool. Oh, well, that’s a different story.

A year or two after this encounter, in the early-1980s, I saw Newman again at Moroso Motorsports Park west of Palm Beach Gardens, FL. The facility was primarily a drag strip, but had a pretty nifty road course tucked around it. They ran an SCCA Trans-Am, some nationals, and many vintage sports car events.

Newman was on hand for an SCCA event one summer driving the Scott Sharp Nissan 280Z. After his track time, Newman came in to the infield area where he had his motor home parked. He had the grounds by its side door taped off in order to curtail as much public attention as possible. He immediately began devouring half a watermelon as a cool-down from the hot afternoon. His wife even poked her head out the door.

Other than hearing about and reading of his racing endeavors, I had no further contact with him until over 25 years later.

Working here in the ISC Archives, you never know who will be on the other end of the phone on any given day. I answered one afternoon, as usual, and I got a response of, “Eddie?” I replied to the affirmative. After which the voice came back, saying, “This is Paul Newman.”

Okay, so how would you take that? Yeah, right, I thought to myself. However, with another few words, his tone was unmistakable. I mean, this was Hud, Cool Hand Luke, and Fast Eddie, all wrapped up into one. This was really Paul Newman.

He spoke as if we had known each other our whole lives. I quickly understood right then how those near to him held him in such high regard.

Newman’s reason for calling was for assistance in researching his then-upcoming new movie, “Cars.” Our part was in helping acquaint him with the body design, unique stepdown frame, and motor. He ended up making the Hudson the lead car throughout the animated film. He admitted to wanting to do his own research for the movie due to his love of cars and racing.

You’ve heard it before, but I’m gonna say it again...what a great guy! He’s someone to be missed even after only a brief exchange of words.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2008

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