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Seven Days: Vermont Car Blog

September 27, 2008

Paul Newman, Actor, Philanthropist, Race Car Driver, Dead at 83

Paul_newman_tvguide A spokesperson announced the sad news today that Paul Newman had succumbed to lung cancer at age 83 on Friday. He died at his home near Westport CT surrounded by family including his wife of fifty years, Joanne Woodward. Many know Mr. Newman from his long career in films and for his Newman’s Own line of foods that have generated over $250,000,000 for charities including the Hole in the Wall Camps for children with life threatening illnesses.

Many people also know that Paul Newman was an extremely successful race car driver. During filming of the 1969 racing movie “Winning” he and his co-star Robert Wagner attended the Bob Bondurant racing school. Three years later he got his racing license and drove in his first Sports Car Club of America race in a Lotus Elan at Lime Rock Park in CT.

His interest in cars went back years before that though. My dad, Bob Sr., has been driving at Lime Rock since the early sixties and had the pleasure of meeting and socializing with Paul Newman many times before he became a super star. I called him today and asked him about that connection.

The first time he met Paul Newman was at Bruno Engl’s shop. Bob Sr. had driven his Morgan at Lime Rock the previous weekend and Bruno asked Paul “Remember that Morgan last week? Here’s the crazy Morgan driver!”

The Morgan was maintained at a shop in Wilton CT where Bob Sharp’s Lotus 7 was also prepared and Paul Newman would come by the shop and bring beers to share with the guys, hang out and talk cars.

In the sixties fans weren’t allowed in the paddock area. Paul complained that he always had to sit up on the hill where he got harassed by women who wanted him to take off his sunglasses so they could see his famous blue eyes. After that the guys made sure Paul always got a pit pass.

The one time my Dad raced against Paul Newman was a surprise opportunity. Dad didn’t have the cash for the driver’s fee that week. Kim Graff’s daughter blew her engine in driver’s school. Dad loaned her his car to finish and so Kim payed for my Dad’s late entry. Dad started 28th and moved as far as sixth overall, though never quite catching Paul Newman. He said it was one of his greatest starts ever though and remembers some classic passes taking the inside line around bigger cars and throwing up dirt on the hair pin and esses.

Paul Newman tried to keep a low profile at the track, both to avoid rabid fans and to keep the movie companies he worked for from worrying that he would be injured. He would always sign in as PL Newman or just PLN, never Paul.

Newman_daytona_2006In 1976 Paul Newman went on to win the national amateur championship in a Triumph TR-6. From there he moved to racing Bob Sharp prepared Datsun (now Nissan) Z cars winning four SCCA professional national championships. In 1979 he finished second with his teammates in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a grueling and prestigious endurance race. Almost twenty years later and at age 70 he won his class and finished third in the 24-hour Daytona endurance race.

Newman_corvetteFor about the last twenty five years he has owned, with Carl Haas, one of the most successful IndyCar/ChampCar teams going.

Just last month my dad sent me a link to a blog post about Lime Rock Park being shut down so Paul Newman could take a few final laps in his GT1 Corvette. He remembers him as “a real down to earth guy, nice as could be.”

May he rest in peace.

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