Thursday, July 21, 2022

Diving into Paul Newman’s Racing Career

As slow ‘N Steady Wins the Race for this gentlemen Driver…


Following the 1969 movie Winning, Paul Newman bought himself a brand new Corvette Stingray. In 1970 He set out from home in Westport, Connecticut and drove to Lime Rock Park Raceway, where once a week, anybody could test themselves and their own cars on it’s racetrack. As Lime Rock Park was built on the site of a former Gravel Pit and comprises of 325 Acres.


Yet Newman didn’t wish to embarrass Himself, so He asked the track’s Manager for a few “Pointers.” Newman was then introduced to bob Sharp, a Racing Driver, Auto Dealer and Team Owner who had No Clue who Newman was, which made Paul Happy.


Initially when in California for work, Newman took his first laps around Ontario Motor Speedway, (OMS) a sister track to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Before returning to OMS  during the spring and summer of 1970. Doing so while on location in Oregon filming some Kinds of Nothing, Paul took time going Back and forth to Ontario Motor Speedway and driving Ontrack, even becoming a Board Member along with Kirk Douglas and Dick Smothers.


Newman and a veritable Who’s Who of “leading Men,” including James Garner, Steve McQueen, Robert Redford, dick Smothers, Robert Wagner and Pancho Gonzalez competed in a Charity race at OMS that year.


Newman continued striving to improve at Lime Rock and by 1971 had reached agreement with bob Sharp, father of some Indy Racing League driver named Scott Sharp… To lease a Bob Sharp prepared and maintained Datsun 510 racecar in local SCCA competition the following summer.


Sam Posey was less than impressed by Newman’s driving in ’72, saying the Guy’s totally Oblivious to Anybody around Him Ontrack! Although Newman was just taking it Slow ‘N Steady, which had been his successful method towards Acting…


Newman continued racing at Lime Rock and elsewhere, including Nelson Ledges and Qualified for the 1973 SCCA National Championship runoffs at Road Atlanta, where He Spun Out in practice and finished ninth in his Class.


Newman competed poorly in the  final International Race Of Champions (IROC) inaugural IROC I event on February 18, 1974. Held  on Daytona International Speedwa’s Infield road Course with 12 identically prepared Porsche 911 RSR’s.


Admitting He’d gotten in Over his Head! As Newman Spun Out at the first Corner, then caused another competitor to spin out before ultimately Detonating his Porsche’s Flat Six lump’ on lap-6!


As ‘Ol SuperTex’, nee A.J. Foyt, one of the race’s competitors was so unimpressed with Newman’s driving that He took to calling Newman Steve! As Foyt’s dig was in reference that Steve McQueen was a better driver than Paul! As I can only surmise this slight was slightly less annoying than another racing driver being called Coogan’ by Foyt, Yikes!


In September 1974, Paul unwisely agreed to be part of a Driver Quartet including Graham Hill attempting to break 17 existing Land Speed records aboard an N.A.R.T. (North American Racing Teams) Ferrari sponsored by Ragu Spaghetti sauce. To which Newman said was like Driving On the Moon! Since He’d Never driven on the Salt flats, where the course was simply noted by sticks with ribbons on them, compared to normal racetracks. As the car suffered mechanical failure and only five records were broken…


Newman continued racing every chance He got, and soon his movie schedule revolved around his racing schedule. Continuing to improve his driving, Bob Sharp had Paul join his race team, and in 1976, Newman raced in the SCCA Runoffs in two classes. Finishing third in a Datsun 510, and winning his Class in a Triumph TR6 and being awarded the President’s Cup for Overall Excellence by the SCCA.


In 1977, He took the year off from filming and solely raced cars. Returning to Florida for that year’s 24 Hours of Daytona, his first Endurance race, musing how He’d never raced at Night before. Co-Driving a Ferrari 365 GTB/4 with Elliott Forbes Robinson and Milt Minter. With the Ramsey Ferrari/Medina Sports Car entry finishing fifth Overall.


Then in 1979 as we All know, P.L. Newman in a Porsche 935 Co-Driven with Team Owner Dick Barber and Bad Arse Sports Car Ace and ex-formula 1 Driver rolf Stommelen finished runner-up to the Whittington Brothers and Klaus Ludwig at that year’s 24 Heurs du Mans! As Newman was 54years old, but far from done racing.


In 1982 at Age 57, Newman won his first professional race. Winning that year’s SCCA Pro Racing Trans Am event at Brainerd International Raceway in Minnesota.


As Newman won driving a Datsun 280ZX, the last year of the Datsun Brand Stateside, switching to it’s Nissan Brand today. While the Trans Am series was Dominated that season by Elliot Forbes-Robinson claiming five wins Overall, including four in-a-row aboard a Pontiac Trans Am Firebird. Handly Beating series runner-up doc bundy in a Porsche 924.


Between 1985-1986, Newman won his third and fourth SCCA National GT1 Championships Consecutively  behind the wheel of  Bog Sharp Racing Nissan 300ZX’s. Paul also won his second SCCA Pro Racing Trans Am race at his Home track Lime Rock Park in ’86, also behind the wheel of his Bob Sharp Racing Nissan 300ZX.


Newman was Shocked when fellow competitor, good friend and Trans Am teammate  Jim Fitzgerald Died at Age 65 during the season finale St Petersburg Trans Am race in 1987, after crashing Head-on into a Jersey barrier at over 100mph! For which Newman was unable to continue after the race had been paused…


In 1995, Newman made History as the Oldest Driver to win a major Auto race, winning the GTS Class behind the wheel of a Nasty Roush Racing Ford Mustang emblazoned with Nobody’s fool upon it, which just so happened to be Paul’s latest movie.


Newman’s Co-Drivers were Michael Brockman, a Connecticut Pal’, Mark Martin and the other TK’, aka Tommy Kendall.


Paul was hesitant during practice and the start of the race, before getting into the Groove after his first hour behind the wheel. Paul ran a total of six hours at the Keyboard, including a Double Stint during the Night.


With 90mins remaining, Newman exited the car with genuine relief. Thinking He’d finished driving and told Jack Roush how relieved He was that was Over! To which thee “Cat in the Hat” (Jack Roush) said No it’s Not! You’re getting back in the car for the final 45mins Paul! Which Newman did, taking the Chequered Flag third overall…








While I also tend to recall the Crawford prototype racecar the ‘Ol Fox was driving with the #79, matching his age being adorned with flames on it’s nose after it had caught on fire during practice! And I remember le Hamburgular’, aka Sebastien Bourdais who was then driving for Newman Haas Racing’s IndyCar team being one of it’s drivers at that year’s Rolex 24.


Newman had a slight incident at Daytona in 2000 when crashing at 180mph and injuring His wrist! Along with Crashing during a test lap with Kyle Petty in the passenger seat at Watkins Glen. As Newman confessed “Father Time” was catching up with Him and his reflexes! But his worst crash ever was on a public road in one of his Souped Up Volvo Station wagons when a car Side-swiped him! Breaking off the side mear along with breaking his Hand, which was in a Cast for several weeks. Which His wife Joanne Woodward said Paul was the most Distraught about of All of His Crashes!


Whilst Comedian Adam Carolla has somewhat “Quietly” captured the market upon ex-Paul Newman racing cars, which I read awhile ago in this Car and Driver Magazine article. When the Car & Driver Magazine articles Hadn’t been Goobered Up on my Newsline telephone service…