Paul Newman passed away on 27th september 2008. He was 83 and suffered from a lung cancer. A true gentleman, he was a worldwide renowned actor. An actor who enjoyed a great career, but he nurtured a passion for auto racing, and he then became a very good race driver. When he was young, he took over his father's healthy business, which was a laundry. Not to be attracted by this kind of job, he would soon attend the Actor's Studio, with the likes of James Dean or Marilyn Monroe. In 1954, he was hired by Warner Bros and earned $1000 per week. He would later become the most nominated actor for the Oscars but he would never get the award. Robert Redford was to get renowned by this time thanks to Paul Newman. A strong friendship would arise from this period.
As he would put it,"auto racing was the first thing that I ever found I had any grace in." while training for the film "Winning" in 1969. He then developed a true and strong passion for this newly found attraction. He then learned to drive at Bob Bondurant's racing school at Riverside. He was the fifth student Bob taught driving. Robert Wagner was one of his partners in his early sessions. His very first race was to take place in Thompson Raceway, in a Lotus Elan.
Few people remember what he accomplished, but it certainly was a seed moment for a new career.
He began campaigning a Datsun 510 at some regional events in 1972. He was then 47. In 1973, he entered the B Sedan championship and ended up ninth at the Runoffs. 1974 was a very short season for him as he concentrated on acting. However, he entered the Trans Am series in a Ford Escort, entered by Tom Ciccone, with a sixteenth place at stake. He showed up at one IMSA race, too. A fourteenth place was the best he could do against some more powerful cars.
You can see the car here at Lime Rock Trans Am 1974.
In 1975, he entered the SCCA Northeast division championship, driving a Datsun 510. He ended up sixth at the Runoffs. 1976 was the year he began collecting some national titles, first driving a Triumph TR6 he had purchased from Bob Tullius. It was his first D Production title. He also entered the B sedan championship, and he finished second, again in a Datsun 510. It was during that period that he became close friends with Jim Fitzgerald and Bob Sharp. He had met them at some races. By 1977, he began to drive for the latter. He still drove in SCCA, while Bob Sharp was entering the IMSA series as soon as 1974. The Datsun Z he entered was a 260Z, then a 280Z. Bob Sharp had many top drivers in his line-up : Elliot Forbes Robinson, John Morton, Jim Fitzgerald and Sam Posey all drove those cars to victories. Paul Newman had to concentrate on the B and C Production classes. Growing up as an amateur driver, he was improving steadily and matured as a true professional racer as the years went by. It was by relentlessly practicing and improving his skills that he grew up and was later recognized as a true racecar driver by his peers. It was one of his main quality as a man to work hard, until he achieved his goals. His methodic skills of knowing and feeling taught by Lee Strasberg (Actor's Studio) made him ruthless behind the wheel. He certainly was less gifted than some other drivers, but he compensated by working hard. In his mid-fifties, he proved very fast and developed a great enthusiasm for racing. It was probably one of his top quality as a man. He showed many others, too.
From that time, he was involved in various partnerships, mainly in Can Am and he created Newman Racing in 1978. Such driving legends as Al Unser or Keke Rosberg would run for him The Can Am operation would last until the series demise, in 1983. He tried his hand at a Ferrari 365GTB4 along with Bobby Carradine, Elliot Forbes Robinson and Clint Eastwood.
He ran with Bill Freeman at Sebring in 1977, driving a Porsche 911. his team would become one of the most successful ever.
In 1978, he again entered the D and C Production classes, this time driving a Bob Sharp Racing Datsun 200SX and 280Z.Bob Sharp used Paul Newman as his main draw for sponsorship. Canon and Budweiser remaining the most faithful backers during many years. Paul would improve steadily through hard work.
He was the C Production Champion with the 280Z. 1978 was the year he lost his son, Scott and he affected him very much. From that moment, he would do a lot to help children all over the world.
The 1979 year was one of his best ever, with two titles earned in D Production, winning 8 races and C Production, winning 6 out of 8 races. He was one the first drivers to test drive the new Datsun 280ZX, which was a great evolution from the 280Z. The car, according to Paul, was less easy to handle, but it was more efficient, in the end. The next thrill was to come. He was later to be contacted by Dick Barbour and he would enter the legendary 24 Hour of Le Mans race driving a Porsche 935, with Rolf Stommelen and Dick Barbour. Despite his lack of experience at driving such a very powerful car, he proved very consistent and ended up in second place overall, just behind the winning Kremer Porsche 935K3. A great achievement, indeed. He would renew this experience later in the season, with another second place at Watkins Glen.
He moved back, at last, to IMSA racing in 1980. He would drive a Datsun 280ZX which was updated to the latest GTU specs. The car was fitted with bigger tires and was lighter, it was given gor 270hp. At the end, it was a totally new challenge, but he had to face a much more stronger opposition than in C Production. The Mazda RX7s had entered the fray and had clearly become the class of the field. Drivers like Walt Bohren, Lee Mueller, Brad Frisselle, Roger Mandeville, Jim Downing and Jeff Kline were all very skilled and professional. Paul Newman garnered some good results but no victory at all.
But Bob Sharp was a man to willing to go ahead, yet, he was willing to run with the big boys. He had kept in his mind a project he was eagerly willing to reveal to Datsun : a GTX car which was powered by a V8 4,5L President engine. Trevor Harris was the engineer at the time, and the car would be ready by mid 1980.
Paul Newman would drive it. It was the first time he would drive such a powerful car. Furthermore, it was an untested car. He and Sam Posey would share the driving during the end of 1980. After some races, the car proved well-born, but it had to be improved. No good result was recorded during the 1980 season, and the car was withdrawn from the Daytona Finale after an accident. The project would be maintained for the next season. In 1981, the car reappeared with some improvements. A larger cockpit and a new rear wing fitted with new radiators were the main changes.
The first outing, at Road Atlanta, was an encouraging one. Paul Newman ended up tenth overall, but the Porsche 935s were still out of reach. Overheating problems were consistent. Things would get even tougher with the arrival of a new breed of racers, in the name of the GTPs. It became clear that the car would never become a winner. A succession of not so bad results was the best Paul could do, but no victory could be overseen for the future. Ironically, the best placing came at the last race of the season, at Portland, with a sixth overall. With no positive evolution to be predicted, the project was dropped. But it was not a car to be forgotten, as Sam Posey would put it. Paul Newman would not be seen that much in 1982, but it was the year he would enjoy his first professional victory, at Brainerd in the sole Trans Am race he entered. Paul drove the Datsun 280ZX Turbo which was quite similar to the Electramotive GTO car. The car was closer to the GTO specs than the radical GTX car run the previous year. It was surely more efficient, too. Paul became definitely recognized as a race driver. It was better than the Oscars, as he would probably say.
The 1983 season was some kind of a major move, as Paul Newman would run the Trans Am championship for the first time. Not on a sporadic basis as he did before, but it was his first full season campaign.
Copyright Van Zannis, courtesy Racingsportscars.
The car was still the Datsun 280ZX T entered by Bob Sharp Racing. The team had built a state-of-the-art tubeframe car, which proved very powerful. Diet Coke came in as the main sponsor. However, it was plagued by some transmission failures, due to this horsepower surge. A pair of thirds at Summit Point was the best he could do : he finished ninth in the point standings.
The 1983 season was also the year he founded Newman-Haas Racing. He had met Carl Haas earlier and some strong ties had derived from this relationship. It would be the beginning of a very long career as a team owner, a job that suited him as well as his driver's racing suit. This new team was mainly focused on CART or Indycar racing. They had become partners after joking about tax write-offs. That partnership wpuld last for many years.
In 1984, he would go on racing the Datsun 280ZX T, but the results were no better. His best results being two fourth places at Portland and Road America. He would end up 15th overall. In 1985, things seemed to settle down with a new car built by Bob Sharp Racing. The car was now a Nissan 300ZX T. He and fellow partner Jim Fitzgerald entered a limited schedule. He started three times from the pole, posted some good results, and he ended the season in second place at Watkins Glen. It seemed that he had a car capable of winning at races for the first time since 1982. He was eighth in the standings.
Copyright Mark Windecker, courtesy Racingsportscars.
The 1986 season should have been better, but he garnered only one win, at his hometrack, Lime Rock. A lot of disappointment with a car which was certainly well born, but again was hampered by mechanical problems. He earned two back to back titles in SCCA GT1 class.
1987 seemed to bring some improvements in the results, with two fifth places, and one third at Road Atlanta. The team would enter the car in some selected IMSA races as well. His best race was again at Road Atlanta, with a seventh place finish. The end of the season would bring in bad news with the death of longtime friend Jim Fitzgerald, killed at St Petersburg. Bob Sharp and himself would be very affected by this loss. Paul Newman and Bob Sharp had become true partners and the team was proudly renamed Newman-Sharp Racing.
The 1988 would be probably Paul Newman's worst season. No result to be proud of, but the series was under a German attack by Audi, who dominated the Trans Am. The new 2+2 Nissan was somewhat outperformed. It was probably why the team switched to an Oldsmobile Cutlass for the next season. By this time, Paul had turned 63, and was still very competitive, but he was facing younger drivers and it really was such a feat being right at this level of competition.
In 1991, he would be seen driving a Spice SE90P Oldsmobile entered by Tom Milner. Newman-Haas Racing had become one of the most successful ever with more than fifty victories to be recorded. From that period, Paul Newman was still active in racing, however. He ran in various series, including the IMSA Supercar series in a Lotus Esprit. Always very passionate, he tried his hand at NASCAR, he ran at Daytona in 1995, driving a Ford Mustang and winning his class, he was then seventy. The car displayed number 70, of course! Never to be caught inactive, Paul would be racing whenever he could. He took part in the American GT Championship and was successful as well. As recently as 2003, he was running in SCCA GT races and still winning, then he ran in the Grand Am Championship, driving a Crawford DP003 Ford.
Copyright Michael Crews, courtesy Racingsportscars.
He was mostly admired for his charitable work and he used his motorsport connections to promote many causes. He was still running in 2007, at 82. He was probably the fastest old man on earth! Always generous, but living in a very simple way, he was a great man, who did a lot for his counterparts. He had created many associations which cared about drug addicts and children. A phylantropist, for sure! He always gave a lot of money to various charities all around the world. He got aware of his lung cancer in 2007, and he fought hard to survive. A heavy smoker in his days, he finally had to admit defeat for the first time. The disease finally took him away fom this world. He had lived his life the way he dreamt it. And he did it so well. A great man has gone away. We'll miss you, Paul, you were great!
Oh yes, he was a great man.