Paul Newman died last Friday, Sept. 26 at the age of 83 after a battle with lung cancer.
Such is the usual line I’ll read in the Celebrity News and Notes section of my local paper. But what made the death of this Hollywood star make me stop and think on his life? It’s many things… His astounding performances in numerous movies from the past 50 years, the invasion of the “Newman’s Own” food label in the local supermarkets and last, but certainly not least in this racing fan’s view, his devotion to and participation in auto racing.
Part and partial of the intrigue of NASCAR, solely from a fan’s point of view, is the incredible array of personalities that litter the cockpits, pit boxes and offices of this sport. Maybe Jeff Gordon currently tops the charts in active driver wins, poles, championships and just about any other stat you care to come up with, but the coverage of Sunday’s races simply wouldn’t be as interesting without Darrell Waltrip’s “Boogity, boogity!”, Kenny Wallace’s incredible giggle or visiting with track owners sporting names like Humpy Wheeler.
There’s backflips, climbing fences, discussions of bologna-burgers and annoying gophers called Digger.
Because I find all this pomp entertaining, I will also wander over to the local racing scene to find what kind of show might be happening. Or even leave the Speed Channel on when F1 and the Indy cars are running. Let’s face it, I’m a car girl. I just plain like their noise, their shape, the excitement they can generate and most of all, I like those around the world who are car people, too. Once you start speaking the language of motorsports, you gain entrance into a world of joie de vive and are able to recognize the desire to make mechanical things go fast in those you meet.
Thus, where Paul Newman may have impinged upon my consciousness as a young girl while I watched him in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting and Cool Hand Luke, it was not until I became aware of him as a racer in the ’80s that he was elevated into really-cool-person status. Suddenly, he became a little less part of the silver screen and more accessible to me, the racing fan.
Of course, Mr. Newman took the passion he imbued in his on-screen performances and poured it into his cars, as a driver and owner, equally well. There have been a number of celebrities that stepped into the unstable world of pro-am racing as drivers, only to disappear in the anonymity of time, but few have managed to find the kind of success that heralded just about any enterprise in which Mr. Newman invested his time and energy.
He held four SCCA national driving titles, drove in the 24 Hours of LeMans, won the 24 Hours of Daytona in ’95 and competed at the age of 80 at Daytona in ‘05. Besides his incredibly successful Newman/Haas/Lanigan F1 and IRL teams, Newman explored the world of racing as few others have, loving every minute of it. He was a sensation, a star, somebody to watch and savor.
He also had the most incredible grin and devastating pair of blue eyes, but it is the memories I have of him behind pit wall and the wheel that made him, to me, something far more enthralling.
He was part of my world. He was, simply, a car guy. And he’ll be missed.
About the author
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.
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