Saturday 26th January 1924
Born on this day, Paul Newman. Although he came to fame for his acting, he also earned new fans as a race car driver, as part owner of Newman-Haas Racing team, and as a food entrepeneur. Newman first became interested in motorsports (“the first thing that I ever found I had any grace in”) while training at the Watkins Glen Racing School for the filming of Winning, a 1969 film. Because of his love and passion for racing, Newman agreed in 1971 to star in and to host his first television special, Once Upon a Wheel, on the history of auto racing. It was produced and directed by David Winters, who co-owned a number of racing cars with Newman. Newman’s first professional event as a racer was in 1972 at Thompson International Speedway, quietly entered as “P.L. Newman”, by which he continued to be known in the racing community.
He was a frequent competitor in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) events for the rest of the decade, eventually winning four national championships. He later drove in the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans in Dick Barbour’s Porsche 935 and finished in second place. Newman reunited with Barbour in 2000 to compete in the Petit Le Mans.
During the 1976 auto racing season, Newman became interested in forming a professional auto racing team and contacted Bill Freeman who introduced Newman to professional auto racing management, and their company specialized in Can-Am, Indy Cars, and other high performance racing automobiles. The team was based in Santa Barbara, California and commuted to Willow Springs International Motorsports Park for much of its testing sessions.
Their “Newman Freeman Racing” team was very competitive in the North American Can-Am series in their Budweiser sponsored Chevrolet powered Spyder NFs. Newman and Freeman began a long and successful partnership with the Newman Freeman Racing team in the Can-Am series which culminated in the Can-Am Team Championship trophy in 1979. Newman was associated with Freeman’s established Porsche racing team which allowed both Newman and Freeman to compete in S.C.C.A. and I.M.S.A. racing events together, including the Sebring 12-hour endurance sports car race. This car was sponsored by Beverly Porsche/Audi. Freeman was Sports Car Club of America’s Southern Pacific National Champion during the Newman Freeman Racing period. Later Newman co-founded Newman/Haas Racing with Carl Haas, a Champ Car team, in 1983, going on to win 8 drivers’ championships under his ownership. The 1996 racing season was chronicled in the IMAX film Super Speedway, which Newman narrated. He was a partner in the Atlantic Championship team Newman Wachs Racing.
Having said he would quit “when I embarrass myself”, Newman competed into his 80s, winning at Lime Rock in what former co-driver Sam Posey called a “brutish Corvette” displaying his age as its number: 81. He took the pole in his last professional race, in 2007 at Watkins Glen International, and in a 2008 run at Lime Rock, arranged by friends, he reportedly still did 9/10ths of his best time.
Newman was posthumously inducted into the SCCA Hall of Fame at the national convention in Las Vegas, Nevada on February 21, 2009.
Newman’s racing life was chronicled In the documentary Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman.