Sunday 10th June 1979
Paul Newman, the blue-eyed movie star-turned-race car driver, accomplished the greatest feat of his racing career by racing to second place in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In 1969, he starred in “Winning” as a struggling race car driver who must redeem his career and win the heart of the woman he loves at the Indianapolis 500. To prepare for the movie, Newman attended the Watkins Glen Racing School. In the film he performed many of the high-speed racing scenes in the movie himself, without a stunt double. In 1972, Newman began his own racing career, winning his first Sports Club Car of America (SCCA) race driving a Lotus Elan. He soon moved up to a series of Datsun racing sedans and won four SCCA national championships from 1979 to 1986. Newman’s high point at the track came in June 1979 at Le Mans, where he raced a Porsche 935 twin-turbo coupe on a three-man team with Dick Barbour and Rolf Stommelen. His team finished second; first place went to brothers Don and Bill Whittington, and their teammate, Klaus Ludwig. Drama ensued during the last two hours of the race, when the Whittingtons’ car, also a Porsche 935, was sidelined with fuel-injection problems and it looked like Newman’s team could overtake them to grab the win. In the end, however, they had trouble even clinching second due to a dying engine. The Whittington team covered 2,592.1 miles at an average speed of 107.99 mph, finishing 59 miles ahead of Newman, Barbour and Stommelen.