Saturday, September 26, 2020

Remembering Paul Newman

I'm a devoted Paul Newman fan, as was my mum.

He left the world 12 years ago today.

Here's my very favorite article about Paul Newman, written by Steve Ulfelder.

When I’m telling racing stories at cocktail parties and people’s eyes glaze with boredom – this takes nearly 30 seconds – I know exactly what to say to regain my audience: “I’ve shared the track with Paul Newman.”

Works every time.

Note the careful phrasing: I imply, but do not actually say, that I’ve raced against Newman, who’s known as PLN around the track. I’ve never raced against him because our cars run in different classes. My class comprises Mazdas, Porsches, Acuras, and BMWs. It’s a reasonably fast group but it is nothing, repeat nothing, compared to Newman’s class: GT-1, made up of the fastest, lowest, widest, loudest, most brutish cars at the track.

Keep that in mind when you consider 83-year-old Paul Newman racing. He’s not chugging around the track in a jolly ’53 MG, silk scarf flying, eh wot? He’s strapping on a 700-horsepower weapon that scares the bejesus out of people when he merely starts the engine. (As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up. Inevitably, a crowd of looky-loos gathers around poor PLN’s paddock when he races at Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park. You should see them jump when he fires up his Corvette.)
Last year I went to a test day at Lime Rock to tune my car for a big season-ending race. During these test days, cars from various classes run at the same time. This is perilous because some of the cars are much faster than others – drivers must keep an eye on their mirrors to avoid unpleasant surprises.
As it turned out, I was grouped with Newman, but didn’t realize it because we hit the track at different times.

So there I was, sailing along, cutting lap times I was pleased with. Each time I drove down Lime Rock’s long front straight I glanced in my mirrors, searching for faster cars. Nothing.
Without warning, in the middle of a turn leading onto a section called No Name Straight, I heard a furious blat. Half a second later, Paul Newman passed me on the outside and vanished. He was so fast that I’d never spotted him, so fast he could pass me whenever and wherever the hell he wanted.
He must have passed me 10 more times that day. Usually I saw him coming in my mirrors, but sometimes that angry blat was my first clue. He was that fast. (Insult to Injury Dept.: For some time now, Newman has used his age as his race car number. So each time he blew by me I got to stare at a big 83 on the back of his car, evidence I’d been passed by an old man.)

Poor journalist that I am, I’ve buried the lede and the point of this story. Yesterday, the powers that be graciously shut down Lime Rock for a few hours to let Paul Newman spin a few farewell laps in his GT-1 Corvette and say goodbye to his favorite race track. As most know by know, PLN has cancer, and I’m hearing he doesn’t have an awful lot of time left. He’s a helluva racer. Can act a little, too.


Sharyn Ekbergh said...

My bigger half grew up in Westport and sold Paul a Christmas tree and apples at the farm market. And would get to see him at the Westport Playhouse. Says he was a nice guy, but we would have guessed that.

Kitty said...

My best friend was a huge Paul Newman fan. So when he raced at nearby Watkins Glen, she went just to see him. My husband and I had met her through dog training and had known her for several years by this time. But we had never met her husband. She said she would bring a picture of hubby the next time we got together to train dogs. The next time we got together was right after she had gone to Watkins Glen to see Paul Newman. Let’s see that picture of your husband, we said. She had completely forgotten the picture of hubby. “Oh, him,” was her reply. However, she did have a picture of her two children next to Paul Newman and his car. It would be a couple more years before we met the husband. In the meantime, we joked about Paul Newman fathering her children.

Brenda said...

Love this. Thankyou for sharing.

nightsmusic said...

I have a picture from 1995 standing next to Paul Newman with his arm around me. *swoon* That was the year he won the GT1 class at the 24 Hours Daytona race. My husband built the engine. The whole engine group was treated to dinner, then went to see a movie with him. He was kind, considerate and you could just fall into his blue eyes.

I've also driven the track at Indy though not at the same time as him. But still just such a cool thing.

Beth Carpenter said...

Nightmusic, that is cool!

Craig F said...

I met him at Sebring. A bunch of us used to get together to rent an RV, a couple kegs and a big barbecue cooker.

We parked in the infield and raised a ruckus. He stopped by a few times for a beer and a plate of Q, like most everyone else. He tried so hard to be just one of the gang, but the world wouldn't let him.