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Paul Newman: Behind Blue Eyes

Submitted by on January 23, 2012

For a world-famous multiple award-winning actor, Paul Newman kept a low profile at the race track. He was just ‘one of the team’.

Paul Newman was one of those guys that’s hard to describe. You see him on-screen larger than life, yet when not in front the camera he was – I won’t use the word reclusive – I will just say ‘normal’.

But he was very far from normal, just a quiet human being who rarely gave interviews. He was also a bloody good racing driver, winning his class and finishing in second place overall at Le Mans in 1979 with Dick Barbour and Rolf Stommelen. At the age of 70, he won his class in the Rolex Daytona 24 Hours in 1995. He did it again, amazingly in 2005. Aged 80.

With his passing in September 2008 came the end of an era, not just for the film world, but the racing one too. As a team-owner with long-time friend Carl Haas, they built a formidable IndyCar team. When the previous driver list involves Mario Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Michael Andretti, Cristiano de Matta, Sebastien Bourdais, and many others then you know that wasn’t just a play toy for him. He took it seriously and passionately.

For all the success, sadly the Newman/Haas era is now over. Paul Newman has passed and the other half of the team, Carl Haas (who famously always had a cigar in his mouth which was never lit), decided that despite a promising year in 2011, enough was enough.

That is no reason, however, not to celebrate an extremely modest guy, who was extremely good in films like “Cat on a hot Tin Roof”, and then… where do you stop? “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, “The Sting”, and so many more. It was the film “Winning” which enthused Newman about motorsport, and set his love of racing off.

As a racing driver he was no slouch, and after his passing in 2008 Mario Andretti was quoted as saying. “He really was one of us.”

I’ve not even begun on his charity work, again done pretty much under the radar. He founded the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, and through his “Newman’s own Salad Dressings” (which I buy to this day) has raised over $300m to fund holiday camps for seriously ill children.

A fellow IndyCar team owner and chat show host, David Letterman paid this tribute to his friend in 2008.

There are many reasons to remember Paul Newman: Hollywood Superstar, race team owner, philanthropist, unassuming guy. But in the week of the Daytona 24 Hours, let’s think of him as a quality race car driver – and all-round good guy.

By Andy Hallbery . Follow me @hallbean on twitter.

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