Word just came across the wire that Paul Newman has died of cancer at the age of 83. The morning news programs are all detailing his acting, food business and charity, but here at The Four Wheel Drift, we’re going to remind people that Mr. Newman was a class-act racer.
Newman’s interest in racing was tickled after acting in the 1968 movie “Winning”. Unlike other actors before and after, Newman didn’t just dive into a fleeting passion with cars and then move on. Instead, he brought the same dedication and professionalism to his racing as to his acting.
Newman first won a road race in 1972 while driving a Lotus Elan at Thompson, CT. Over the next two decades he would capture four SCCA National Titles — including D Production in 1976, C Production in ’79 and two consecutive GT-1 trophies (1985 and 1986). He also took two Trans Am Series wins, one in 1982 and one in 1986.
Newman’s endurance racing record made him a legend among actor/racers. In 1977 he placed 5th in 24 Hours of Daytona. In 1979 he piloted a tricky Porsche 935 to second in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. His crowning achievement, though, might be the IMSA GTS Class victory at the 1995 24 Hours of Daytona at the young age of 70. Newman last competed at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2004.
Along the way, Newman was known as a tough competitor, but a true gentleman. As a team owner, driver, enthusiast, and spectator, he was admired for his abilities, insight and complete lack of ego.
Other actors will come and go from driving, but chances are that there will never be another guy as great on the screen as he was behind the wheel and in the pits.
Though most of the world will probably remember him from one of his movie, forgive us here if our memories of Paul Newman are those of him sawing the wheels of Datsun/Nissans, Triumphs and Porsches in his role as professional racer.