How Racing Became Paul Newman’s Obsession

by TK Sanders

Paul Newman was a legendary actor and philanthropist. He made an indelible mark on the entertainment industry over his multi-decade career. And when it came time to give back, Newman didn’t just write a check to a charity. He founded a salad dressing company, slapped his face on it, took it to market, and became a successful businessman. Instead of pocketing the profits, he donated his share to thousands of charities across the world via his Newman’s Own Foundation philanthropic arm.

An A-list acting career and a multi-million dollar side hustle are enough to fill any man’y plate. But Newman craved adventure as well. He craved speed and adrenaline on top of his personal and professional endeavors. Paul Newman may have been an actor, but P.L Newman was a race car driver — a hobby he took as seriously as anything else in his vibrant life.

Newman didn’t just buy a fancy car and demand a place at the adult’s table because he was famous. He practiced his craft for years in lower levels of racing, earning a chance to compete in legitimate races against professional racers. He also set some impressive records along his way to competing at a high level.

Funny enough, Newman got into racing because of an acting role, or so the story goes. After playing a driver in the 1969 film Winning, Newman bought a Datsun 510 and began learning to race on track days at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut. Soon, the actor turned racer entered local SCCA events; and better yet, he started winning. Soon he became a regular on the professional Trans-Am championship, which meant faster cars and a bigger stage.

Newman Transforms from Hobbyist to Racing Contender

“I’m a little long in the tooth for this,” he said at the time. But apparently life experience translated well to the road. All told, he won seven SCCA National Championships, finished second overall in the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans, and won a Trans-Am race in Brainerd in 1982. The following year, he launched Newman/Haas racing with Carl Haas, which made him an official owner and stakeholder; racing was no longer a weekend hobby for P.L. Newman.

In 1986, around age 60, Newman won his second and final Trans-Am race after leading the final 21 laps. It was a strong exclamation point to a strong third career. And guess where he won it? Lime Rock Park in Connecticut, of course.

Newman would race all the way up to 2003, well into his 80’s. On August 13, 2008, Lime Rock shut down for two hours so Newman could turn his final laps in his GT1 Corvette. He died one month later of lung cancer. The Renaissance man would have turned 97 this week, just days before NASCAR hits Daytona to kick off the beginning of Newman’s favorite season: racing season.