As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a Datsun guy (don’t you judge). As I became successful as a comedian, I started picking up vintage Datsun race cars. During the hunt for a new car to add to my growing collection, I came across an ‘84 Nissan for sale, which Paul Newman had raced. Truth be told, it struck me as kind of ugly, but it was a Nissan with Paul Newman’s name on it. I thought it would make an interesting conversation piece, so I picked it up on a whim, with no intention of ever racing it.
Later on, I saw the sister car to the ‘84 car come up for sale. It was one that he had raced in 1985. Well, I already had one, I might as well have the set of them to go together, right? And now that I have two, I might as well keep my eye out for more Newman cars. The collecting bug always starts the same way — so innocently. You get one item, and then you get another to keep it company. As soon as you get a third, it’s “your thing.” Before you know it, you’re the guy with a basement full of minor league baseball bobbleheads, velvet paintings, vintage calypso records or whatever. And there’s never an end in sight. There’s always one more thing to add to the collection.
Anyway, I acquired more Newman cars as they came up for sale and then I started to get into vintage racing. Amazingly, I finally found myself on the track in the actual cars that Newman had raced.
Back before the era of the Youtube, when all these underground guys were passing around bootleg skate videos, I would get bootleg DVDs of Paul Newman racing back in the 1970s and ‘80s and it was really impressive. The more I learned about him, the more I was surprised to find out that he was doing serious racing at the height of his popularity as an actor.
For any of you young folks out there that don’t know how big this guy was, let me say that over the course of his fifty years of acting, he had a career that would put him on anyone’s all-time top ten list. Paul Newman was, without exaggeration a genuine Hollywood superstar—a true icon. The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, The Sting, Towering Inferno, Slap Shot, The Verdict, The Color Of Money—like they say in classified ads, too much to list.
Newman had been sent to the Bob Bondurant racing school for the 1969 movie Winning and that fired up his passion to compete in racing. By 1972, he was driving in professional events. He won four championships in the SCCA, ran on the Bonneville Salt Flats and finished second in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1979. When he won his class at the 24 Hours Of Daytona in 1995, he was 70 years old. He had started late in life, but by all counts, he was a great driver.
I really enjoyed the book, Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman, but I couldn’t believe that a definitive telling of his racing story had never been done as a documentary. It seemed like a perfect idea. I pitched the idea to my friend Bill Simmons, who created ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. He thought it might be better suited for one of their shorts, but I felt the story could barely be covered in a 60 minute format. So, I’ve set out to make the documentary independently.
It’s a work-in-progress, so I can’t tell you where it will ultimately air. We haven’t even settled on a title for it yet. But I wanted to give my humble readers an inside look at what we’ve done so far, because I’m really excited about it. We sat down with Robert Wagner, who starred with Newman in Winning, as well a Bob Bondurant, who gave racing lessons to Wagner and Newman. We’ve also got interviews with some legends from the world of racing. Bob Sharp, who was his team owner, Sam Posey, who was a teammate, and Lyn St. James, who raced against him in the Trans Am series in the 1980s. Then we’ve got Patrick Dempsey to give us a racing celebrity’s perspective and also Jay Leno, because he is required by law to be included in any car-related production.
And of course, we’re also trying to feature all of Paul’s cars, most of which are still around—and every one of which I plan to own some day. And I won’t be done collecting until I end up owning every car Paul Newman ever drove, but ironically, I’ll probably have to buy half of them back from my ex-wife after the divorce.
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