14 days

Hey You!


Scrutineering Bay

Not that it's any of my business

Notes from the Cellar

Across the Border

Focal Point







Mail  to a friend

Penalty Box

Family and friends

Postcards from the edge



An Experience in Retrospect -  Paul Newman

PLN is dying.

According to reports, he may not make it until the end of next month before terminal cancer overcomes him. His loss will be mourned by many, for as Paul Newman, the actor, he has been a giant of the movie and theatrical world for better than half a century. An individual of more than enormous talent, his professional accomplishments as an actor are unquestioned. So too are his achievements as a philanthropist. Newman for years has donated the totality of his profits from his well known “Newman’s Own” food brand to charity, much of it going to his “Hole in the Wall Gang” camps for ill and disabled children.

But, for us in motorsport, he is neither a movie star, nor a philanthropist, rather he is PLN, the race driver. There have been other celebrities who have had a fascination with racing. Some, such as Steve McQueen, have been, or at least could have been top level competitors, other less so. None, however, have matched Newman, either in terms of style, or results. Still what he will be remembered for by us in the sports car world is his approach to his racing. Most indicative of that approach are the initials under which he raced for much of his career, “PLN.”

For Newman, motorsport has not been a public relations exercise to boost his standing in the movie community, nor has he ever demanded to be treated like the star he is. Quite to the contrary, the initials “PLN” were deliberately chosen to hide his stardom. Moreover, throughout his association with the sport he has insisted, demanded really, to be treated like any other participant, good, bad or indifferent. Indeed, for Newman, racing has been far more than a past time, rather it has been an avocation, and that ironically has led at times to conflicts with his desire not to draw attention to himself, one of those moments coming when he became a factory Nissan driver for Bob Sharp racing on the IMSA Camel GT tour. After the announcement, Newman made it clear that he would give no interviews, only relenting when it was explained to him that, as a factory driver, he was required to do so. Of course, the acceptance of this duty had strings attached: Newman would limit those interviews solely to racing;. One question or word about his other “career,” and the talking stopped. It was as simple as that.

Newman, of course, hasn’t stayed completely out of the industry’s limelight, being part owner with Carl Haas for many years of the Newman-Hass Team on the CART and IRL circuits, as well as making the occasional documentary about the sport. For the most part, though, Newman has been someone who has let his racing speak for itself which it has both loudly and eloquently. Even though Newman has been associated with the Indy Car scene as an owner for many years, and even though he has driven such things as 800 horsepower, front engined Sprinters, his accomplishments have come almost exclusively in the sports car arena, a journey that began in the 1970’s behind the wheel of a Bob Sharp prepared Datsun 510 sedan.

Even in his first year, Newman made the annual SCCA Runoffs, a preview of what he would do in the future, winning multiple SCCA National Champions in everything from an ex-Bob Tullius Group 44 Triumph TR-6 (beating Tullius himself, who was driving a Triumph TR-7, in the process at Road Atlanta in 1976), to nearly winning Le Mans outright in 1979 as part of the Dick Barbour 935 crew which finished second overall, and first in the IMSA GTX category. Newman has also taken time to try out the Salt Flats at Bonneville, where in 1974, driving a NART Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona coupe, he set a number of speed records.

And, as if that weren’t enough, Newman also has been a Trans-Am winner whose abilities have impressed even the toughest of his rivals. Now a SPEED TV commentator, ex-racing star David Hobbs, who ran against him in the series, has said that “PLN” was one of the toughest, most talented competitors he faced, adding that if Newman had had more time away from his “day job,” he might have even become a Trans-Am champion. Newman’s talents likewise didn’t escape the notice of Jack Roush, whose Trans-Am and IMSA GTO records include more than one or two season championships. Roush made Newman part of his Ford Mustang team at the Daytona 24 Hours on several occasions, the Connecticut resident helping to reward him with class victories each time. Indeed, perhaps an even better measure of just how good Newman has been can be found in the fact that the last of those triumphs came in his seventies, a time when most wouldn’t have even thought of stepping into a race car, much less pushing it hard enough to win.

Age, in fact, seems not to mattered at all for “PLN” who several years ago finished in the top five at Lime Rock in a Trans-Am event in what was a less than top car, and who more recently found himself behind the wheel of a Max Crawford Daytona Prototype, a vehicle which he exited with some alacrity during a January test session when it turned into a blazing inferno.  A secret, perhaps, to Newman’s ability to act as a young man, even if his birth date says he shouldn’t, can be found in his sense of humor. Many years ago, when he was racing against Tullius, who was then sponsored by Quaker State Oil, Newman went to the trouble of hiring a garbage truck to patrol the paddock at a regular SCCA National Championship event, emblazoned in full Quaker State livery, complete with references to the personal habits of Tullius and his crew. (Tullius, however, later repaid his friend by hiring an off-duty Georgia State Trooper at the Runoffs that same year to arrest Newman for “impersonating an actor.”)

Several weeks ago, “PLN” took a “goodbye” drive around Lime Rock, doing so in typical understated fashion, with no one else around but some track workers, a few friends and his family, Lime Rock’s Major Domo, Skip Barber having shut the circuit down for an hour to allow him to do so in private. The occasion was fitting, for Newman, whether as an actor, or as a race driver, or a philanthropist, has never been one for touting himself in public, preferring to let his actions speak for him. Some day, when all of us are dead and gone, perhaps we will get a chance to see him race again, and if we do, we can only wonder if he will chastise God for making a big deal about it.

Best of luck PLN, you did more than entertain, you inspired.

Thank you.

Bill Oursler, August 2008

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