I recently had a chance to catch a screening of Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman, Adam Carolla's documentary about the motorsports side of the renowned actor. The project was a tough one to make for the production staff given Newman's extensive history in the sport. In spite of the challenges, the filmmakers do an excellent job in conveying as much as they can in just an hour and a half, even though they didn't include all of the juicy tidbits from his racing career. That'll be the viewer's job to research should they feel inclined, and I'm ok with that.
As a lifelong racing fan and knowledgeable of Newman's racing through watching his team in Indy cars since the early '90s, as well as via research, going in I felt there wasn't too much I'd learn about the actor that I didn't already know. I left the screening surprised at the amount of information I hadn't a clue about that was included in the film.
Here are just 12 things I learned watching Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman:
1. Paul Newman began his racing career as a sponsor
Paul Newman's first foray into racing was as a sponsor for Mario Andretti's 1967 Can-Am car. Star-struck Andretti gave the actor a "white-knuckled" ride in a Mustang pace car during the season, which began his fascination with motor racing.
2. Robert Redford had a racing passion
Newman's costar and long-time friend Redford had been a racing fan since 15 years old and owned several race cars before Newman, dating back to his time shooting Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, including a Porsche 904 that had been built for Sebring. Redford allowed Newman to drive the car, and demonstrated an early natural talent that impressed Redford.
3. Newman began racing at age 47
A late bloomer to the sport, he continued to have success well into his older years, winning his last race at 82 (in car No. 82) and racing his last race at 83. Bob Sharp reckons Newman would've been "one of the best" had he started 20 or so years earlier.
4. Newman found similarities to acting in his racing
"One thing you learn in acting is to go out there and make mistakes. In order to do it right you have to do it wrong. The same thing is true in racing." Like in acting, Newman wasn't great at the skill right away, but slowly worked at it. Newman told Sam Posey, "You know, I'm acting out the role of a racing driver".
5. Cars and racing were his number one passion, not acting
"It's not he'd really be divided by the two, it's that films would really come second to this racing," says Redford. Newman's obsession started to drive Redford crazy as a friend as he began to only talk about cars and racing when in his company.
6. It was the only sport Newman found himself good at
Newman always wanted to be a jock. "I skied, I boxed, and played football...badly. I had no physical grace. The only thing I ever found grace with was in automobiles," says Newman.
7. Newman gave Willy T. Ribbs his big break
Struggling in an almost all-white sport, African-American Ribbs didn't find much of the same support his competitors did despite his talent. Newman referred Ribbs to a competitive Trans-Am team, which on Newman's advice hired Ribbs. "It changed everything," says Ribbs. In his first year he won 5 out of 11 races, in 1985 almost all of them. Eventually Ribbs found himself at the Indy 500. Ribbs credits Newman as being the one who made him professional and earned his success.
8. Newman loved building a wolf in sheep's clothing
Mario Andretti remembers Newman's Volvo station wagon with a 650 horsepower Corvette engine in it. He wanted to be incognito, but when someone recognized him, he wanted to open their eyes.
9. Racing helped him cope with the tragic death of his son
Newman wanted to spend his time driving more than ever after his son's accidental overdose, letting it consume his mind more than thinking about the death. "When you get out to that track and you sit down in that car, whatever it is that's rolling around in your head, it just goes right out the window." He won 15 out of 17 races that year.
10. Driver Sam Posey's wife is the artist on the Newman's Own labels
Newman's friendship with Sam Posey got Posey's wife the gig. "She's probably the most reproduced fine artist in history," says Sam Posey. Her signature can be found within the produce on the classic label.
11. The extent of his racing accomplishments as a driver
Newman won four SCCA National Championship titles, and finished first in his class, second overall at the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans with Dick Barbour and Rolf Stommelen in a Porsche 935 (Newman also finished first in his class at the 1995 24 hours of Daytona at age 70, but is not included in the film).
12. Paul Newman got Tom Cruise into racing
On the set of The Color of Money, he introduced racing to Cruise, and subsequently got Nissan to give him a race car. Cruise's initial racing led to doing Days of Thunder. After a large crash at 130mph, Cruise called it quits.
The movie comes highly recommended, and is available for now digitally at all the major sources (iTunes, Amazon, etc.). A DVD and Blu-Ray is slated for release later this year that'll include special features such as the complete interviews with Mario Andretti (yay) and Patrick Dempsey (eh), as well as an additional feature on Carolla's involvement restoring Newman's ex race cars. This won't be the only Carolla racing-related film, either. The "Ace" man is looking at two more projects - one on the Ford versus Ferrari battle at Le Mans in 1966, and a possible one on pioneer African-American racer Willy T. Ribbs.
More information on Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman can be found at newmanracingfilm.com.