Over the last 65 years, some of the greatest names in racing history have been drawn back to the challenge presented by Lime Rock Park. And for one famous racer, a visit to the to the Connecticut road course proved to be a pivotal plot twist in a career for the ages.
Acting was Paul Newman’s profession. He worked very hard at his craft, and was not only a huge star, but also a respected professional with scores of awards and accolades earned through the decades.
Driving a race car was P.L. Newman’s passion. He also worked hard at that craft, practicing at the lower levels and racing his way to the upper echelons of the sport, setting some impressive records along the way.
Newman caught the racing bug late in life, playing a race car driver in “Winning.” Just as an actor builds his craft, Newman knew that he couldn’t go straight to driving an IndyCar. So he got a Datsun 510 and began running track days on Tuesdays at Lime Rock Park, not far from his home in Westport. As he got better, he began entering SCCA events.
It turns out that he was pretty talented, and the next thing you know, he started winning. He joined up with another Connecticut racer, Bob Sharp, moving up to faster cars and a bigger stage as he went from club racing to becoming a regular on the professional Trans-Am championship.
“I’m a little long in the tooth for this,” he said early in his career. But he didn’t let his age or relative lack of experience stop him. 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 next year, Newman teamed up with Carl Haas to launch Newman/Haas Racing, which went on to score 105 CART IndyCar races with names like Andretti, Mansell and Bourdais. In 1986, Newman led the final 21 laps to score his second and final Trans-Am victory. Fittingly, it was at Lime Rock, in Bob Sharp’s red, white and blue Nissan.
In 1995, Newman’s studio presented him with a unique 70th birthday present — a sponsored ride in a Jack Roush race car in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Joining Newman in the No. 70 “Nobody’s Fool” Ford Mustang were Mark Martin, Tommy Kendall and long-time friend Michael Brockman. Not only did they win the GTS class, they finished third overall and captured the major headlines. That made him the oldest winner in a major professional race — an honor he still holds.
Newman’s final Trans-Am outing was in 2003, when he finished a lead-lap fifth in his own Corvette.
Even after he eased away from major competition, racing remained his passion. Coming into the sport with a mild-mannered Datsun 510, Newman went out in a beast. He won his last race at Lime Rock driving a 900-horsepower Corvette carrying his age — 81. The following year, he won the pole in his final race at Watkins Glen.
The following year, lung cancer took its toll. But Newman did not go quietly into the night. 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.
Ever the racer, Paul Newman might have found some “heaven on earth” at other racetracks. But for nearly the final 50 years of his life, Newman’s racing home was at Lime Rock Park.
Newman’s 97th birthday would have been January 26. So as the racing world looks to kick off the 2022 season in Daytona, a tip of the helmet to everything that Newman accomplished — on the track and off.
The 65th season of racing at Lime Rock Park kicks off in May, featuring the Trans Am Memorial Day Classic May 27-30. Click here for ticket information.