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Paul Newman: Just Plain Cool
 
By Russell Adams
CarPrices.com
 

He was an aspiring pool champion in "The Hustler," played opposite Robert Redford in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Sting," and mentored a younger billiards phenom Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise) as the aging "Fast" Eddie Felson in "The Color of Money." He busted loose from prison in "Cool Hand Luke," but not before he came through on a dare by eating 50 eggs. To most, he was merely a handsome, blue-eyed young man who quickly rose to fame as one of the most popular performers of his time and, subsequently, maintained his prime box-office appeal over multiple generations.

Ironically, though, it was a little-known movie early in his acting career that would impact his life in a way that no other movie, sauce or amount of stardom would. It was called "Winning," a 1969 movie in which Paul Newman played an Indianapolis 500 driver, a role that sparked a life-long interest in racecar driving.

Fast-forward a few years, and add champion auto racer to a long resume that includes actor, director, philanthropist, producer and screenwriter. Furthermore, add Newman to the top of a list of celebrity auto racing enthusiasts that includes Tim Allen, Joe Montana and Donny Osmond.

In "Winning," Newman plays Capua, a successful racecar driver who falls in love with Elora (played by current wife Joanne Woodward), but has to cut his honeymoon short to get back on the racing circuit. Capua's luck quickly goes south, when his main racing rival, Luther (Robert Wagner), begins to beat him at every race. Unfortunately for Capua, Luther passes him up in more places than the track. Capua comes home one day only to discover that in his obsession to beat Luther on the track, his rival also has beat him to his own bedroom. If you know anything about Newman's life and career, you'd also have to assume that playing a loser was a real stretch.

Following the filming of "Winning," Newman quickly began to prove that racing around a track was much more than a hobby. The results alone are proof that, for Newman, getting involved in a variety of different auto racing events was more than just adding gravy -- or salad dressing -- to an already phenomenal professional career.

Four years after his interest was first piqued, Newman recorded his first win, driving a Lotus Elan in Thompson, Conn., in 1978. As he was developing his skills as a sports car driver, Newman also competed in a modified stock car at Daytona. In 1977, less than a decade after "Winning" was released, Newman finished fifth in the 24 Hours of Daytona. Two years later, he co-drove a Porsche 935 to second place in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The actor earned his first of four Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) national titles in 1976. He also won titles in 1979 and was the GT-1 champion in both 1985 and 1986. Newman's first professional Trans Am victory came at Brainerd, Minn., in 1982.

In 1983, Newman and race entrepreneur Carl Haas, who had been competing against one another in the Can-Am Series, began to discuss the possibility of joining forces and forming a championship car team to compete in the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) -sanctioned PPG Indy Car World Series.

The team has enjoyed great success over the years and currently boasts two of the world's top drivers, Michael Andretti and Christian Fittipaldi.

In his mid-70s, Newman is all, if not more, the stud he ever was, both on and off the screen. As of 1998, through his food products -- which include lemonade, salsa, salad dressing, popcorn and spaghetti sauce -- Newman donated more than $90 million to various charities. So, sit back, make a bowl of popcorn, throw in an old movie, and raise your glass of lemonade to a man who, in his 70s, has more game than most of us could ever dream of.



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