By on January 26, 2010

Reading the book “Winning: The Racing Life Of Paul Newman” last night, I realized that there were several connections between Paul and today’s featured Curbside Classic. Newman raced Zs successfully for the Bob Sharp team in the seventies, having started his career in a Datsun 510. And they’re both celebrating birthdays: The Z arrived in the US forty years ago, and Newman would have been 85 today, had he not passed away last year. I’ve praised the coming and eulogized the passing of the 240Z in the CC, but I’d like to give a moment’s tribute to my life hero:

Unlike a lot of Newman fans, my feelings of a connection to him initially had nothing to do with the silver screen. I was a kid and had never seen him in a movie when I read an article about his VW that sported a souped-up Porsche Super 90 engine, and some other tweaks. He bought his first VW in 1953, and drove it for eight years from his home in Connecticut to acting gigs in NYC. Wanting to speed up the trip, he told his mechanic to do something about it. Something in that story resonated deeply with me, and reinforced my love of VWs  and all things Paul Newman. And he’s never let me down since.

His remarkable career as an accomplished racer didn’t really start until he was well into his forties. Given that most successful drivers start practically as children to develop the neurons and experience necessary, it’s an unlikely story. As was his marriage to Joanne Woodward. And his commitment to charitable work, having donated some $300 million from his activities. I consider it a privelage to have had a brief encounter with him on a sidewalk as he was getting into his 911 some thirty years ago. The fact we share first names and birthdays are the frosting on the cake whose ingredients are a secret, and will likely never be made again: Paul Newman was an original, authentic hero; to me anyway. A true winner in every arena of life.

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9 Comments on “Paul Newman And The Datsun Z: Birthdays For Two Winners...”

  • avatar

    Truly an all-around winner, and we are better for his having been here on Earth.

    BTW, you also share monograms.
    BTW2, I didn’t miss the reflection this time either! Happy Birthday Paul N(iedermeyer) and may you continue to enrich us with your efforts here on TTAC!

  • avatar

    Some of my best childhood memories were from Road Atlanta during the Fall Runoffs watching him race Z’s. I think it was GT2 back then with GT1 dominated by the V8s. He was always very cool in the pit area talked to anyone around. It’s funny how some people only equate him with his acting and maybe his philanthropy when he was such a skillful driver.

  • avatar

    Happy birthday old man!

  • avatar

    I think he was once quoted as saying ” I dance like an elephant, the race car is the only place I feel graceful” or something like that. I met him briefly years ago when he was filming in Kansas City, stepped out of a cab made polite conversation with us out of interest, then went on to the set.

  • avatar

    Even if he never received his driver’s license he would have been a great human being.

  • avatar

    Watched him race at Seattle International Raceway (now Pacific Raceways) several times in the ’70s. This was a time you could walk right up to the drivers and talk. I didn’t; I just listened.

    Paul was definately into the sport and truely came alive talking about it. It’s great someone took the time to write a book about this aspect of his life. I hope it captures Paul as he really was.

  • avatar

    This could be the booze talking, but didn’t he also have a Volvo wagon with a 5.0 Mustang engine in it?

  • avatar

    One very cold 24 Hours of Dayton (’74 or ’75?) his wife helped score while wearing a full length mink. She gave me a friendly smile, my life has gone downhill since.

  • avatar

    Living in Westport CT, I can add that although he kept a low profile, he was an important contributor to the quality of life in my town and area through his philanthropic, arts, and conservation endeavors. As we would say in yiddish, a real mench.

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