STEW

The Covington News - - Sports -

over the world. Porsche, Dat­sun (later branded as Nis­san), Pon­tiac, Jaguar and Ford Mo­tor­craft all par­tic­i­pated in Sports Car Club As­so­ci­a­tion sanc­tioned events through­out the United States and Canada.

New­man spent most of his racing days in the Trans-Am se­ries and be­came known for driv­ing the No. 33 fac­tory spon­sored Dat­sun Z. I met him on a Sun­day, hours be­fore the race. He was a nice man. I had only seen him on TV so I didn’t know what to ex­pect. He was a small man in stature but a huge pres­ence at the track.

Wear­ing those patented large sun­glasses, New­man walked around the pit area as his team pre­pared his car for the race. He talked to fans as if they were racing bud­dies.

Peo­ple didn’t flock to see him like one might ex­pect. It was more cu­rios­ity than any­thing. He was a ca­pa­ble racer but the guys to beat that day were the Roush Mo­tor­craft driv­ers Chris Kneifel, Willy T. Ribbs and 23-year sen­sa­tion Wally Dal­len­bach Jr.

In those days fans were al­lowed to walk through the pad­dock area and touch the cars. Teams would let you stand right there as they pulled body pan­els away and tuned the en­gines. There were no fancy garages and air con­di­tioned lux­ury suites you see to­day and spon­sor­ship was in its in­fancy. Some teams had ma­jor cor­po­rate spon­sors like the Löwen­bräu Porsche 962 team, but racing was still pri­mar­ily funded by the car man­u­fac­tures or pri­va­teers. Racing was pure.

Sports cars are mag­nif­i­cent. The stream­line body work — the low pro­file, su­per wide slick tires — the low­ered stances — it all screams ag­gres­sive speed. The smell of al­co­hol fuel and burn­ing brakes is in­tox­i­cat­ing. Once you love racing, it be­comes an ad­dic­tion.

New­man fin­ished that race in the mid­dle of the pack af­ter his car lost a cylin­der and was down on power. Ribbs won the race and Dal­len­bach would go on to cap­ture the 1985 ti­tle and be­come the youngest cham­pion in se­ries his­tory.

One year later, my fa­ther took me to see Pink Floyd in con­cert at the Oak­land Coli­seum. That prob­a­bly ranks as the coolest thing we did to­gether. But I’ll never for­get the days we spent at the track. Maybe that’s why I re­mem­ber the de­tails of my meet­ing with New­man so vividly. It’s funny how that works.

New­man would win the 24 Hours at Day­tona and place sec­ond at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in his racing ca­reer. Later, he would be­come a suc­cess­ful car owner in the CART se­ries where he won eight cham­pi­onships with Mario and son Michael An­dretti as no­table driv­ers.

New­man acted in only 16 movies from 1986 un­til his death last week. He’s prob­a­bly most well known for his line of food prod­ucts that bears his name and face or as Doc Hud­son in the Dis­ney an­i­mated film “Cars.” Racing is the only sport where the ath­lete and ma­chine work to­gether in per­fect har­mony to achieve victory. It’s no won­der Paul New­man spent the last 39 years of his life emersed in racing.

He once said auto racing was the only purely grace­ful sport and I have to agree. Who knows what will hap­pen with racing in the fu­ture. I’m afraid that un­less some­one can come up with a way for race cars to travel at 230 m.p.h. while run­ning on trash and used cook­ing oil, auto racing may go the way of the do do bird.

The Can-Am se­ries folded in 1974, Trans-Am fol­lowed in 2006 and the Indy/CART split has been well doc­u­mented. With peak oil in­evitable, the fu­ture looks dim. Who knows, maybe some­day cars will run on New­man’s Own Socka­rooni pasta sauce. Wouldn’t that be fit­ting? Maybe then peo­ple wouldn’t com­plain about the ex­haust fumes. Imag­ine that.

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