...my memories of the day some Tinseltown magic was sprinkled on a sodden Thruxton circuit, by Historic Sports Car Club CEO Grahame White
‘After a few laps they came into the pits and swapped seats so Newman could drive. We certainly didn’t tell the race officials or commentator, it was all kept low key – he thoroughly enjoyed it’
One of my most treasured memories is of the time I met up with the American film star Paul Newman. It was 1972 and he was in the UK making the Cold War thriller Macintosh Man for John Huston, which was released in 1973.
I was the CEO of the BARC at the time and had an office in our headquarters based in Argyll Street in Central London. One day the switchboard operator called me to say that there was a gentleman called Paul Newman on the line and that he wanted to speak to me. She put him through and this charming voice with a strong American accent introduced himself and said he’d love to come down to Thruxton and watch the racing the following weekend. Initially, I thought it was one of my friends trying to wind me up, but something in his voice made me take him seriously. He asked how he could get a ticket, so I told him I’d deliver one personally to the Dorchester Hotel where he was staying.
By then Newman was enjoying superstar status. Off screen, he first became interested in motor racing while attending the Watkins Glen Racing School in preparation for making the film Winning, later hosting a TV special in 1971,
Once Upon a Wheel, featuring the history of the sport. On his arrival at Thruxton, Paul made his way to the main office. I was in Race Control when one of the girls rang to say, ‘You’re not going to believe who has just walked in and is asking for you.’ I made my way over to collect him. ‘I don’t want any fuss,’ he said. ‘I just want to have a walk round the track and see what’s going on.’ Later, we met for a coffee and it was then that he asked if he could be driven round the circuit. I suggested that we left it until lunchtime when there would be a break in the racing, and I took him over to meet Richard Longman, a well-known and very competent driver who campaigned a Mini Cooper S.
In his usual relaxed way Richard agreed and we fitted Paul out with a racing suit and helmet. Despite the rain, after a few laps they came into the pits and swapped seats so Paul could take the wheel. He thoroughly enjoyed it. What made it so special was that it was totally unexpected and unplanned. We certainly didn’t tell the race officials or the commentator, it was all kept very low key. For me it’s a wonderful memory, one of those lucky moments when I met a very special person.
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