Paul Newman: The Legend and His Race Cars – Getting up close and personal with the machines he loved most

Photography by: ©2014 Toni Avery

Overall Studio shot

Hollywood is flooded with talented, gorgeous and sometimes trashy people. You may not be old enough to remember, but Hollywood used to be all about glitz, glamor and pure talent. That era was host to some of the biggest names Hollywood will ever know including James Garner, Steve McQueen and Paul Newman, to name a few. They were some of the very few car enthusiasts and racers at the time.

Paul Newman is best known as a world-famous actor and personality, but few really know him as a racer. As depicted in the book “Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman,” close friends of Paul understood his true passion was racing. Starting late in life, Paul participated in many divisions of racing and drove a number of different cars. For those who know about his career know that Paul had a love affair with Datsun. While others preferred the speed and exclusivity of Ferrari and the like, Paul preferred Datsun above the rest.

I had the exclusive opportunity to photograph a number of Newman’s racecars, capturing details that race fans only dream about. This particular collection calls comedian Adam Carolla’s garage home. Why Adam Carolla? Well, if you know anything about him you know he is a huge car nut. Beyond that, he has taken a keen interest in Paul Newman. The passion for cars and the interest in Paul is what sparked Adam to create a documentary on the man and his long racing career. Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman (the documentary) features footage from the past, interviews from fellow racers and friends along with imagery, creating a complete history of Newman’s successful and rich career.

Sitting down with Adam, I asked him some burning questions about these incredibly historic and iconic cars.

Adam Carolla head shot 72dpi

Image Credit to: Craig Larsen Courtesy of Adam Carolla

T: What got you interested in Paul Newman?

A: I had a Datsun roadster back in the day when I was still poor. Once I started making money I got a clone BRE 510 and just continued loving Datsun. A Newman car came to my attention, which I bought as a showpiece just because I thought it would be an interesting conversation starter. Then the sister car for that came up for sale, and all of a sudden I became a collector.

T: Tell me about each of the cars at the shoot individually

A: There was the 1988 300 ZX 2+2 Trans Am Car, a BRE Roadster (which Frank Monise drove), a Datsun 510 Bobby Allison Coca Cola Car BRE, a 1979 280 ZX car that Newman drove, and an ‘89 or ‘90 Camaro that Newman drove that used to have an Olds Cutlass body on it (was re-bodied to Camaro). There’s also a Bob Sharp Datsun 610 that was a display car, no real racing history just painted up in the Bob Sharp livery back in the day. And finally a Bob Sharp Camel GT 260Z Pace Car.

(1988 300 ZX 2+2 Trans Am Car)

300ZX side

T: I loved the book, such a quick read. What inspired you to turn it into a documentary?

A: Just that it’s an interesting story and I was surprised that nobody had ever made a documentary about it before of any length (not just feature). A lot of people didn’t know that Newman was a legitimate racer at the height of his celebrity, so it didn’t get that much TV coverage. I figured it was time for that to change. I also felt a kinship to him because he got into racing a little later in his life, which is kind of what I did too.

T: What do you hope is the outcome from the public viewing the documentary?

A: If people can appreciate what a serious, legitimate racer Newman was, then I’ve done my job. Also, I believe that Datsun and Nissan are underappreciated in the world of American sports car racing, and I would hope this documentary sheds some light on their achievements, and gains them the respect they deserve.

(Bob Sharp Camel GT 260Z Pace Car)

260Z pace car side

T: Of all the Newman cars, which is your favorite?

A: The 1988 300 ZX 2+2 Trans Am Car

T: Did you ever meet Paul Newman?

A: Sadly no, however last summer we took a trip to Lime Rock in Connecticut, which was Newman’s home track. I got to drive a few laps in one of his cars, so in a way I feel like I did get to meet the guy.

(Camaro)

Camaro seat belt

T: What would you most like us to know about your documentary?

A: It’s not just for gear-heads. It’s a story about one of the most complex guys that ever walked the planet. My wife and her friend, who know nothing about cars, enjoyed it every bit as much as my race fan buddies.

T: What has been the hardest part for you?

A: Keeping it to 90 minutes. Having to cut out funny stories that Robert Redford told and interesting tales from Bob Sharp and others that knew him well is the hardest part, otherwise it’d be four hours long.

(Datsun 2000)

Datsun 2000 badge

T: Were you inspired or encouraged by someone to get into racing and cars?

A: I was just collecting some vintage racecars and attending races just for fun, even though the racing seemed a bit intimidating and not the thing I’d do. Then my mechanic Les Cannaday asked if he could sign me up for Coronado one year, and it’s been a passionate love affair ever since.

T: What is your favorite place to race?

A: My favorite place to race every year is Monterey at the Laguna Seca Raceway. It’s a beautiful, iconic track, and of course it doesn’t hurt that it’s not far from home.

(Datsun 510 Bobby Allison Coca Cola Car BRE)

Datsun 510 Side

T: What sort of training have you had in racing?

A: The Toyota Pro / Celebrity race in Long Beach, which I’ve done four times now and won twice. But most of my training has just come from being behind the wheel of a vintage racecar.

T: Do you do any of the mechanical work yourself on your cars?

A: While I do enjoy tooling around, I’ve got a couple of guys who maintain the cars for me, and certainly have more time than I do.

T: What form of racing do you most enjoy watching?

(1979 280 ZX)

280ZX engine

A: The Running of the Wiener Dogs, when they have run down the horse track and jump the hurdles.

T: What current racing driver do you most admire?

A: Tanner Faust. Not only is he a friend, but I feel like between the X-Games driving, and stunt driving, and RallyCross, and all the different forms of driving he does, I just love to watch him behind the wheel.

T: What racecar would you like to own but still don’t yet?

A: BMW M1 Pro Car

T: What has been the best race of your career?

A: It has to be last year’s Toyota Pro / Celebrity Race in Long Beach. The year before I had won the race as a celebrity, which was huge. But being invited back to race as a Pro, and then winning that race, was probably the most exciting racing moment I’ve ever had. I think I am the only person to win that event as both a celebrity and a pro, which I’m very proud to say.

*The documentary is projected to be released May 22, 2015. 

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6 comments on “Paul Newman: The Legend and His Race Cars – Getting up close and personal with the machines he loved most
  1. Another great article Toni. I had the pleasure of meeting Paul Newman at the Laguna Seca track in ’83. I had been a fan and when the book came out, I had to have a copy. Glad to hear Adam has done the documentary and will look forward to seeing it.

    Great job!

  2. Saw PLN drive many times at Road Atlanta at SCCA races. Bob Sharp’s Datsuns were always beautiful. I think that was the first time I saw a big time race car hauler…not normally seen at SCCA races. PLN invariably won his class in the 510, an excellent driver and very down to earth guy….he used to kibbitz with my dad who also drove a 510.

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