I believe it is probably best to pay tribute to a racing fan while that fan is still alive. The news reports about Paul Newman these days are almost always dire. His life has been more full than most of the rest of us. Combined. His broad charitable efforts (and the millions of dollars they have generated) speak for themselves.
He jumped into racing with as much ferocity as he devoted to acting. He was generally just as good. That guy raced into the very last part of his life. The recent story about his last drive around Lime Rock was touching. He helped operate a very successful racing team. The only potential downside of his career was his full blown participation in one of the most stupid boycotts ever bungled by otherwise smart people. I am thankful he chose to return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this past May. It would be nice to see him there again in 2009, but that appears unlikely.
One of my favorite Newman moments occurred in 1993 at the Indianapolis 500. That was the last race my then 63-year old mother attended, and I sat with her. We were at the south end of the old Tower Terrace high above the Newman-Haas pits. At some point before the race, mom wanted to use the restroom but wanted an escort to the back of the terrace, a task for which I was recruited. As she made the turn to head toward the rear of the concrete stands, she bumped, literally, face first into Mr. Newman. Mom was at least a head taller than Newman, and having his head planted into her chest basically turned her into a teenaged-like groupie. Paul apologized for the collision and mom, starstruck, could only manage ‘Ohhh….Paauuuuuullllllll.’ He smiled, winked, then walked away. Mom was never the same and her concentration on what turned out to be a pretty good race was non-existent.
Thanks, racing fan, for giving generously to the sport and to life. Godspeed and best wishes as your fascinating journey continues.