It has been more than two years since Paul Newman died, and though the world lost a thespian, racing lost one of its biggest figures. He may have been an actor by trade, but he was a racer at heart.
And now, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach serves as another reminder of Newman’s absence.
And his presence.
Newman was a competitor at heart. It's a trait he shared with co-owner Carl Haas of Newman Haas Racing, which has won Long Beach six times--more than any other team. “That spirit went through the team from top to bottom and carries on today,” said general manager Brian Lisles. “This is still Paul Newman and Carl Haas’ team, and always will be.”
Driver Oriol Servia joined Newman Haas Racing three races into the 2005 season and finished second in the championship.
“You’d be surprised how little it has changed since I joined the team in 2005,” he said during the run-up to this weekend's big races, which culminate in Sunday's main event.
Servia, 36, from Catalonia, Spain, now splits his time living in Miami and Santa Monica, and he is grateful to be back at Newman Haas. He has a new sponsor, Spanish language television broadcaster Telemundo, and is also grateful for the prospect of remaining at NHR for 2011 and beyond.
That will keep him close to the Newman legacy.
“Paul is missed in many ways, his connections, his presence,” Servia said. “Carl (Haas) and him were a great combination, but the way the team works is the same way. If he could come back, he wouldn’t be disappointed.”
Absent Newman, it has been tougher for the team to attract sponsorship. Typical of Newman’s pull, McDonald’s Restaurant wanted to use Newman’s Own Salad Dressing at its restaurant. Newman leveraged the partnership: Sponsor my race team. Sebastien Bourdais won four consecutive championships from 2004-07, driving the red and yellow.
Newman’s impact on people was noticeable. Kevin Kalkhoven owns the KV Racing team, used to own the Champ Car World Series and co-owns the Grand Prix of Long Beach. He relates a story about Newman’s persuasive nature. Kalkhoven was asked by Newman to be on the board of the charity he founded, the Hole in the Wall Gang Camps for children with serious medical conditions.
Kalkhoven: “When Paul asked me to do it I said, ‘Sick kids? As much as I like you, no way am I going to do this.’ In the inimitable way that he had, he went along to my girlfriend, charmed the heck out of her, and it ended up with my being told I was going to be on the board of the Hole in the Wall Camps, and of course I fell in love with it once I got there.”
Newman definitely commanded respect throughout the paddock. He had raced at Long Beach in the TransAm Series—he became a racer after filming the 1969 movie Winning—as well as the Toyota Pro-Celebrity Race. Building one of the strongest teams in the sport didn’t hurt, either. NHR won eight championships since forming in 1983 with driver Mario Andretti. At its zenith, it won consecutive championships from 2004-07 with Sebastien Bourdais.
“As a result, his name and this event were very often linked, and it’s beneficial to us,” said Jim Michaelian, president of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach. “That (entertainment) community, which physically is part of this event, and his appeal to the Hollywood universe made him really unique. He could bridge that gap that very few others could.
“The name recognition he had, and his love for the sport, really was one of the keys to the success of the whole NHR enterprise, as well as creating interest among fans," Michaelian said. "The fact that he was a Hollywood hero and felt perfectly comfortable being a race car fanatic was a unique facet about Paul Newman.”
Many of the celebrities that attended the Long Beach race through the years—and other Champ Car races—are the result of Newman’s influence.
“He brought an atmosphere to the paddock and the event that was Newman,” Kalkhoven said. “That part of the paddock atmosphere and that part of the race will always be different because he’s not here.”
What do you remember about Paul Newman?
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For the winners of one of today's big races: http://patch.com/A-gGzP