Say a prayer for Paul Newman

DEAN MCNULTY

, Last Updated: 7:47 AM ET

BOWMANVILLE -- This is supposed to be a column about NASCAR.

But today I pause to pay tribute to one of the most generous, passionate and stubborn men I have ever met in motor racing -- Paul Newman.

Not generally associated with NASCAR -- although he often threatened to try racing stock cars even into his 80s -- Newman is said to be gravely ill and in the final stages of cancer at his Connecticut.

And yesterday morning as I was checking my e-mails, there was a message from a colleague who covers sports car racing in the U.S. who alerted me to the following entry on the Vintage Race Group List:

"Wednesday, August 13, 2008 Lime Rock Park was closed down for an hour and a half today to honour Paul Newman. He was attended by his family, close friends, Skip Barber, mechanics on his race team, and those who happened to be at the track. Newman toured the track in his Corvette race car with his Buick V8 powered Volvo station wagon following. He had come to say goodbye. Diagnosed with terminal cancer he is not expected to live beyond September. Race driver, actor, humanitarian, family man and friend -- they did not come any better."

Newman is no stranger to Canada, either, having been a fixture at the then Toronto Molson Indy for almost 20 years as well as attending the inaugural Rexall Edmonton Indy in the Alberta capital.

He also raced at Mosport International Raceway, where the Mobil 1 Grand Prix runs this weekend.

I won't pretend here to be friends with Newman. I've even been told by people close to him that he didn't much like me.

It was professional, however, and not personal.

I could never convince him, or his partners in the CART/Champ Car series, that they shared responsibility for the disastrous 10-year uncivil war that has all but destroyed open-wheel racing in North America.

It didn't stop me from admiring Newman, however, for what he brought to the sport he loved.

At age 54, when most professional race car drivers were either retired or entering vintage race events, Newman made his debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Porsche 935 owned by Dick Barbour.

Not only did he complete his stints in the around-the- clock race but brought home the car in second place -- a huge accomplishment.

Sixteen years later Newman entered the 24 Hours of Daytona and at the age of 70 became the oldest driver on a winning team in a major sanctioned race.

Of course Newman, in the meantime, had formed a partnership with Chicago racing entrepreneur Carl Haas to field a team in CART, a project that has brought the pair eight series championships and more than 100 victories on race tracks around the world.

The roster of drivers that Newman/Haas had in its paddock reads like a who's who of open wheel racing from Graham Rahal all the way back to Mario Andretti.

Now we get to the stubborn part of the Paul Newman story. He believed that Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony George -- who claimed 400,000 people attended the Indy 500 annually -- had been inflating the total.

When the split between George's IRL and CART became heated, Newman paid hundreds of University of Indiana students to count the seats at IMS to try to get a real number.

What he and his army of students came up with was around 250,000 -- a figure George contends didn't take into account infield and general admission tickets sold.

But Newman had what he wanted -- ammunition in his war of words with George.

Newman's charitable works are as legendary as his racing. He co-founded the Hole in the Wall Camps in the U.S., Ireland, France and Israel for up to 13,000 seriously ill children every year, free of charge.

All of this funded through sales of his Paul Newman brand salad dressings.

Oh, and by the way, Newman is also an Academy award winning actor.


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