SHERMAN, Conn. — At a recent screening of “Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman,” the introduction was made by someone who knew the actor from his days on the track: Bob Sharp of Sherman.
“He was a wonderful, humble, down-to-earth kind of guy,” Sharp said of Newman, a longtime Westport resident and philanthropist who died in 2008. “But he had to have that burn in his belly to get into racing.”
The New England Auto Museum last week screened the new documentary at the Stepping Stones Museum for Children.
The film chronicles the Oscar-winning actor’s love affair with driving, including several national championships with the Sports Car Club of America and in open wheel IndyCar racing.
The racing bug first bit Newman when he was cast in the 1969 film “Winning,” which centered on a rising star on the circuit who dreamed of winning the Indianapolis 500. Newman and his co-star, Robert Wagner, who is also featured in the documentary, both attended driving school to make their racing scenes more realistic.
While Wagner saw it as part of his job, Newman became hooked.
“I think it was always with him somewhere,” Wagner says in the film.
Newman's longtime film collaborator and friend Robert Redford concurred. “Racing became his passion … and he went for it,” he says in the documentary.
“Winning” includes footage of Newman racing and speaking about his second career on the track. Though racing is considered a young person’s game, Newman first began in his late 40s and was still racing into his 80s. Much of his training took place at Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park in Lakeville.
“He just pounded around at Lime Rock,” said actor and fellow racer Patrick Dempsey. “Just pounded around, pounded around and pounded around.”
The film, produced and directed by comedian/actor Adam Carolla, also chronicles some of Newman’s greatest tragedies, including the death of his son, Scott, to an overdose, and the untimely deaths of some of his fellow racers.
It also explains how Newman’s presence elevated racing and brought many new fans — and intrusive paparazzi — to the track. Racing icon Mario Andretti, who raced for Newman in his later years, said the movie star shunned the publicity as much as he could.
“He was just so adored all over the planet,” Andretti says in the documentary.
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