Paul Newman's racing endeavors were sparked during the filming of the 1969 movie "Winning." To prepare for the part of a driver of Indy-style race cars, Newman attended a racing school and found himself quite comfortable behind the wheel after extensive lessons.
"I'm not a very graceful person," Newman told The New York Times in 2002. "I was a sloppy skier, a sloppy tennis player, a sloppy football player. The only thing I found grace in was racing a car."
Newman, who died Friday at age 83, took his zeal for competition in the sport to its highest levels. In 1972, driving a Lotus Elan, Newman won for the first time in an event at Thompson International Speedway. In 1976 he won a national title as an amateur competing in the Sports Car Club of America, and three years later Newman made his first appearance competing in the world's most prestigious sports car racing event. Newman and driving partners Dick Barbour and Rolf Stommelen, finished second at the 24 Hours of LeMans.
In 1983, Newman found his way into major open-wheel racing as a team owner by forming Newman-Haas Racing with Carl Haas. The team, now known as Newman-Haas-Lanigan Racing, competes in the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series.
In 1995, Newman was part of a team that raced a Ford Mustang to its GTS Class victory in the 24 Hours of Daytona sports car event, making the actor, then 70, the oldest driver to win the event.
While Newman could be found even up until 2006 competing on the biggest stages in sports car racing, he also was a fixture at Lime Park Park in Salisbury.
"He was so passionate about racing," Lime Rock Park owner Skip Barber said. "Not many people have had more fun going racing than him. But he was serious about it; it wasn't a lark. He liked to win. He thought of himself as an uncoordinated guy, a stumbler a little bit, but in a car he was really graceful. 'Graceful' is not a word that a lot of people associate with car racing, but there sure are guys that are more fluid and smoother than others, and he was good."
Over the years Newman competed in various types of sports cars on the winding, bucolic road course in Salisbury. Newman often raced in the since-disbanded Trans-Am Series at Lime Rock, winning an event in the division in 1986.
"I just love it, so why not keep doing it?" Newman told The Courant in 2003 at Lime Rock, where he was competing in a Trans-Am race. "It's the greatest form of relaxation for me."
Barber thought Newman found just that at Lime Rock.
"I considered him one of those guys that fully appreciated Lime Rock instead of just taking it for granted, which a lot of people do," Barber said. "There's an awful strong sense of entitlement around Lime Rock. Everybody acts like it's theirs. He didn't do that.
"He was good for Lime Rock and in turn, people didn't bother him. The road racing community was good that way when it came to him."
Contact Shawn CourchesneCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun