Paul Newman: the Daytona 24 best recordman

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Paul Newman wanted to be a great athlete – he just never found a sport in which he could excel. Then, while filming the movie ‘Winning’ in 1969 at age 43, he discovered auto racing.

“I was never a very graceful person. The only time I ever really feel coordinated is when I dance with Joanne”, he once told The Associated Press, referring to his wife, Joanne Woodward. “And that’s not my doing. But when I’m behind the wheel of race car, I feel competent and in charge. It’s something I really enjoy”.

In 1995, to celebrate Paul Newman’s 70th birthdayParamount Pictures presented the veteran with a sponsored ride in the Daytona Rolex 24 – a Roush-prepared Ford Mustang. Joining Newman behind the wheel were fellow racer/actor Mike Brockman, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series star Mark Martin and Roush Trans-Am championTommy Kendall. The car was sponsored by Newman’s upcoming film, Nobody’s Fool, and carried No. 70 in honor of his age.

The race played out like a Hollywood script. Newman drove the car into the GTS-1 class lead four hours and 30 minutes into the event – running fifth overall in the 74-car field. Following his stint, Newman was asked if traffic had been courteous. “Courteous is what you find in office buildings and dentist offices”, the actor told Godwin Kelly of the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

The team kept the car in the class lead and top-five overall in a near-flawless performance. Newman held up his end, logging 114 laps while driving four hours, 20 minutes in his first Rolex 24 appearance since 1970.

Team manager Roush recalls Newman telling him, “I’m done”, after getting out of the car with four hours remaining. “I said, ‘No Paul, this is your race car, you’ve got to be in it for the last hour when we finish”, Roush recalled.

“So he reached down and did something that an American hero would do, and got back in the car for the last hour”. The Roush team won its class, finishing third overall. With that victory, Newman became the all-time oldest driver to win the 24-hour-long race! He was 70! Top class!