NORWALK, Conn. — One of Connecticut’s favorite sons was front and center last week as the New England Auto Museum screened the new film “Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman” at the Stepping Stones Museum for Children in Norwalk.
The film, introduced by Newman’s racing mentor Bob Sharp of Sherman, 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.
“He was a wonderful, humble, down-to-earth kind of guy,” Sharp said of Newman, a longtime Westport resident. “But he had to have that burn in his belly to get into 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.
His longtime film collaborator and friend Robert Redford concurred.
“Racing became his passion …and he went for it,” Redford says of Newman in the documentary.
“Winning” includes footage of Newman racing and speaking about his second career. Though racing is considered a young person’s game, Newman first hit the track 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, says 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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