BRASELTON - The American Le Mans Series paddock remembered Paul Newman on Saturday as a larger-than-life personality and one of the world's most renowned figures in motorsports.
When hearing the news of his passing, stories and memories came flooding as testing began at Road Atlanta for Petit Le Mans powered, an event Newman competed in during the 2000 season.
Newman died Friday night at his Connecticut home at the age of 83.
An Academy Award-winning actor, Newman was a motorsport enthusiast who finished second overall at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1979 in a Porsche 935 Turbo with Dick Barbour Racing, one of many professional racing accomplishments.
"It's truly a sad day," said Don Panoz, founder of the American Le Mans Series and a close friend of Newman. "Paul was one of the most iconic figures not just in motorsports, but through his life in general. He was so much more a contributor to the world than a taker. He was a dear friend and will be missed."
Road Atlanta was one of Newman's favorite tracks, and he won five SCCA Nationals here: 1975, 1976, 1979, 1985 and 1986. The last of those four were in the prestigious SCCA Runoffs.
"I probably wouldn't be racing today if it wasn't for Paul Newman," said Gunnar Jeannette, who first raced with Newman in 2000. "The first time I got in the car that year, he was faster than I was.
"Even recently, he was still incredibly quick and could get around Lime Rock (his home track) better than anyone. He has been such a huge influence on my career and has been a close friend of our family for a long time."
When Newman competed in the 2000 Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, he finished 32nd overall in a Dick Barbour-owned Porsche 911 GT3 R, co-driving with Mike Brockman and Randy Wars.
Barbour currently is the team manager for Robertson Racing, a GT2 team in the American Le Mans Series that fields a Ford GT-R.
"We were introduced driving Ferraris in 1977 at Daytona, and we developed a mutual friendship," Barbour said. "Paul was so passionate about driving. He told me a few times that he didn't really care for Hollywood, and that it was just a business. He really wished he had started driving earlier and made that his career. He was very consistent, never put a wheel off and was easy on the equipment."
Newman made his last appearance at Road Atlanta on March 26, 2006, racing in an SCCA Regional event.
"They broke the mold when they made Paul Newman," said Tim Pappas, driver and owner of Black Swan Racing. "I had the chance to meet Paul at Daytona in 2000, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. This really is the end of an era."
Newman also was a legendary name in the open-wheel ranks. Newman/Haas Racing was formed by Newman and fellow Can-Am competitor Carl Haas in the early 1980s. The team won seven Champ Car titles and nearly 100 races. With the recent influx of open-wheel stars into the American Le Mans Series' paddock, there were countless stories and tales to tell Saturday:
"There was a legend quality to Paul Newman not unlike Mario (Andretti)," said Lowe's Fernandez Racing driver and owner Adrian Fernandez, himself an ex-Champ Car competitor. "He was a guy who you'd see and be around and just realize how much love and passion he had for racing. I always admired, as did others in the paddock, how he would often put racing before his movie career. I remember a time when he missed an important movie awards show in order to be at one of our events. He was a very sweet person to talk to about everything, not just racing. He will be sadly missed."
"He was the ultimate racer," said Tom Anderson, co-principal at Lowe's Fernandez Racing. "When at the track, he was 100 percent racing. It was never about showing that he was better than anyone else. He had a total love for the sport and the people in it. We're really going to miss him."
Aside from a standout motorsport career, de Ferran Motorsports owner and driver Gil de Ferran also appreciated Newman for his work off the track and off the screen.
"Most of the world knew Paul as an incredible person and one of the best actors we were ever able to witness, as well as a great philanthropist," said de Ferran, a two-time CART champion and former Indianapolis 500 winner. "But those of us in racing were very blessed to witness his passion for this sport which was very apparent. He was one of the few high-profile owners to attend tests and this made all of us see him as one of us. This is very sad news indeed and we will miss him tremendously."