Paul Newman: Verdict on a Superstar

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Newman: "Yeah, but you'd screw up second gear"). The only "Paul Newman" nonsense of the evening is harmless: a very pretty teen-age waitress turns pink and forgets her list of pies as she stares at Paul. He twists his nose goofily between thumb and forefinger and goes cross-eyed; she turns pinker and hides her face, bubbling with giggles. Someone tells him that he did well in an hourlong nuclear-freeze interview for Ted Turner's Cable News Network; he is not sure. On the air he knows his material cold, but some instinct for humility in the face of serious matters keeps him from injecting any show biz into his delivery. He can't or won't speechify, and while listeners who agree with him nod their heads, those who don't are not convinced.

Now, on race day, he is resting in the team motor home, driving shoes off, blue driving suit unzipped, the neck of his white Nomex long Johns showing. He is thin through the hips, and thinner through the shoulders than when he played the arrogant cowboy stud Hud in an undershirt. He has no belly, although he drinks several cans of Budweiser a day (he has not drunk hard liquor since a boozy period at the beginning of the '70s when he was shooting Sometimes a Great Notion). A daily sauna and a three-mile run seem to take care of the beer. His thick, curly white hair is short, his face is pink and lightly lined, his eyes are shut. He is driving the race in his head, plotting how to steal tenths of a second from a Triumph TR8 driven by a rival named Ken Slagle.

A few feet away outside is a gleaming white tractor-trailer labeled BOB SHARP RACING. This is the team's machine shop and car van. Sharp is a Connecticut Datsun dealer and former racing champion who prepares the cars that Newman races. He says that Newman is faster around the track than last year; his reflexes have not slowed. It took him a couple of years, but he learned how to be a winning driver. The other drivers quickly got over the fact that his eyes are blue. He has great concentration, almost a woman's delicacy, guts enough to be good in the rain. He's foxy, says Sharp; he'll outthink you.

Newman appears, flashing his 1,000-watter at a kid who yells "Good luck!" and heads off to the starting line. He qualified his red, white and blue No. 33 in the second row, and should be among the leaders after the first lap. But the spark plugs foul as the car starts, and two plugs are changed. By that time, it is too late to rejoin the other cars at the front of the starting grid. This competition is a sprint, only 18 laps, and he seems to have no chance.

He drives a beautifully scripted race. After six laps he has pushed his car up to fifth. After ten laps he passes Slagle's TR8 for fourth place. He is third after eleven of the 18 laps, second after 13. He has, we learn later, broken the course record three times in succession. But he runs out of race, and although he is gaining fast, at the end he is still 2.5 sec. behind Winner Doug Bethke's Corvette. Newman jokes with Bethke on the victory stand, puts his arm around Joanne, smiles for the photographers, and then goes back to the trailer to rage. Later, very seriously, he apologizes for losing. He does not really cheer up until the awards dinner that night, when, looking as impish as Butch Cassidy, he succeeds in smuggling a camera bag full of Bud

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