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Customer Review

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars appreciative scrapbook, not an interesting read, January 14, 2010
This review is from: Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman (Hardcover)
Hollywood's attempts at portraying motor racing on the big screen have almost always fallen short. These films often have unrealistic storylines that revolve around cardboard characters, such as the aging champion looking for redemption or the young stud with a death wish. So if someone proposed a story about a 50ish movie star who takes up racing and goes on to win four national championships, finishes on the podium in the Daytona and Le Mans 24 hour races, and even wins in the Trans-Am series, you would probably say "get real."

That Paul Newman accomplished all that and more in a 30-year racing career begun at an age when most guys are retired is amazing - it ranks as one of the most incredible sports stories ever. Which is why I was so disappointed with Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman, Matt Stone's new hardcover picture and fluff treatment of Newman's racing life.

You won't find the inside story of what Newman did, and how he did it here. Barely half of this thin 175-page volume is dedicated to Newman's driving career. Winning is really an appreciative scrapbook, filled with numerous pictures and remembrances, but with no attempt to be balanced or to tell the whole story.

From the roughly 40 sidebars by friends, crew members, drivers, and team owners, we learn that PLN:
* was humble, and just wanted to be one of the guys
* wasn't a natural, but liked driving fast
* enjoyed practical jokes
* liked to hang out and be a regular guy
* was a real racer (as opposed to?)
Oh yeah, and he really enjoyed being one of the guys (you get the idea).

Newman's story deserves a serious, objective, thoroughly researched treatment. Because he started late in life, and lacked outsized natural talent, Newman struggled at first to get up to speed. In 68 Trans-Am starts he had only 2 wins but also 27 DNF's due to mechanical failures. He won four SCCA national championships but just missed six other times, finishing 2nd or 3rd. Winning largely ignores the low points, near misses, and heartbreak that are a part of any racing experience, and therefore lacks the tension and drama that pulls a reader in.

What I really wanted to know was how Newman was able to race (and win!) in his 60's, 70's, and even 80's? Was his vision and hand-eye coordination that good? What was his fitness regiment? How did his body recover from the pounding he took in a racing car? But instead, we get descriptions of various automotive related movies (including an entire chapter on the horribly unwatchable Winning), and a discussion of Newman's various Volkswagens and Volvo station wagons.

Also missing here is any in-depth discussion of the supporting players and their relationship to Newman. Bob Sharp - successful driver, team owner, auto dealer, and father of Indy driver Scott Sharp - is a fascinating character who played a key role in Newman's success. Sharp was an innovator with a flair for promotion (and deserves his own book) who ran the cream of American road racers in his cars. How exactly did he decide that 55 year old Paul Newman was the best guy to team with Sam Posey in the 900 horsepower twin turbo ZX? And why did he run 65 year old Newman in the Trans-Am (in an Oldsmobile) with little realistic chance of winning?

Along with Sharp, Newman counted teammate, rival, and fellow "old guy" Jim Fitzgerald among his closest friends in racing. Fitzgerald not "Fitzpatrick" as he is named on page 82) was an engineer who begin racing in his thirties and won more than 350 SCCA Nationals before being tragically killed in a Trans-Am race at age 66. "Fitzy" was four years older than Newman, and it would be interesting to know how these two very different men bonded and influenced each other. Also missing are the first-person perspectives of Newman's children, and of Joanne Woodward, his wife of fifty years.

Shallow as it is, Winning does provide some insight into Newman's ability and approach to the sport. Sharp, Posey, and others characterize him as slow in the beginning, clean, disciplined, unspectacular, but possessing extraordinary concentration that allowed him to incrementally improve. Trans-Am champion Dorsey Schroeder adds that Newman "wasn't good when he started [but] had the discipline ... to make racing the number one priority in his life." Newman generally had (and could afford) the best equipment and extensive track time, but it's also clear that he was very serious, focused and built himself into a professional caliber driver in a systematic and deliberate way.

Newman's three decades as a team owner in Can-Am and Indy cars are compressed down to 30 pages. He is characterized as the chief promoter and head cheerleader, with Mario Andretti adding that Newman was involved only in major decisions, was supportive of the drivers and crew, and used his celebrity to attract and mollify sponsors.

So the main reason to consider buying Winning is for the 200 plus images, mostly rendered in color, that dominate the book. This was a great period in American sports car and open wheel racing, and this beautiful collection of shots will transport you back in time.

Finally, I have to confess that I didn't really want to like Paul Newman at all. He refused to sign autographs, and seemed to almost resent his fame, except when it suited his purpose. He raced and won in everything from a 280Z to a Porsche 935 to unlimited prototypes. His home-made salad dressing turned into a hugely successful specialty foods company and charity. For fun, he co-owned a top Indy car team. And there's his day job as a movie star.

But I not only like him, I respect him. Paul Newman was an incredible guy - a hugely successful actor, racer, team owner, businessman, philanthropists, husband and father. I think that someone so focused on his on-track results, rather than on his image in the press, would have been very disappointed by this book.
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Initial post: Feb 28, 2012 11:55:40 PM PST
Thanks for the great review. Possibly it will encourage someone to produce a more complete account of his racing career. I took up vintage racing at 65 and now, approaching 80, I use Newman as an example of how many more races I might have left. I compete at a less competitive level as evidenced in this YouTube video:

Posted on Aug 6, 2014 9:33:50 AM PDT
Canoneer says:
Great helped me to decide NOT to purchase the book.
Hopefully someone will tell the story and create more than a glorified scrapbook.
Pictures are easy to come by these days but good writing isn't.
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Review Details



Lee Robie

Location: Loveland, OH USA

Top Reviewer Ranking: 34,435,401