This first words in this book come from the pen of Mario Andretti: "Paul Newman was one of us."
A little later, he adds his impression on first seeing Newman's name painted on the name of his race car in 1967: "Why would Cool Hand Luke want his name on what was probably the worst Can Am car ever designed?" That pretty much sums it up; Paul Newman came to racing somewhat late in life, but he was a racer. We get the entire story of Paul Newman's racing career, from the first time he took his Porsche-engined '53 Beetle out onto the Willow Springs racetrack, through catching the racing bug for real while filming "Winning," and on through his evolution from weekend Datsun 510 racer into Trans Am winner and team owner. Motor Trend executive editor Matt Stone and co-authors Preston Lerner and Mario Andretti interviewed a broad swath of Newman's instructors, competitors, and team members, and the reader comes away with a good sense of the kind of racer he was. According to Bob Sharp:
His first year was a struggle. He wasn't naturally fast. But he had a sensitive touch and was very easy on equipment. Even in the beginning, when he wasn't the fastest guy out there, he was always clean and disciplined. Never was he off the track. He improved very logically, systematically, and as he got more and more races under his belt, he got better and better and better. It was unbelievable. He became a very, very good professional driver.
Newman moved up to faster and faster cars, racing a Porsche 935 in the 1979 24 Hours Of Le Mans and winning his first Trans Am race in 1982. After that, he moved into CART team ownership and yet more racing. Though his acting gig occasionally got in the way of his real profession and his philanthropic ventures grew in importance, he more or less lived racing until his death at the age of 83 in 2008. Reading this book, you'll get all the twists and turns of this story, and Stone's hagiographic tone may be forgiven when referring a man who, by all accounts, really was the all-around good guy he appeared to be.
As a nice bonus at the end, we get a chapter devoted to Newman's street cars over the years. Not only was there the Porsche Super 90-powered '53 Beetle in the early days; Newman decided that wasn't enough, so in 1969 he commissioned a Ford 351-powered Beetle. In the 1980s and 1990s, Newman drove some hot engine-swapped Volvo wagons. How about an '88 740GLE with a 400-horse turbo Buick V6? Or a supercharged Ford small-block in a '96 Volvo 960 wagon?
This one gets a four-rod rating. Murilee says check it out!