Friday, July 25, 2008

Bob Hope said it best...

Unless you're Wiley Coyote being in the right place at the right time can be very rewarding and memorable. One such time for me was a weekday back in the 70's when I was standing at turn 11 at Sears Point. I was waiting for Bob Bondurant who had his racing school there at the time. As soon as he was finished with some business we were going to take my Shelby around the track and discuss some business. While I waited I couldn't help but notice some guy driving a 280Z and using a short-cut he was practicing coming into the turn over and over. Every once in a while he would come in way too hot, loose control and spin out but finally he dove into the corner so hard he ended up wiping out the front end of the car.

While all this was going on there was a crew of guys working on some formula cars that belonged to Bondurant's driving school who looked as if they were too busy setting up the formula cars to care about what was taking place on the track. After I walked up to them pointing out what had happened to the car on the track one of the guys ran over to a big shed and yelled, "YOU GUYS BETTER HURRY UP... HE JUST WRECKED ANOTHER ONE." Several of the guys in the building stopped what they were doing and drove an identical race prepped 280Z down to the corner where the driver stood waiting as a tow vehicle was hooking up to the one in the tire wall.

One of the actual 280Z's driven by Paul Newman and Sam Posey.

About that time Bob Bondurant came out of his office and so I asked, "Do you have any idea who that crazy son of a bitch is?" After looking to see who I was pointing at he began laughing as we hopped in my car. Then he said, "Drive on over there and we'll say hi to that crazy son of a bitch." As I pulled up Bob yelled out, "You keep this up and I will have to charge you for a new tire wall." Bob looks back at me to see my eyes bulging out of my skull and says, "Paul, come on over here. My friend wants to know who the crazy son of a bitch is that keeps spinning out." It was none other than Paul Newman. Back in those days Paul kept an entire stable of identical race cars in the building next to Bondurant's school known back in those days as, "The Shed." After a few minutes of friendly exchanges between the two of them and a hand shake we said our good byes and headed on around the track. Needless to say it's a day I will never forget.

A couple days ago it saddened me to learn executives at Newman's Own, the company started by Paul himself, are addressing the issue that 83 year old Paul Newman reportedly struggles with cancer. The actor told friends as far back as 18 months ago that he was battling the disease, according to the Associated Press. Recently, Newman pulled out of directing a stage production of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.

In some ways I honestly wish I hadn't heard or even learned about this. I wish there was a way I could thank him for the 15 minutes of awe that has lasted me a lifetime. Not only has he inspired countless numbers of fans over his illustrious career but he has been such an elegant spokesman for racing and one that truly knew what he was talking about. Thanks for the memories.

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