After the actor Paul Newman died in 2008, the elegies started pouring in: Men’s Journal said he defined modern American manhood; Esquire lauded him for “no false notes, no forces smiles, no phony gestures.” The obituaries focused on his stellar movie career, his 50-year romance with his wife and his phenomenal support of charities.
But comedian Adam Carolla wanted to explore a different side of the icon. In his documentary Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman, he reconstructs his career behind the wheel.
Newman was no dilettante who took parade laps in celebrity races; he finished second overall at the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1979. For Carolla, the fact that Newman was an actor was an accident of genetics and talent —his soul was that of a professional race car driver.
“I realize people didn’t realize his depth, they don’t understand what he did and how involved he was,” he says. “I wanted to make this movie so it was on the record.”
To bolster his case, the documentary culls vintage behind-the-scenes footage of Newman in numerous races, and Carolla’s team conducted interviews with Newman’s peers in the entertainment and racing community—everyone from Robert Redford to Mario Andretti. “Everybody wants to talk about Paul Newman,” Carolla says. “Everybody had a story.”
Besides the documentary, Carolla is channeling Newman in another way—his hobby is restoring and racing the actor’s vintage racing cars. So is there such a thing as a ghost in the machine? Does Carolla have a better sense of his idol from working on his cars?
“I’m not a superstitious guy, but you can tell that the inside of his cars was an intimate space for him,” he says. “He was sweating and making decisions and death could occur. There is a lot of him in that very small space.”
Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman will be available on Amazon Instant Video, May 22.