I met Paul Newman twice, both times during the Long Beach Grand Prix. The first time was a formal introduction and a handshake at a pre-race party.
The second meeting was far more memorable. I remember he was humble, gracious, and humored by the adulation ladled onto him by the college girls working for me on a promotion at the 1996 race. I had taken my team to Mum’s for a post-race celebration dinner, where the girls figured out Paul, who was in his 70s, was dining between our table and the Women’s restroom.
Knowing I wouldn’t approve of disturbing the legendary race-team owner, the girls, all in their teens and early 20s and certainly attractive by every measure, declared they were going to the restroom. At which point they approached him at his table, where they asked about his wife, chatted it up, then gave him a Union 76 Racing hat. I decided their visit was over-extended and shooed the girls along towards the restrooms and apologized to Paul and his dinner guests for their interruption. He laughed and wore the Union 76 hat through his dinner.
I found out from one of his guests at that table, who I met years later, he was dining with executives of Texaco, the sponsors of his race team. I consider the hat trick to be one of the funniest, if only unintended, guerilla marketing stunts of my career.
Paul was a favorite actor and a role model in many ways to me. I’ll miss him, as will the world, I’m sure.