I first saw Paul Newman at Lime Rock Park at an SCCA race in the 1970s. I'd heard he was racing, but I'd never seen him, maybe because we drove in different classes - Newman in C Production, me in Formula Vee. I had also gathered that there was an unspoken rule not to ask for an autograph or call him "Cool Hand" or generally be a pain in the ass. Just treat him like anyone else.
He raced a Datsun 240Z for Bob Sharp Motors and was listed in the program as P. L. Newman. Neither press nor fans knew he was racing, so they had no idea that P. L. Newman was Paul Newman, movie star. Later, I watched his race, which he won handily. He was very smooth and very fast. This was no movie star faking it; he was the real deal.
I met Newman a year later at Lime Rock. My event was over, and I was watching the races from a grandstand overlooking a fast downhill sweeper. Out of nowhere, he stepped up on the stand. I was still wearing Nomex, so he knew I was a driver. He put his hand out. "Hi, I'm Paul."
"Hey! I'm Earle," I answered, brilliantly.
We talked for a few minutes about track conditions and joked about a Formula Ford that went off course virtually every lap. We were just two guys who loved racing. He seemed relaxed and happy. After a while, he had to leave to get ready for his race. I wished him luck. I was glad he could freely walk around the racetrack with no one bothering him.
I saw him again a year or so later at Bridgehampton, on Long Island. By chance, Newman's transporter pulled in next to my van. It was a cool fall day, and I pushed too hard before my race car's tires warmed up and spun out in a climbing turn at the end of the back straight. I hit something hard with the left rear tire, bending the wheel badly.
My mechanic and I checked the damage to see if we could run that afternoon. As we were starting to work, I looked over and saw Newman staring at me with just a hint of a grin. "That doesn't look too bad." Then, with a friendly smile, "Anything my guys can do, they're yours. We've got all the tools you need."