I knew he didn't recall our brief earlier meeting - he was simply offering help to a fellow driver, no questions asked. He turned and walked away, but he was no longer alone. There were about twenty or thirty fans, and I thought that two of them looked like bodyguards. The world was finding out that Paul Newman was racing.
My career took me away from racing for a while, but several years later, I entered a late-season national race at Watkins Glen. It was one of the last qualifying events before the runoffs, full of drivers looking for a few points, including Paul Newman.
What a difference a few years had made. The media had discovered who P. L. Newman really was. The motorhome with the Bob Sharp logo had a single door on the right side, surrounded by hundreds of fans with cameras. When it was time for a practice session, someone drove the race car as close to the motorhome door as possible. The door opened, and Newman appeared with three or four men who pushed their way through the crowd to the car.
Paul Newman's celebrity had taken something valuable away from him - a chance to be like anyone else and enjoy something he loved.
After a few years of this, Newman sharply cut back his racing in the SCCA and became part owner of a CART team. Cause and effect? I can't prove it, but I'd put money on it.
His fans loved him so much, but they killed one of the things he loved best.
P. L. Newman, racing driver, philanthropist, and movie actor, passed away in September at the age of eighty-three.