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Newman and a record

Roger Diez
Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist

I am sure you have seen the many tributes to Paul Newman on various racing shows, and read remembrances of the man in other publications.

I can’t claim to have been a friend of Paul’s, but I did have a few encounters with him over the years at race tracks. The one I remember in particular was shortly after his movie “The Sting” came out and Paul was at Laguna Seca in Monterey for an International Motor Sports Association race. I was working at the pit, waving the cars onto the track, and when Newman came up the pit lane for his first practice session in the car I gave him the finger alongside the nose as his character in the movie, Henry Gondorf, did. I couldn’t see if he was smiling inside his helmet, but I hope he was. At the end of the racing that day, my wife was thrilled to be able to hand Paul a cold beer and get a smile in return.

In the early 80s I was working for an independent film producer at another IMSA race at Sears Point, doing on-camera interviews of drivers. When I approached Newman’s rig I was politely told that he didn’t do press interviews at the track, but that I could speak with his teammate. When he was at the track, Newman was strictly a racer, not a movie star. He refused to sign autographs, with one notable exception ” he would sign his name to the jackets of the track workers from the Sports Car Club of America. These volunteers, who manned the turns with flags and fire extinguishers, did the timing and scoring, rode the tow trucks and emergency vehicles, got special treatment from Newman because he appreciated what they did to help him race.

Paul Newman was a class act, and could have been a champion had he turned his attention to racing at 25 instead of waiting until his mid-40’s. He raced well into his 70s, and loved the sport deeply. He will be missed. Godspeed, Paul.

EIRMAN’S RECORD

Last week I talked about a couple of Carson City racers who went to Bonneville in search of speed records. I received a phone call last week from one I had overlooked, Russ Eierman of Gardnerville. I wrote about Russ a couple of years ago on the occasion of his first trip to Bonneville, but hadn’t heard from him since. Russ was back on the salt last month and joined the 200 mph club with a class speed record in D Gas Coupe, driving his 1978 Buick Skyhawk. It seems as though Buicks are popular with northern Nevada Bonneville racers.

Eierman’s Skyhawk has Chevrolet power, however; he runs a Chevy 350 de-stroked to 209 cubic inches, and it powered him to a two-way average speed of 222.080 miles per hour, eclipsing the old record of 214. Eierman is returning to the salt to run the same car in the D Altered Fuel class next week for the World Finals. The current record in that class is 222, and Russ figures the Buick has a few more miles per hour in it.

Eierman is also building a 1969 Corvette for next year’s assault at Bonneville, and tells me that the blown powerplant for that car will put out 1,100 horsepower and will be good for 300 miles per hour. I can’t wait to hear the story about that run!

SPRINT CUP

On the Sprint Cup scene, a third bad race in a row has sunk Kyle Busch’s chances to join brother Kurt as a Cup Champion. His teammates Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin aren’t faring too well either. It appears that the wheels have fallen off the Gibbs Racing juggernaut at the worst possible time. Knowing Coach Joe Gibbs, I expect wholesale changes for 2009 in the makeup of those three teams.

Of course, Tony Stewart is on his way out the door, moving to the position of owner/driver with Haas-Stewart racing for next season, and his mind is probably more on that than on the remainder of 2008. He will be replaced by rookie Joey Logano, and, expect to see some personnel upheaval on the other two Gibbs Racing teams.