Long Beach Grand Prix Notebook : As Time Passes, Newman Says He is Slowing

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Is actor Paul Newman slipping gracefully into racing retirement?

“I said I’d stop driving when I got slower, and I think I’m getting slower,” Newman said Sunday.

The occasion was a news conference to announce that the Newman-(Bob) Sharp racing team, long linked with Nissan, has switched to a new factory partnership with Oldsmobile and added Walter Payton and actor Tom Cruise as team drivers.

Sharp’s son Scott will drive the SCCA Trans-Am series, with Newman, 64, competing in a limited number of Trans-Am events.


Payton, the former Chicago Bear, and Cruise will compete in IMSA/LuK Clutch Challenge International Sedan races and some SCCA nationals.

Scott Sharp completed only seven of the 60 laps in Saturday’s Trans-Am at Long Beach before his Olds Cutlass Supreme broke down. Irv Hoerr of Peoria, Ill., won the race in a similar car.

Newman’s partners protest when he suggests he may be past his prime.

“(When) I was in Atlanta testing with them, Paul gave me a couple tips that knocked three or four seconds off my time,” Payton said.

Cruise was not present for the conference. Newman flew in from Louisiana, where he is filming, which is why he didn’t compete in Saturday’s Trans-Am.

“Neither one of us can race while we’re filming,” Newman said. “My contract is, if I race and something happens, it’s $500,000 a day (he must pay the producer).”

Bob Sharp said: “His partners don’t pay for that.”

Mario, All-American: Just before the start of the main event, Newman read a letter from President Bush congratulating Mario Andretti for the 25th anniversary of his U.S. citizenship.


The brief ceremony was a surprise to Andretti, who took his oath in Philadelphia on April 15, 1964.

Bush wrote: “ . . . Your personal and professional success show us that the American Dream is alive and accessible for all individuals with the courage, faith and perseverance to pursue it.”

One (Long) Lap: Ten thousand miles later, the Toyota/Toyo One Lap of America auto rally finished officially on Shoreline Drive in Long Beach Sunday where it started 10 days earlier.

The winner: John Buffum of Colchester, Vt., with co-driver Niall Leslie and navigator Tom Grimshaw, in a 1989 Toyota Celica All-Trac. They scored only 71.7 penalty points, far ahead of runner-up Jim Atwell of Virginia Beach, Fla., with 304.7, in a BMW 535i.

Buffum and Grimshaw talked about the trip, which was non-stop except for an overnight break in Detroit.

To sleep, Buffum and Leslie laid down the back seat and stretched out diagonally. That forced Grimshaw to sit up in the front passenger seat most of the time.


“Tom was real good about that,” Buffum said. “I have a hard time sleeping sitting up.”

Their diet, Grimshaw said, “was scientifically composed of any cheese and peanut butter crackers we could find . . . Cokes and anything else that happened to hit our hands.”

Showers were rare.

“Buffum sprayed stuff on himself, destroying our atmosphere,” Grimshaw said. “The rest of us rubbed things on ourselves.

“Since we’re all in the car together, you don’t smell each other. As soon as you step out and start talking to people and you see that their eyes are watering, you begin to wonder if you have a problem.”

The Survivors: Tommy Byrne of Ireland won the American Racing Series preliminary event for identical open-wheel cars Sunday morning. He finished 2.33 seconds ahead of P.J. Jones of Rolling Hills and averaged 84.370 m.p.h., with Mitch Theiman of Portland, Ore., third.

The race was re-started after a four-car crash in the first turn of the first lap. Eleven of the 33 laps around the 1.67-mile course were run under the yellow flag, and only nine of the 18 starters finished.

“This is the first race I’ve been in that had that much carnage,” Theiman said.

Byrne had one skirmish on Lap 30 with series points leader Mike Groff, who was knocked out of the race, and another near the end with Jones, whose nose cone was mangled.


“I was just hanging on,” Jones said of the race. “Everybody was self-destructing. Then we had the yellow and I thought, ‘Here’s my chance.’ ”

That’s when he tagged Byrne, who held on for his sixth ARS career victory, the series high.

Groff said, “I guess you could say it was real ugly out there.”

ABC’s television coverage, blacked out in Los Angeles, will be carried by Channel 7 on April 29.

Toyota Atlantic: Hiro Matsushita, heir to the Panasonic electronic empire, won the 37-lap (61.79-mile) event for open-wheelers to conclude the racing weekend.

Matsushita, now living in San Clemente, drove a Swift DB4 sponsored by Panasonic Racing, averaged 78.363 m.p.h. and finished 6.759 seconds ahead of Jocko Cunningham of Dallas.

Unlike the ARS event, the race was clean. Twenty-two of the 33 starters were still running at the end, and there were no caution periods.


Inauspicious: Scott Pruett of Roseville, Calif., hasn’t had the best of luck in his first full CART campaign.

His Truesports team Judd-powered Lola didn’t run well before expiring in the opener at Phoenix last week, and at Long Beach he qualified a strong eighth but never got off the starting line.

“What a bitter one this is,” Pruett said after sitting in the car for the first several laps while mechanics tried to find the problem. It just wouldn’t run.

“This would have been a great race for us, too,” Pruett said. “We don’t have a clue as to what’s wrong. The same thing happened during yesterday’s final (Saturday’s practice) session, but we tested it out last night and it was fine.

“Then today it just started popping and coughing again and quit. We’ll get to the bottom of this, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.”