KANSAS CITY, KS - The death of Paul Newman brought sadness to both the Hollywood set and those of us who spend most of our time around the garage areas of race tracks.
You see the man who was known for "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "The Hustler" and "Cool Hand Luke" to millions was also someone who like the rest of us had racing in his veins.
Newman got involved in auto racing as a way of "keeping his sanity" from the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown. And boy did he ever get involved.
He was a driver, a teammate, a team owner and a sponsor of a sport that he grew to love. Whenever you'd see Newman walking down pit road of an Indy Car race or standing in the pits with his Newman-Haas-Lanigan Indy Car team, you could always just sense a twinkle in his famous blue eyes hidden behind his sunglasses.
Newman was at home at the race track, where he could be just "Paul," which is how he'd introduce himself to media members who were no doubt more than a little starstruck when the opportunity was presented to talk with a Hollywood legend.
When Newman drove cars, he didn't do it as a hobbyist, he did it as a racer. And he did it to win, which he did quite a few times.
Newman won SCCA sports car races including a national Trans Am event and participated in hundreds of races from coast-to-coast, including the 24 Hours of Daytona when he was well into in 70s.
His passing saddens me personally in a couple of ways.
Newman's voiceover work in the 2006 Pixar film "Cars" will always be linked with my daughter, who was only three when we saw the film the first time and is now a five-year-old with no doubt 100 subsequent viewings of the movie on DVD. Newman as "Doc Hudson" was a perfect match and a genius choice of matching a recognizable voice with an unforgettable animated character.
Newman also made an impact on another family member at the 2007 Brickyard 400. Standing in the media center waiting for a press conference to announce what turned out to be an ill-fated partnership between the Newman-Haas team and NASCAR's Yates Racing, my dad got up the courage to walk over and say hello to one of his true idols. He introduced himself and Newman graciously shook his hand and said "Hi Sam, I'm Paul."
Since that day, my father has told the story probably 100 times and his smile gets bigger every time I hear him tell it.
So thanks Mr. Newman, for touching the lives of two Pistone family members along with millions more who watched you on the silver screen.
And the garage area will be a much emptier place with your passing.