Cover Image: Paul on the set of Winning (Source)
Paul Newman. The actor, racing driver, director, entrepreneur, and multi-award winner. The embodiment of a “man’s man.” Unfortunately, many only know the name Paul Newman from the salad dressing brand, or–in our small circle of enthusiasts–from his association with specific reference numbers of Rolex Daytonas. But why are we so familiar with Paul Newman through Rolex? Paul had a successful life in many different spectrums. So let’s shine a light on his motorsports career.
The legacy behind the Paul Newman Daytona
Already a massive theatrical and cinematic success, Paul took a liking to the world of motorsport while training at the Watkins Glen Racing School in preparation for his role in the 1969 classic, Winning. Due to the steady growth of Newman’s love for auto racing, he agreed to be the narrator for David Winter’s 1971 auto racing documentary, Once Upon a Wheel, along with Mario Andretti, Kirk Douglas, Cesar Romero and many others. His wife, Joanne Woodward, gifted Paul a rare Rolex “exotic” Daytona (6239) during this time–a dial variation which makes use of art-deco numerals in the sub-dials and square boxes at the end of its hash marks. Amongst the original production run, it is rumoured that for every 20 “normal” dials, only one Newman dial was made. This watch would adorn Paul’s wrist during filming and later…racing.
In 1972, Newman would enter his first professional race at Thompson International Raceway registered under the name “P.L. Newman,” his alias in the auto racing community. Newman competed in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) races for the rest of the decade, racking up four national championships in that time. Later on, he would compete in Dick Barbour’s Porsche 935 in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, finishing 2nd place.
From the mid-1970s to the 1990s, he was a driver for Bob Sharp Racing, piloting the stunning Datsun 510 (later re-branded as Nissan) and would then switch to different models of the Nissan 280s. He was a significant representation for Nissan in the racing community, to the point of filming commercials in Japan and having his own edition of the Nissan Skyline: The Paul Newman Version R30. A top-tier GT-ES turbo with his signature decals and embroidery.
At the age of 70, Newman became the oldest driver in a winning team during a sanctioned race, after securing a victory in the 1995 24h of Daytona in his respective class. The last significant races of his career were the Baja 1000 in 2004 and the 2005 24h of Daytona.
Newman competed well into his 80s stating that he would quit racing “when I embarrass myself.” At the age of 81, he would win at Lime Rock in what Newman’s former co-driver, Sam Posey, called a “brutish Corvette.” He would take his last professional racing pole position at Watkins Glen in 2007, and in 2008 showed impressive pace at Lime Rock once again, only 9/10ths of a second off his fastest lap.
The Paul Newman Daytona is still a mystery in many ways. It is a watch fraught with legend, myth, and even its fair share of misdirection…but not the man who wore the watch. Newman was a true motorsports phenom–a one-of-a-kind with outrageous talents. A talent lost, perhaps never to be experienced again. Writing this, I learned a lot about Paul, and my respect for him–and the Rolex that carries his name–has grown. Like the myth.
About the author
Born into a family obsessed with motorsport, Tyler Frederick became enamoured with speed and beautiful cars at a young age. His love of Formula 1–and all things mechanical–eventually lead him to horology. Tyler also writes for Montres Publiques. You can follow him on Instagram.
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3 thoughts on “Other Watchy Bits: Paul Newman and the Rolex Daytona”
Wonderful… absolutely wonderful. Many look at the hype and ignore the history, everyone that enjoys watches should read this
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Thanks for the history lesson on Paul Newman that stretches outside Rolex references like the norm. Great write-up!
A worthwhile read for any watch enthusiast!