Friends for 41 years, legendary race-car driver Mario Andretti says one of the things he’ll miss most about Paul Newman is his pal’s sense of humor. The two were known to cook up bets and competitions just to amuse each other.
“We would have a bet of a dollar and seventy-three cents for the Super Bowl, because of course the amount wasn’t important; we just wanted to win,” Andretti says. “And he’d send me the check by FedEx, and it would cost him nine bucks to send the check. We’d just pull out a stupid number and stick with it.
“He was just a fun person to be around,” he continues. “It was always the lighter side that made it so neat. He was game for anything.”
Andretti, 68, had last spoken to Newman five days ago, by phone.
“He was trying,” Andretti says. “We just talked about other things, not himself. He was following one of his drivers, the French driver [Sébastien Bourdais] who used to race for him who is now a Formula One driver, he had a great race in Belgium a few weeks ago, and we talked about that.
“He always made you feel so welcome when you called,” Andretti adds. “He’d say, ‘Hot damn, it’s so nice to hear from you.’ ”
He also says he had many conversations with his wife, Joanne Woodward, in later years about the fact that Newman himself was still racing. “She kept saying, ‘Boys will be boys. What am I gonna do? I can’t cure him, so I’ll just go along with it.'”
Even Newman’s daughters would often join him at the racetrack. “Family was very important to him, and his family was very close,” Andretti says. As for Woodward, he says, “It was so evident that they were madly in love with each other forever.”
The racer, dubbed the Driver of the Century, says he’s glad to have been a part of the screen legend’s life.
“He’s so incredibly well known and adored all over the world,” says Andretti. “But at the end of the day, when all of the flare settles down, he will be remembered as one of the most decent men alive because he was so unselfish. There’s a lot to be said for that.”