Graham Rahal is succinct in describing his admiration for Paul Newman.
“He’s my hero. I really think Paul Newman is the standard for what a human being should be,” Rahal said.
Newman, who died in September 2008, was a mentor and friend to the teenage Rahal, who broke into Indy car racing in 2007 with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing.
“I don’t think enough people give him credit for everything he did accomplish, all that he’s done for charity and his passion for Indy car racing in particular,” Rahal continued. “He and Carl (Haas) and Mike Lanigan gave me my first shot professionally and were loyal to me.”
On April 16, Rahal will attend the charity premiere of “Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman” -- a documentary showcasing Newman’s 35 years as both a prolific driver and owner -- at the El Capitan Theater in Los Angeles. It was directed by radio personality Adam Carolla and Nate Adams. Featured in the film are Newman’s wife, Joanne Woodward, Robert Redford, Robert Wagner, Patrick Dempsey, Jay Leno, Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais, Tom Cruise and Rahal.
Also on the invitation list for the premiere are Jimmy Kimmel, Peter Fonda, James Marsden, Sean Patrick Flanery, Neal McDonough, Maya Stojan, Harland Williams, Chris McDonald, Trevor Donova, Dempsey and several Verizon IndyCar Series drivers.
“He was an incredible man and somebody we all look up to,” Rahal said. “I’m looking forward to seeing the documentary; I’m sure Adam Carolla has done a great job.”
Newman became interested in auto racing while training at Watkins Glen Racing School for the 1969 feature film “Winning.” His first professional event as a racer was in 1972 at Thompson International Speedway, and he was a frequent competitor in Sports Car Club of America events. He won four national championships.
Founded in 1983 with Carl Haas, Newman/Haas Racing scored 107 Indy car wins, 109 poles and secured eight driver championships with drivers Mario Andretti (1984), Michael Andretti (1991), Nigel Mansell (1993), Cristiano da Matta (2002) and Sebastien Bourdais (2004, 2005, 2006 and ‘07).
In 2008 at St. Petersburg, Rahal became the youngest winner of an Indy car race (19 years, 93 days) in a Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing entry. Lanigan became a co-owner in 2007.
Rahal also was impacted by Newman’s philanthropy. The Graham Rahal Foundation was founded in 2009 to support Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and SeriousFun Children’s Network, which Newman founded.
“Everything that I carried on and everything that we do with my foundation is simply to carry on Paul’s tradition,” he said. “I love giving back and love to pay it forward. Paul Newman is the one who inspired me to do so.”
Another charity screening of the film is scheduled for May 22 in Indianapolis in conjunction with the Indianapolis 500. All proceeds from ticket sales will benefit Racing For Cancer and The Indy Family Foundation.