Adam Carolla Has a Thing for Paul Newman

Photo credit: Adam Carolla via Facebook
Photo credit: Adam Carolla via Facebook

From Car and Driver

Adam Carolla is famous for outpourings of hilarity and outrageousness in front of the camera and behind the microphone of his popular podcast. But there's one thing he doesn't joke about: his collection of vintage race cars, featuring a host of machines campaigned by actor-racer-philanthropist Paul Newman. He's clearly got a thing for vintage racers and their cars, and particularly for Newman.

About that collection: "I have some Newman race cars," Carolla says, vastly understating the warehouse-full he's put together. Carolla owns ten of Newman's old mounts—at least that's the number he can remember when we talk. Most are Datsun/Nissan 240Z, 280ZX, and 300ZX race machines, many built in the 1980s by Bob Sharp Racing—the Connecticut-based Nissan factory team that Newman did most of his racing with.

"I have the two turbo Z cars that Newman drove at the SCCA runoffs at Road Atlanta in 1985 and 1986. I have two Nissan Z 2+2 turbo tube-frame cars that he drove in 1987 and 1988. I have two Olds Cutlass Trans Am cars he drove in 1988 and 1989. I have the 1979 big-mother honker, super-giant, 280 ZX with the huge box fender flares and twin-turbo Japanese V-8 in it. It's 933 horsepower."

Carolla also owns the Triumph TR6 that Newman won his first Sports Car Club of America championship with in 1976 and a Datsun 510 sedan the actor raced in his early days. "I also have a fairly significant East-coast 510, a Trans Am car called the Different Drummer. Your audience can look it up." [We did, and discovered that one of the Drummer's co-drivers was C/D contributor Gary Witzenburg.—Ed.]

Then there's the whopper: in 2016, Carolla dropped a reported $4.4 million to acquire the Dick Barbour Porsche 935 that Newman co-drove to second place overall in the 1979 24 Hours of LeMans with Barbour and Formula One racer Rolf Stommelen. The 935, like all the cars in the collection, is in pristine condition. Carolla, twice winner of the Toyota Celebrity Pro/Celebrity race at the Long Beach Grand Prix, drives them in vintage events.

Photo credit: Adam Carolla via Facebook
Photo credit: Adam Carolla via Facebook

"Once I started developing the Newman collection, I started to look around and realized that while I knew the story of Paul Newman and his racing, many others didn't. They just knew him as an actor. I kept telling everyone what an avid racer and enthusiast and team owner he was, so I thought, well, somebody should make a documentary about Paul Newman and his driving."

That somebody turned out to be Carolla. With production partner Nate Adams, the two wrote, directed, and produced "Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman" which was completed in 2015, seven years after the actor passed away at age 83.

It's a clear-eyed and accurate accounting of Paul Newman's extensive racing career, which includes four Sports Car Club of America national championships and impressive drives in several professional series, the LeMans triumph, and a win in the 1995 24 Hours of Daytona at age 70.

But Winning is also more: an homage to a polymath who was also, simply, a good man. Carolla's film reveals the star's humanity—his humility, his desire to do good through philanthropy, his sense of fun, and his determination to be a race driver respected by his peers for his on-track talent rather than his celebrity. That last was a goal Newman ultimately earned. and he did it the hard way: through years spent in wheel-to-wheel competition.

Which is why it's curious that Carolla says the cars in his collection that he has the strongest emotional attachment to aren't Newman's. "I think the cars I race semi-frequently would have that special kind of feeling. I have a real BRE Datsun 510 [an early 1970s vintage racer from Pete Brock's Brock Racing Enterprises—Ed.]. I have that Dick Barbour 935 Porsche from LeMans, and raced that quite a few times. That's a real interesting piece; it's got a lot of history. In addition to coming in first in class and second overall at LeMans it won Daytona outright with Bobby Rahal and Brian Redman driving, and came in first overall at Sebring as well. It's unique, beautiful, a cool piece, and a cool piece to drive.

"But in a weird way," Carolla says, "as cool and exclusive as 935 Porsches are, there are a few of them out there in my races and some pretty cool ones. But there are no other BRE 510 race cars existence. Nissan owns one and I own the other two—well, one of those two is in a million pieces.

"In a vintage race in the B Sedan group there are always four or five clones of the BRE 510, and driving the actual BRE race car is kinda cool. And I think that car I kind of started with, and I love that color scheme and I love Pete Brock and I love BRE." Carolla also owns two of BRE's original Datsun 2000 roadster race cars, as well as the Hino transporter that hauled the cars to the track. "So, I have a strong attachment to the BRE side."

Don't bet on a documentary on BRE honcho Pete Brock, though. Carolla doesn't need to be emotionally attached to a car to make a movie about it or its creator. Carolla's latest biopic, Shelby American, is the life story of racer-entrepreneur Carroll Shelby, who concocted the Cobra, won the FIA World Manufacturer's Championship with the Cobra Daytona coupe—designed by Pete Brock, by the way—and won LeMans for Ford in 1966 with the GT40. But Carolla doesn't own any Shelby vehicles.

"I've never been an American-muscle fan. I've never been interested in American cars. I do have a Ford dually for hauling my cars, though" says Carolla. After a long pause he says, "I would take a GT40 or a Cobra Daytona coupe or a Cobra or a GT350, though—all in race trim, of course." The thorough and entertaining Shelby American documentary dropped in mid-November and is available on Netflix or for purchase through Chassey Media, Carolla's production company. We found the Newman documentary on Netflix too. It's also available through Chassey, as is Carolla's documentary precursor to Ford v Ferrari, The 24 Hour War. A new documentary on African-American racer Willy T. Ribbs, titled Uppity, will be released in early 2020.

Carolla is hardly secretive about his ever-evolving collection. He's allowed the cameras in, and has sat for numerous print and on-camera interviews about his cars. He's posted footage of a chassis dynamometer run of one of his Newman Z-cars. There are numerous videos of him piloting his cars in vintage racing. Here's one where he's commentating on his sixth-place finish in Newman's 1988 Nissan 300ZX Turbo at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion.

Just don't expect him to crack any jokes about the subject. When it comes to vintage race cars and the men who drove them, Adam Carolla is dead serious.

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