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Q&A: Adam Carolla on His New Paul Newman Racing Documentary

Perhaps best known as the former co-host of The Man Show with Jimmy Kimmel on Comedy Central, Adam Carolla stepped behind the camera to co-direct Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman, a new documentary that gets a special screening later today at the Indiana State Museum’s IMAX Theater, in a benefit for the Racing for Cancer and Indy Family Foundation charities.

Carolla, who currently hosts Catch a Contractor on Spike as well as a popular comedy podcast, will be on hand for the event.

Ahead of the Indianapolis screening, IM interviewed Carolla about the film, his restoration of Paul Newman’s cars, vintage racing, and the lasting impact of Newman as an actor, a sports-car race driver, and an IndyCar team owner.

Why should we trust Adam Carolla to make a movie about the last half of Paul Newman’s life?

[The film] is really good. I’m not making it up. If people told me it stunk, I’d tell you it stunk. If it was a 5, I’d tell you it’s a 5. I’m telling you, people have told me—not to my face, but online. Enough people have seen it [the movie is available on nearly all video-on-demand platforms for $14.99]. You go to Amazon, and of 90 reviews, 86 of them are 4 or 5 stars. It’s pretty overwhelming.

It’s a good piece. The question is, why should you see it if you’re not a gearhead? It’s a story about a guy and his passion. It’s not a gearhead movie; it’s a movie about going out and pursuing your passion. It’s basically a story about how to live your life. The guys are all pumped up—Oh yeah, man, I love cars—and I go, “Please, watch this with your wife, and watch it with your kids, because you’re going to tell your kids, ‘Hey, this is how you’re supposed to go at it. This guy over here, Paul Newman, this would be a pretty good guy for you to have as a role model.’”

With safety again at the forefront of racing discussion, what does Paul Newman represent, having competed in an era when safety in motorsports was an afterthought?

He raced in a time where safety isn’t what it is today. He certainly had a lot to lose getting in that car and going out there and racing.

I think Paul loved racing, and that meant he would do Baja, he would do Le Mans, he would do Daytona, he would do sports-car racing, he would do dirt-track racing—anything you put him in, he’d want to go fast in it.

As far as the safety goes, I just don’t think the guys ever … historically, ever, from [Juan Manuel] Fangio to [Michael] Schumacher, they didn’t think about it. Everyone else may have thought about it, but I don’t think the guys who drove thought about it.

For the most part, if you’re thinking about safety a lot, you’re probably not wanting to race. It’s not the same dude who wants to get in a car. You’d be more suited to be an accountant or something like that.

I would look at it more as technology than I would safety. It’s just moving forward. That’s what makes automobiles so much fun: You look at the ones from the ’30s, and they’re completely different from the ones from the ’50s, and those are completely different from the ones from the ’80s, and those are completely different from the ones from today. So good for us. God bless America.

Winning, the 1969 Newman film about a driver in the Indianapolis 500, was not very well-received. Why did you use “Winning” in the title of this documentary?

That movie got him into racing, and then there was a book that was written about it. And it was that book, which I read, that really started me down the journey of making this movie. Paul would have hated the title, I’m sure, but he would have loved the movie.

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Do you think Newman viewed what he did as a sort of philanthropy toward racing?

As Robert Redford discusses in the documentary, when you achieve a certain level of success, like Paul did, you kind of have to think about what you want to do. Do you want to get on a yacht and go to the French Riviera, or do you want to take that success and channel it toward something that might be a little more meaningful? I think that’s what Newman wanted to do. That’s probably why we’re still talking about him. His face will always be on the salad dressing and the popcorn, versus … I’m sure happy he didn’t get on that yacht and go to the French Riviera, because we wouldn’t be talking about him like we’re talking about him now.

How did Newman compare to modern film and TV celebrities who are outspoken motorsports fans, such as Tom Cruise or Patrick Dempsey?

I think if you want to talk to Tom Cruise, the answer is no. If you want to talk to Patrick Dempsey, the answer is maybe. If you wanted to talk to Paul Newman about racing, the answer was definitely yes.

Newman would talk to anyone about racing, but he wouldn’t talk about what [wife] Joanne [Woodward]’s next movie was. I can’t talk to Robert Redford and be like, “Hey, Rob, I want you to come on my podcast,” but if I say, “Robert, I want to talk to you about Paul Newman and his passion for racing,” then we get him.

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‘Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman’

This is your first Indianapolis 500 as a fan, but you race one of Newman’s restored cars at Laguna Seca for the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. Is there a certain responsibility that comes with getting into one of Newman’s cars? A special vibe?

No, I wish there was. I wish I had a little more of that in me, but I don’t. They’re really beautiful pieces. I really love them, and I just did a nut-and-bolt restoration on his ’85 [Datsun] GT1 championship car. It’s expensive, it’s a little nutty, and I really love them, but once I get in them, I’m just driving a racecar. I’m not really thinking about the ghost of Paul or any of that, and I don’t drive it one way or the other. Once I’m done driving it, I love looking at the “Paul Newman” hand-painted on the roof on the driver’s side. I just love that. But once I’m in the car, I’m just in the car. A car is a car.

If Paul were still alive, what question would you ask him?

“Have you ever heard of The Man Show?” [He laughs.] Everyone assumes that I’ve met him, but I don’t know if he ever knew who I was.

Honestly, I really do feel like if Paul were alive, I would love to just sit down and watch this movie with him. That would be the greatest thrill for me, because I know he would love this. I don’t think he’d necessarily appreciate a retrospective on his film career, but I think he would love this movie, and I’d love to show it to him.

See photos of Adam Carolla at the screening event for Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman here.

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