he attraction of auto racing to movie
makers has a long and varied history – but
what about the attraction of racing for the
actors who take part in those movies?
As early as 1922, Wally Reid – star of
several racing films – entered the Indy
500 with his own Duesenberg. Studio
moguls vetoed Reid’s race, but as actors
gained more power in Hollywood, their
desires would not be so easily curtailed.
Steve McQueen’s movie mojo fueled
Le Mans as a major theatrical film, but
McQueen was a racer well before that.
Meeting up with Stirling Moss while in
England filming The War Lover in 1961,
McQueen persuaded Moss to teach him
some advanced driving techniques. The F1
legend encouraged McQueen to enter the
International Trophy at Brands Hatch that
October, where, offered the Mini Cooper
with which Sir John Whitmore had just
won the British Saloon Car Championship,
he took an impressive third place.
McQueen was so taken with racing that
he considered going pro, although movies
continued to occupy his time – too much
of it, in fact, to take up director John
1 Winner Vic
on the podium at
Brands Hatch in
1961 – where Steve
took third in his
2 Despite driving
with a broken
overall at Sebring’s
12 Hours in 1970
with Peter Revson.
3 Paul Newman’s
approach was well
suited for Le Mans,
where he finished
second in the 1979
24 Hours – still the
best result for an
actor/racer. So far...
Few actors have
with the diligence
of Grey’s Anatomy
Dempsey. A driver
and team owner
with interests in
multiple sports car
forged a strong
marque that gained
by its association
McQueen’s Le Mans.
NOT JUST A
Frankenheimer’s offer to play the lead role
in Grand Prix. Instead it was James Garner
who played Pete Aron in the movie – and
caught the racing bug himself. Garner set
up the American International Racers
team, which fielded cars at Le Mans,
Daytona, and Sebring from 1967 through
’ 69, and also took part in the Baja 500.
For longevity as an actor-driver, though,
it’s hard to beat Paul Newman, whose
interest was born with his racing school
training as preparation for the role of an
Indy car driver in 1969 movie Winning,
and continued for the next four decades.
He tried to play down his celebrity when
racing, even competing incognito under
the name P.L. Newman so that he would
be judged on his own performances,
which included four SCCA National
Championships and many pro successes.
With reality TV having included racing
among its scenarios, perhaps that’s where
the next actor-turned-racer will come
from, although big-screen racing could yet
produce more, er, spin-offs. What chance
the leads of Rush will want to emulate
James Hunt and Niki Lauda for real?
WHAT Actors who went from racing movies to real racing
WHERE The SCCA Runoffs to Le Mans, and beyond
WHEN Ever since wheels went round on screen