INDYCAR will celebrate the efforts of and encourage giving to the sport’s official charity – SeriousFun Children’s Network – this weekend at the Bommarito Auto Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. It helps to understand the connection.
Paul Newman, the legendary actor and philanthropist, started us down the path, first becoming a co-owner of Newman-Haas Racing in 1983 and then serving as the driving force behind a non-profit organization providing life-changing opportunities for children with serious illnesses and their families.
Today, SeriousFun Children’s Network is comprised of 16 Full Member camps worldwide and 14 partner programs carried out in low-resource countries throughout Africa, Asia and the Caribbean in collaboration with trusted local, national and international partner organizations. And while the work of carrying out these camps and programs is certainly complex, it all grew from the philanthropy of Newman and a simple idea he had to just let "kids be kids."
Newman's youngest daughter -- Clea Newman-Soderlund (shown here with NTT IndyCar Series drivers Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport) -- serves as the ambassador for SeriousFun Children’s Network. She said her father became interested in motorsports by sitting in a race car for the first time during the filming of the 1969 movie “Winning,” which he starred in with his wife, Joanne Woodward.
“That literally changed his whole trajectory,” said Clea, who will be at the track this weekend. “I mean, he found this extraordinary sport that not only did he feel graceful in but that he also loved the community. It was the first time that he … felt like these were his peeps, you know?
“He was an actor and he yet he was never all that comfortable in Hollywood. (Racing) was this extraordinary community that he felt so comfortable in, like it was his other family.”
Newman regularly attended Indy car races until his passing in 2008. Newman-Haas Racing won 107 races, the third-most in the sport’s history, and eight season titles.
NTT IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal, who drove for Newman-Haas, said Newman showed his commitment to racing and philanthropy through his actions.
“I remember when I raced in Formula Atlantic (in 2005),” Rahal said. “Every time I’d win a race he was the first guy in victory lane – every time. Of course, when you’re a young kid you don’t really get what it’s all about, you just know Paul Newman as Paul Newman. Then you start to mature, you get older, you realize the power and the influence a man like that can have, and then I was fortunate in many ways – thanks to Paul – to get my first opportunity to drive for Newman/Haas in 2007.
“It was then that I started to realize what the concept of fundraising was about. (It’s) the idea of charity, of the camps that could affect and improve the lives of so many people and so many kids. And while it improves the lives of the kids, it obviously (impacts) the counselors as well from a spirit standpoint. It helps everybody involved.”
Rahal recalled being at a racetrack with Newman – on Newman’s birthday, in fact – and discussing the concept that became SeriousFun Children’s Network. Interestingly enough, it was Rahal’s mother, Debi, who picked up Newman from the airport to take him to see Flying Horse Farms, which is now the SeriousFun camp near the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
“No person has had an influence on my life like Paul Newman,” Rahal said. “So, it’s great to see (INDYCAR’s partnership) with SeriousFun Children’s Network.”
The easiest way to support SeriousFun Children's Network is through the INDYCAR website -- indycar.com/seriousfun. During this weekend's NTT IndyCar Series race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, there will be "Leave Your Legacy" T-shirts available for sale at INDYCAR"s merchandise tent, benefitting SeriousFun. There also will be the option to "round up" to the nearest dollar at the register when purchasing all merchandise. All proceeds benefit SeriousFun Children's Network.