On Paul Newman's Racing Team, Scott Sharp's Is the Heaviest Foot

updated 11/28/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/28/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

Paul Newman and Tom Cruise may be the big names on the Newman-Sharp racing team, but when the exhaust fumes have cleared, it's obvious that 20-year-old Scott Sharp is top gun. Last month in Atlanta, driving a modified Nissan 300ZX Turbo, Sharp won his third straight Sports Car Club of America national championship. Sharp credits Newman with paving the way. "I've tried to mold my driving style to follow his," he says. "He's very smooth, and that enables him to be very fast. My growth curve couldn't have been what it is without his help."

Newman is taking no bows. "I gave Scott some pointers, and they speeded up the process a little bit," says the blue-eyed wonder, who has been racing since 1972 and has won three national championships of his own, "but they are things he would have found out by himself. He's aggressive, he's quick, but he has patience and good sense. He's really very gifted and in control."

Though the Newman-Sharp team, owned by the actor and by Scott's father, Bob Sharp, is one of the best-equipped on the SCCA circuit, Scott proved himself at the wheel of a virtual antique. In 1986, the year he earned his SCCA racing license, Scott persuaded his father and Newman to de-mothball a Datsun 280Z they had driven back in the '70s. Its frame design was long out of date and its engine block was 10 years old, but Sharp drove it to eight wins in 11 races, set three lap-speed records and became, at 18, the youngest SCCA champion ever. Graduating to state-of-the-art sports cars, he won two more titles while also racing pickup trucks and showroom stock cars.

Sharp's father, a former Connecticut auto dealer, was a six-time SCCA driving champion, and young Scott was quick to follow suit. "I grew up at the racetrack," he says. "I was always hanging around, getting in the way." He started driving go-carts at 7, winning 50 of 75 races by the time he was 16. When he switched to the 280Z, his father offered him a deal. "If he got a B average," says Bob, "he could take as much time off from college as he wanted. If he didn't, he could race only in the summer." Now a junior majoring in finance at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., Scott has been keeping his end of the bargain.

He wants to go into business someday, because racing, he says, is no joy-ride. "It can be up to 145°F in the car," he explains. "You're constantly steering, shifting, clutching, being thrown around. I do 40 gear changes a lap. It's like doing aerobics in a sauna." But Sharp isn't ready for pinstripes just yet. "I love speed," he says. "Anything that's fast: skiing, snowmobiling, motorbike riding—anything you can take to the limit."

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