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Go, Speed Racers 

Around the track with the stars of Cars

Paul Newman doesn't suffer fools -- or entertainment reporters -- lightly.

The legendary actor was just one -- albeit the one -- of the many Cars stars on hand for the movie's world premiere a couple of weeks ago at Lowe's Motor Speedway. The other celebrities were shuffled from room to room to offer roundtable interviews with dozens of journalists, yet as befitting a movie star of Newman's stature, he wasn't included in the musical chairs part of the program; instead, he held a single Q&A conference for the benefit of all the press members on hand. Newman was unfailingly polite, yet brevity was his weapon when faced with vague, grasping or downright stupid questions. (The most moronic: "Has there ever been talk about a sequel to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?")

An avid race-car enthusiast (as well as a director, humanitarian, food-empire founder and husband to actress Joanne Woodward), Newman provides the voice for Doc Hudson, a 1951 Hudson Hornet who offers sound advice to the cocky race car Lightning McQueen. Following are his responses to some of the questions raised by the attending journalists:

Was Cars a movie that you felt you wanted to do from the get-go, since it dealt with your passion for racing?

I mainly did it because I knew it would be good, because it was from John Lasseter and Pixar. The fact that it was about racing was just a bonus.

So exactly how did you go about preparing to play a car?

The nice thing about animation is that you can detach yourself from all the physical stuff you normally work on as an actor and throw it away. So this was relatively easy.

Given the theme of this film, do you have any road trip memory from your own life?

Back in the 1950s, Joanne and I started a trip up north and drove to Las Vegas. And one casino there advertised all you can eat for a buck and a quarter. And the spreads were extraordinary -- fresh shrimp and lobsters, tables laid out like I'd never seen them before. We had a lovely meal, and then Joanne put 160 bucks in the slot machine and I myself lost about $400. So it was not really a buck and a quarter for all you could eat.

You had been quoted as saying you were going to do one more movie. So is Cars the last one?

Well, I don't seem to be living up to my timetable. I may have one more movie in me after this one. I'm not sure what's it going to be. [Robert] Redford and I have been working on something -- we've been working on a script very hard -- but it's by no means a slam dunk.

You had the honor of being on Richard Nixon's enemies list ...

Highest single honor I've ever received.

As a died-in-the-wool activist, what's your take on the current political climate?

You got 45 minutes? I think that's pretty much recorded in the polls. Most people don't think we're going in the right direction, and I agree with them.

What would you say to someone who's interested in becoming an activist?

Engage. If people who have the privilege of voting don't vote, then you have to ask if they're getting what they deserve. We have less of a percentage of people who voted than in Iraq; that's shameful. If people get engaged, they can make the changes. If they don't, then they just have a chauffeur up there motoring us where he wants to go instead of us giving the directions.

You're a great actor, you've won racing awards, you've been married to the same wonderful woman for nearly 50 years now, and you're a damn handsome man. I'm hoping you have a flaw somewhere, to make the world balance out a bit. How about it?

Ask my wife. (Pause, then with a smile.) Don't look under the carpet. Lot of murky stuff going on there.

What do you think is the secret to a long marriage?

There's a lot of baloney I could put out there for the record, but I haven't the slightest idea, nothing that would hold any water.

Brokeback Mountain -- does that make you think of the relationship between Butch and Sundance in a whole new way?

(Chuckles but doesn't answer)

What's the greatest racing tip you've ever received, maybe from another driver?

Go fast.

How about a personal motto that you live your life by?

It's useless to put on the brakes when you're upside down.

JOHN RATZENBERGER IS to Pixar guru John Lasseter what John Wayne was to John Ford and Toshiro Mifune to Akira Kurosawa. The former Cheers mainstay is the only actor whose voice has been used in every Pixar release to date. Best known in the studio's canon for his work as Hamm the piggy bank in the Toy Story films, his latest gig finds him providing the voice of Mack, Lightning McQueen's trusty transport truck.

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