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Rolex is one of the most aspirational brands in the world. The maker of fine timepieces has a long-standing association with motorsport; in Formula One, at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and as title sponsor of the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Rolex has also been the watch of choice for celebrity and racer Paul Newman.

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Luxury watchmaker Rolex introduced its Cosmograph model in 1963. Its design took inspiration from racing drivers such as legendary triple Formula One world champion Jackie Stewart who introduced Rolex to the world of F1.

The Rolex “Daytona” Cosmograph (Ref: 6239), came to be known as the Paul Newman Daytona as the actor wore it as his everyday watch for just over 15 years. The Daytona is also an extremely rare piece with around 3 000 units manufactured. Today these early vintage Daytonas can sell between $200 000 and $300 000 depending on provenance.  

Read about the Tag Monaco and its association with the automotive world at this link.

Paul Newman

Paul Newman developed an interest in motor racing while training for his 1969 movie, Winning. The bug bit and he became a lifelong racer. From the mid-1970s to mid-’90s Newman drove a Nissan in the TransAm series. In 1983 he established Newman Haas Racing. As team owner he went on to win multiple championships. In 1995 Newman became the oldest driver, aged 70, to win his class in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. He also raced in the 2005 Daytona which was one of the last races he contested. 

In 2017 Paul Newman’s 1968 Rolex Daytona sold for a whopping $17,75m. At the time it was the highest price ever achieved for a wristwatch at an auction. The timepiece was a gift from Newman’s wife, actress Joanne Woodward, who had it inscribed with the words ‘Drive Carefully Me’ on the back. Newman wore the watch until 1984 when he gifted the watch to his daughter’s then-boyfriend, James Cox who kept it till 2017. Cox, a successful entrepreneur, donated a significant portion of the proceeds to the Nell Newman and Paul Newman Foundations.

Rolex and the 24 At Daytona race

The Rolex 24 at Daytona has been running in its current format since 1992 when Rolex became the official sponsor of the race. But the watchmaker has served as the track’s official timekeeper since 1962. Unlike the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the US race is held entirely on a closed course without using public roads. It also takes place during winter (late January) when there are more hours of darkness in the northern hemisphere.

Paul Newman’s association with the Rolex Cosmograph led to the Daytona being forever linked to one of the world’s most iconic personalities. It seems only fitting that each winner of the 24 at Daytona receives a Rolex Daytona with their name engraved on the back. 

The South African Connection

In 1984, a South African team, Kreepy Krauly Racing entered a Porsche-powered March prototype racecar with Sarel van der Merwe, Graham Duxbury and Tony Martin sharing driving duties. The team dominated the race. Graham Duxbury remembers the team having to introduce themselves on the podium as no one knew who they were. 

Click here to read about the best racetracks Sarel vd Merwe has raced on.

The South African connection continued with Wayne Taylor who won in 1996 as part of the Doyle Racing Team and in 2005 as part of the SunTrust Racing team. In 2021 Taylor won the race as team owner.