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Tag, You’re It

If a celebrity’s car scrapes your car in a race, does it still count as a celebrity encounter? It does in B.J. Piekarski’s book.

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Most run-ins with a celebrity happen on the streets of L.A. or maybe in a trendy restaurant in New York. In B.J. Piekarski’s case, it was in a race car.

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B.J. – whose father, Mark, owns and operates Collision Centers of New Hampshire – was set to race his Mustang Cobra at the SCCA’s National Season Opener at the New Hampshire International Speedway this past spring. It just so happened that actor Paul Newman, who regularly races on the SCCA circuit in New England, was also at the opener – and his GT-1 Class had been grouped to race with B.J.’s American Sedan Class.

It was around lap 13 during the race that paired the two classes when the “celebrity encounter” happened. Both B.J. and Newman were running through the chicane entering the front stretch when Newman’s car scraped the nose of B.J.’s Cobra.

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“I guess if you’re going to get tagged by someone,” B.J. says, “at least it was someone worthwhile and famous.”

Rather than cover up such a “famous” scrape, the team decided it added character and even called attention to it with the phrase “Paul

Newman “wuz here.’ “

“Well, we got smacked by him just prior to lettering the race car, so my sign people felt it was appropriate to “note’ the damage,” Mark says.

B.J. went on to capture fifth place in the final race of the event, outlasting a field of 26 competitors, a broken rear suspension and a 10th-lap spin.

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“It was one of the most competitive races I’ve run, and it was great just to finish,” B.J. says. “And not only that, but I got to meet Paul Newman.”

Well sort of. Newman’s entourage included a bodyguard who made it clear that Newman wasn’t there to sign autographs, but to race – and to maybe catch up on some sleep.

“We were delayed in the final race for about 15 minutes, and we were sitting on the starting grid,” Mark says, with all the drivers suited up, belted and ready to go. “When they gave the five-minute warning to start, one of the track workers exclaimed, ‘Someone go over and wake Newman up.’ “

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Writer Debbie Briggs is managing editor of BodyShop Business.

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