Newman back in driver’s seat

GOOD MORNING: Paul Newman’s gonna try it again. For his 70th birthday in 1995 he raced the Daytona 500 — and won. He made the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest winner in his class. On Jan. 16, 2000, Paul will be 75 and — you guessed it, he will race in the Daytona Feb. 5-6. “I’m gonna try it again,” he smiled. You might ask how his wife, Joanne Woodward, feels about it. She laughs and says, “He never quit — he’s always been driving,” although we haven’t noted his name in any race cards. Her only advice to him: “Drive carefully.” Paul will be seen next on screen in “Where the Money Is,” bowing in the spring. Joanne is busy with her stage work — directing and acting and heavily involved in the renewal of the Westport Playhouse in Connecticut. As for movie roles, “If something interesting came along, I would never give it (acting) up,” the Oscar-winning Woodward said. The Newmans’ main interest remains unfortunate children — who receive all the profits from Newman’s Own Projects — and enjoy the ever-increasing number of Hole-In-The Wall-Gang camps. The next one is being readied for Santa Barbara … Mickey Rooney’s manager, Kevin Pawley, called Tuesday from Sydney, Australia, to report that all rumors are false that Mickey has colon cancer. “He will be out of the hospital (St. Luke’s) Friday and after a week’s recuperation, will return to the U.S. — only to come back to tour Australia again with his wife Jan. They’ve been SRO everywhere. Rooney (79) sustained a three millimeter hole in his colon but it’s been fused and he’s recovering ahead of schedule.”

MEXICO’S CRITICISM OF SALMA HAYEK’S USO trip to Kosovo brought a rare, stinging reply from Hollywood’s Johnny Grant. After Jorge Calderon, chairman of the Mexican Senate’s foreign relations committee criticized Hayek for her visit (Mexico condemned the U.S.’ action in Kosovo), Grant told me, “The Mexican government officials’ criticizing Hayek for making the tour should get their egos in check! She spent most of her time with troops of Latino descent, speaking Spanish and posing in personal photos with them. This political opportunism needs a little sensitivity training!” Garrett Morris and Danica McKeller also traveled with Grant and Hayek. And Johnny is prepping for another USO Operation Starlift at Christmas. Connie Stevens, who rode with Grant in the Hollywood Christmas Parade Sunday, told him she’d be willing to go (again) on a USO-Grant trek … President Clinton will be introduced tonight by Whoopi Goldberg at the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence gala at the Pickfair estate. Beau Bridges m.c.’s the reception at which Sen. Dianne Feinstein will introduce Jeanne (Mrs. Pete) Shields, who lost a son to gun violence. Shields will present an award to Gregory Peck for his outspoken support of the Brady Bill. Sarah Brady will introduce Steve Sposato whose wife was killed in a San Francisco office rampage. Lisa Loeb, Dweezil Zappa and the Paula Cole band will entertain. Celebs on hand in support of the Center to prevent Gun Violence Handgun Violence include Kevin Spacey, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Affleck, Courteney Cox, Carrie Fisher, Brendan Fraser, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Diane Keaton, Bill Maher, Nancy Sinatra and Pia Zadora, who made her home at Pickfair … Congressman Jim Rogan (R-Glendale) is guest at Friday’s Wednesday Morning Club lunch at the BevHills Hotel. John McLean, exec director of the WGA West, intros Rogan, assistant Majority Whip who is on the House Judiciary and House Commerce Committees and was also a House Manager during the impeachment proceedings.

JERRY SEINFELD FILMED HIS NEW American Express commercial in the N.Y. Historical Society, a setting in which you’d least expect him to shoot one. But then again that’s why he’s Jerry Seinfeld. It was directed by Jim Signorelli, longtime creator-director of film segs on “Saturday Night Live” and who worked with Jerry on his “SNL” appearances this year in the “Oz” takeoff special. Seinfeld has eight more shooting hours to do under pact to AmEx. That’s hours, not shows. Some blurbs, like the most recent (airs in mid-December), required two days, one took nine. But all parties are agreed it’s the best way to work for best results. Signorelli, f’rinstance, told me it was a genuine pleasure working with him. “He is totally opposite of what you see — totally involved from start to final editing. And he was in top form!” Model Linsey Jones appears in the commercial with Jerry … Brett and Melissa Sherak-Resnick welcomed daughter Gabriella Sophie Nov. 28 at UCLA. She was the 4,500 baby delivered by Dr. Alan DeCherney, head of OB-Gyn … A pretty funny fax from Alan Thicke in Shanghai where he said his Thanksgiving dinner was — snake. He’s there shooting “CrossRoads,” which he says is a sequel to a 1937 Chinese classic. He says “I play a N.Y. lawyer having a very long distance love affair.” Of course, Thicke also reminds us that his new gameshow, “Three’s A Crowd” bows this week on the Game Show Net … N.Y.’s elite welcomes the Paula Fisher’s Millennial Arts Production of Handel’s Messiah Dec. 9 at the John Jay College Theater. It’s another in Millennial’s reinterpretation of major classical pieces in a contemporary setting. F’rinstance the opening scene of “Messiah” take place in London’s infamous Bethlehem Royal Hospital (Bedlam!). Among those attending the opening and gala following at the Carriage House are: Gloria Vanderbilt, Lee Radziwill and husband Herb Ross, Ambassador to France Felix Rohatyn and wife Elizabeth, Kitty Carlisle Hart, Donald Trump, etc.