Among the 20th century Hollywood stars, there were few actors who also tried themselves in premier racing competitions. It is known that Paul Newman developed an impressive racing career, crowned with a podium at 1979 Le Mans 24 Hours. Steve McQueen also had Le Mans experience, not as a participant in the race but as a star of the 1971 'Le Mans' movie, while the highlight of his racing career was an overall podium and a class victory at 1970 Sebring 12 Hours.
Besides Newman and McQueen, there is one more famous actor from their generation who tried to race against some of the best race car drivers in the world. It's Gene Hackman (born in January 1930), a two-time Academy Award winner whose acting career spanned nearly five decades.
American celebrity racer Gene Hackman
Gene Hackman made four starts in the IMSA GTU Championship
His racing career was much much shorter, spanning over the late 1970s when he made some attempts in the SCCA Formula Ford and over two seasons in the IMSA GTU Championship (1983 and 1984) when he recorded four starts in endurance races, including Daytona 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours.
Gene Hackman was close to his first Daytona 24h start in 1978 when he was a member of Jolly Club team. He was listed to drive a Ferrari 308 GTB but didn't participate in the race. Similarly, he was listed for the Daytona 6 Hours in 1981 as a member of Mike Meyer's team in a Mazda RX-3 but he didn't start again.
Gene Hackman's #97 Toyota Celica
Daytona 24h debut in 1983 with Toyota Celica
Hackman finally made his Daytona 24 Hours debut in February 1983, joining Dan Gurney's All American Racers to drive the #99 Toyota Celica. He was sharing a car with two Japanese drivers, Masanori Sekiya and Kaoru Hoshino, retiring from the race due to gearbox failure. The overall race winners were AJ Foyt, Bob Wollek, Claude Ballot-Lena and Preston Henn in a Porsche 935. In the GTU class, Kent Racing's #92 Mazda RX-7 won the race.
Later in the season, in April, Hackman participated in one more race with Toyota Celica, driving the #97 car at Riverside 6 Hours. His teammates were Margie Smith-Haas and Wally Dallenbach Jr. They were 16th overall and fifth in GTU class.
Gene Hackman at 1987 Toyota ProCelebrity race
Sebring 12h debut in 1984 with Mazda RX-7
Next year, Hackman skipped Daytona endurance classic but made a debut at Sebring 12 Hours in March 1984. He was driving the #55 Mazda RX-7 for Preston & Son Enterprises, sharing a car with Whitney Ganz. They didn't finish the race. A month later, Hackman and Ganz recorded one more DNF at Riverside 6 Hours.
Hackman was listed for Daytona 24 Hours a couple more times in 1985 and 1987, with Morgan Performance and Roush Racing, but he didn't start those races. In April 1987, Hackman won the Toyota ProCelebrity race at Long Beach.