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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Ryan Newman profile

I had the occasion to write for an on-line writing service. I noticed that other drivers were profiled, but when I couldn't find Ryan Newman's profile listed, I wrote the following:

Ryan Newman was born to race. Not only was that the vision of a proud father the day his son was born, but it has been the experience of the 31-year old driver who stepped into his first racing machine -- a go-kart -- at the tender age of four.

Ryan Newman was born Dec. 8, 1977 in South Bend, Indiana, the first of two children of Greg and Diane Newman. Ryan has a younger sister, Jamie.


Today, Newman is one of the top drivers in NASCAR's elite Sprint Cup series, driving the #39 U.S. Army Chevrolet.


Greg Newman was an auto mechanic who owned a repair shop. Greg's penchant for racing must have been part of his DNA because Ryan certainly inherited it. Today, Greg makes his living as an employee of Stewart-Haas Racing, Ryan's race team. His job is a vital one. He has a hand in helping to guarantee his son's safety.

Greg is Ryan's spotter on race day. He sits high atop the racetrack with binoculars honed in on his son's car as it races around the track. Greg literally acts as the eyes in the back of Ryan's head. Because of all the safety gear, once strapped into a racecar, Ryan has little vision to the rear or peripherally. He sees directly in front of him, but Greg watches the rest. Greg alerts Ryan to accidents on the track that may be out of Ryan's view. Greg
advises him whether to go low or high on the track to avoid being caught in the melee. Greg sees for his son when Ryan is temporarily blinded by smoke, dust, or intense light from the setting sun. At speeds nearing 200 mph there isn't much time to react, so correct and rapid information is key. Greg scopes out the drivers behind Ryan, letting him know how fast a car is coming. And if there is one passing, Greg describes its location precisely. Greg knows what Ryan wants to know and he tells him via radio communications.

Ryan Newman has had a storied racing career. From an early age, he has excelled at every level of the sport, stringing together successes like a strand of pearls. By age 10, he had already won 75 races and two championships in various Quarter-Midget classes. Quarter midgets are scaled-down versions of the open-wheel Midget car that is especially designed for young racers between the ages of five and 16. The cars comply with specific safety standards and run about 30 mph.

When Newman was 11, he won the U.S. Quarter-Midget National championship. At 15, he won the All-American Midget Series championship. In 1999 he won the USAC Coors Light Silver Bullet Championship and achieved Rookie of the Year honors. At the same time, he was also working toward his eventual engineering degree at Purdue University in South Bend.

Newman had enjoyed the open-wheel racing of his youth, but he really had his sights set on stock car racing. And as it turned out, stock car racing had its eye on him as well. New talent is always being sought in the racing world. And it just so happened that Don Miller, President of Penske Racing South, owned by Roger Penske, a legend in auto racing. Miller was impressed with what he heard about Newman's talent. He was even more impressed when he watched Newman race. He arranged for Newman to test in a Penske stock car in April 2000 at Gateway International Speedway near St. Louis, MO. NASCAR legend Buddy Baker was
invited to the test. He was impressed as well. As a result, Newman became one of the newest drivers for Penske Racing that year.

In 2000, Newman won three out of five races in the ARCA RE/MAX Series. He made his Winston (now Sprint) Cup series debut in Phoenix that year.

The following year, Newman made seven starts in the Winston Cup series. He earned a pole, the top starting spot in a race based on the fastest qualifying speed in one lap, in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway (Lowes). In September of that year, Newman earned a second-place finish at Kansas.

In 2002 Newman had a full-time ride in the #12 Alltel Dodge in the Winston Cup Series. He set an all-time record for the number of poles by a Rookie of the Year candidate. He earned six which beat the record five set by Davey Allison in 1987. He edged out Jimmie Johnson to become Raybestos Rookie of the Year. And he won the 2002 All-Star Race. On Sept. 15, Newman won his first Cup victory at New Hampshire.

In 2003, Newman had his best season so far. He earned eight wins, 11 poles, 17 top-five finishes and 22 top-10 finishes. He earned the nickname Rocketman because of his fast-lap qualifying prowess. He was named SPEED Channel's American Driver of the Year, the National Motorsports Press Association's Driver of the Year, and the Daytona Beach News-Journal Driver of the Year.

Newman decided in the middle of 2008 to take a huge gamble with his career. He decided to change teams, to walk away from Penske Racing where he had enjoyed so much success. But things were different. Newman hadn't changed his driving style, but he was no longer achieving the results he wanted. He was frustrated. Don Miller had retired. The only crew chief he had ever known, Matt Borland was no longer with the organization and other changes in personnel made Penske a different organization.

Newman made the difficult decision to go with a new, start-up team, one that would be co-owned by fellow Indiana native, Tony Stewart. Stewart would be Newman's teammate as an owner/driver at Stewart-Haas Racing. Despite the speculation, early indications are that it was a good move for Newman who is back to top-five finishes and leading laps. He has regained his confidence and feels it is only a matter of time before he goes to Victory Lane.

There is no question that Newman will have many more good moments ahead in his racing career, but there is one he will never forget and it can never be equaled. It came at the beginning of 2008, his final season driving for Roger Penske, when he won the Daytona 500. Not only is the Daytona 500 the most prestigious race for a driver to win because it holds a distinctive history in the stock car racing world, but because 2008 marked the 50th running of what is known as the "Great American Race."

The Daytona 500 has always eluded Roger Penske. Victory has always been just out of Penske's reach. Bobby Allison came close to a win in a Penske car in 1975. And Penske always thought veteran driver Rusty Wallace would get the coveted win. But Wallace retired three years ago, unable to achieve that dream. Allison came in third in 1975. But, although the Penske team tallied 82 poles, 57 victories in the past 927 races, they could not muster a win at Daytona International Speedway - until Newman did it in 2008.

And the thing that made the win especially sweet for Penske was that when Newman crossed the finish line it was with the help from his teammate Kurt Busch, in Penske’s #2 Miller Lite Dodge.

The two blue Penske cars were unstoppable when it mattered most, in the last laps of the race, as they squeezed up to the top of the track like a two-car freight train, pushing past the man who would ironically become Newman's new boss, Tony Stewart. Stewart led the most laps in the race and was the expected favorite to win. It would have been his first Daytona 500 win as well, but it wasn’t to be.

Newman was able to share the moment with his father, Greg, who he heard on the radio, pulling for his son, rooting him on, knowing what it would mean to him to win this race of all races. When Greg told Ryan, "you could win this thing," it was heart-stopping. Ryan said he could hear his father's tears fall onto the radio. When Newman crossed the finish line and took the checkered flag, he was a new person, humbled by achieving a moment he had only dreamed about. His father ran to Victory Lane to share the moment with his son, exploding into a huge bear hug. And Roger Penske, who in many ways was like a father to Newman, beamed with pride. Ryan's wife Krissy sobbed. His mother couldn't be there, but he tried to talk to her on the phone. She was so overcome with emotion that she could barely speak.

Ryan Newman has seen struggles, and he has overcome odds. He has walked away from horrific accidents. And he has achieved so much, but he will not rest on his laurels. He still has a goal -- to win the Sprint Cup championship. He is in the position to do just that. But even if it doesn't happen this year, there is always next year or the next. But, as determined as he is, Ryan Newman will be a NASCAR Sprint Cup champion one day.