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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Confession; I'm a happy Ryan Newman fan

Ryan Newman
Ryan Newman
It is too bad Monday's long-awaited announcement by NASCAR driver Ryan Newman about where he would land in the 2014 season was clouded by controversy stemming from this year's final regular season race at Richmond. Newman's state of mind was evident following that race. Just by the look on his face, the way he walked, his entire demeanor was near despondency.

But, what a difference a day makes.

By Monday afternoon, everything had changed. Newman was finally able to reveal that he had been crafting a deal with Richard Childress to drive the #31 Caterpillar car. Just a week earlier, Jeff Burton said he would not be back to Richard Childress Racing, fueling speculation that Newman would take over the ride. Finally, the speculation ended. Newman and Childress made the official announcement.

The news was met with measured enthusiasm, as a pall still hung over the fact that Newman would not compete for a championship after putting forth a monumental effort over several weeks. But then he received a phone call from NASCAR. He learned the sanctioning body was taking action against Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR), the race team that systematically manipulated the results of Saturday's race, stealing a likely win from Newman. It changed everything. Once again, Newman was able to contend for a championship.

Newman's fans were with him, every step of the way. 

There is no doubt what a stressful situation this was for Newman. He admitted as much, stating that losing the coveted spot in the chase was the hardest thing he has endured in his 30 years of racing.

I can only speak for myself when I say my thoughts and feelings mirrored his. For eight years I have watched every race, read every article, and even written a few of my own. I am a devoted Ryan Newman fan.

It was certainly hard to watch what occurred Saturday night, as Ryan's racing future hung in the balance only to be upended by the near fatal kick-in-the-gut conclusion that voided his extraordinary effort.

It wasn't just that race that was affected by the events at Richmond, but as Newman eluded to in interviews following the race, the entire 26 weeks was influenced. There were ups and downs each week, culminating with the news in July that Newman would lose his ride at Stewart-Haas Racing. He turned that around by sheer determination to win the race at Indianapolis.

The tough times are those when we hold our breath because we hear there is a caution and we don't see the #39. When we finally breathe again, we see the #39 limping toward pit road and we hear Matt Borland say over the radio, "bring it to the garage." All hopes are dashed.

These drivers are skilled, but they must dance with Lady Luck. The intense feelings that endure week in, week out on the roller coaster ride that is racing is also an endurance of good luck and bad. During the entire regular racing season, Ryan Newman lived it all, but as a Newman fan, we live it too.

Being a fan is a funny thing. It is almost like when a child has an imaginary friend. It is totally one-sided. Ryan Newman doesn't know who I am, yet, I feel as if I know him well. He is as familiar to me as anyone. If he came to my front door, I'd recognize him instantly, and would feel comfortable inviting him in for a Coke. We'd have no problem finding things to talk about. I love many of the same things he does. All the public information that has been available about Newman, his family, the things he enjoys, it is all out there for public consumption, which adds up to the feeling that I have know him for years. I genuinely like what I've read.

Ryan's racing prowess is laudable, but is enhanced by the other things he and his wife Krissie are all about. These are good, nurturing people with two beautiful daughters to teach about the good work they do with the Ryan Newman Foundation, their love of animals, their conservation work, and their newest project, Rescue Ranch.

I like that Ryan built a log cabin home, restores old barns, and loves the classic cars. He remembers his roots, often talking about happy times fishing with his grandfather or race-related activities he's shared with his dad. I almost felt like part of the family when Greg Newman worked as Ryan's spotter. His voice became so familiar that I can even recognize when he helps out with spotting at huge tracks like Daytona or Talladega. Greg's voice is so familiar. Who can forget hearing him on the radio when Ryan won the Daytona 500. I cry just thinking about what a beautiful moment that was. I would never be a fan if I didn't admire the person.

I'm so happy things have worked out for Ryan. He deserves it. Now, he can end this season on a high note as he contends for the championship. Now, next year holds great promise as well.
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