Honoring the Soldiers
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (May 23, 2012) – The Army is the strength of the Nation, and the Soldier is the strength of the Army.
As the driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), Ryan Newman taps into that strength throughout the 36-race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. But it’s in round No. 12 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway with the running of the Coca-Cola 600 where that strength carries increased significance.
The Coca-Cola 600 is the Sprint Cup Series’ longest race, and it’s a staple of Memorial Day weekend. Beyond the mental, physical and emotional fortitude necessary to log 400 laps around Charlotte’s 1.5-mile oval, Newman carries a badge of honor in the star of the U.S. Army logo that adorns the chest of his uniform and the hood of his racecar. It’s an understatement to say the ribbons of camouflage that stretch across Newman’s racecar provide a great deal of pride for the 11-year Sprint Cup veteran.
Since taking the wheel of the U.S. Army Chevy upon joining SHR in 2009, Newman has had the privilege of meeting Army Strong Soldiers at many bases across the country and in one-on-one encounters at the racetrack.
At each opportunity, Newman makes every effort to shake the hands of Soldiers and thank them for their service. As a representative of the U.S. Army, Newman understands now, more than ever, that he is able to do the job he loves and have the freedoms we all cherish thanks to the men and women who serve and protect our country.
This Memorial Day weekend, as the nation takes a moment to remember those service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice, Newman plans to use Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 as his moment to spotlight the heroics of those who serve in America’s all-volunteer force.
The high-banked, high-speed oval has always been a favorite of the South Bend, Ind., native ever since he wheeled a rental car with mentor Buddy Baker in the passenger seat. Newman’s love for the track was obvious in his first stock car outing there in the 2000 ARCA race, when he started on the pole and dominated the race, leading 66 of 67 laps en route to victory.
He followed up that win by claiming his first-ever Sprint Cup pole position in just his third series start in May 2001. The following season, Newman shocked the field when he went from worst to first to become only the second Sprint Cup rookie to capture a victory in the non-points All-Star Race.
Newman’s NASCAR Nationwide Series record at Charlotte is equally impressive, as he has one win (2005), three top-five and four top-10 finishes in four starts.
In 22 career Sprint Cup starts at Charlotte, Newman has nine poles – the most of any active driver and second on the all-time Sprint Cup pole list to only David Pearson, who has 14 poles. Newman has four top-five and eight top-10 finishes, with a best finish of second in October 2003 and in the 2009 Coca-Cola 600.
Newman has proven he knows what it takes to get around Charlotte, despite the fact that a win in a points-paying Sprint Cup race has so far escaped him.
Being the best in the marathon-like Coca-Cola 600 takes the same attributes the Army looks for in its Soldiers – putting the mission first, a never quit attitude and a refusal to accept defeat. To emerge as the victor in the Sprint Cup Series’ longest race, Newman will have to pass a challenge no other race presents. Succeeding in that challenge at the helm of the U.S. Army Chevrolet would be an appropriate tribute to the more than one million Soldiers actively protecting our freedom and way of life.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Describe the amount of pride you feel having the U.S. Army as your sponsor on Memorial Day weekend.
“Memorial Day is special. I’ve said before that I took for granted what all branches of the military do for us before I got a chance to meet the Soldiers and understand what they do and the stories they have about wearing their colors. It is an honor to wear that Army camouflage to represent Army Strong – that mental, physical and emotional strength – strength like no other. And I can only represent it. Only an Army Soldier can be that. I’m doing my best to represent the colors and those people – more than a million people who fight for our freedom each and every day. I’m proud to represent them. It’s a little bit cooler than just an ordinary product sponsor.”
I’ve heard you tell some stories about meeting soldiers, and I heard you tell one story recently about a meeting with Greg Stube – a retired Green Beret – that really affected you. Can you recount that meeting?
“I met Greg Stube. He was injured over in Afghanistan. He was at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. He was a guest of Coca-Cola’s and he came up to me and introduced himself and told me who he was and he said you’re who we fight for. And I looked at him, and I told him I wasn’t sure I understood. I told him I was just proud to represent the Army and the Soldiers. And he said, ‘No, you are who we fight for. You’re the people who respect the freedom, who enjoy doing things with your family and not having to look over your shoulder to see if there is someone coming to shoot you or where you’re walking if there’s an IUD. You’re the kind of people we fight for.’ He took me back. I do my best to try to represent and say thank you to all the Soldiers out there, and he was thanking me for being that kind of guy he can go out there and fight for our freedom. I got a chance to go fishing with him on Tuesday in southern North Carolina, and he’s a great guy. He’s a great family man, a distinguished Soldier. He was a part of the Green Berets, so he knows what’s going on with the heavy-metal stuff. I’m just proud to call him a friend. And that’s just one of the amazing Soldiers I’ve had the opportunity to meet since being connected with the U.S. Army.”
The Coca-Cola 600 is the longest race on the Sprint Cup schedule. How difficult is it to be in the racecar for that length of time?
“It all depends on how hot it is. If it’s a superhot day, it’s very demanding because this is a fast racetrack. It’s very physical. Your transitions from day to night and those types of things are very critical for how successful you are that night. It takes a good crew chief to make the right adjustments. Being comfortable in the car is one thing, but staying cool and staying hydrated is extremely important with the duration that we’re in the racecar. I always say the most important thing I do that day is to make sure the air conditioning is working. The Coca-Cola 600 is a great race. We’ve run second there in the past. It’s the longest race and a demanding race, and this is definitely the race where I really have to represent all the qualities of an Army Strong Soldier. I have to be physically, mentally and emotionally strong to get through all this race can give you. Everybody knows that going into it. It all depends on the characteristics of the weather, the track and everything that night – if it’s a 90-degree day, or if it’s a 65-degree day. You just never know. I enjoy it. I enjoy this racetrack. I enjoy being close to home. I enjoy the fact all our friends and family get to come out and enjoy a good race. We will see if we can get the U.S. Army into victory lane.”
So, do you notice the extra 100 miles? How do you process this race?
“If your car is good, you don’t. If the conditions are good weather-wise, you don’t. But if you are struggling with your car and it’s hot out, you will. That happens at other racetracks, but that extra 100 miles is very demanding there because of the speeds, because of that extra little bit in the car. If you’re not comfortable, you’re not going to be comfortable for a long time. The race here is usually four hours-plus. That extra hour in the racecar is huge when you are going 200-plus mph into a corner, or when its 90 degrees outside.”
One thing you have said about the Coca-Cola 600 is that you have to be “patiently aggressive” to have a good race. Can you explain what that means?
“Every good racecar driver has to be patient and aggressive, and at the same time. You have to know when to choose your battles and make your holes and do those things. You typically can’t make things happen, sometimes, so you have to be patiently aggressive. And the 600 miles is just another extension of that because you have to put yourself in position, and position doesn’t happen until 100 miles later.”
You have nine poles at Charlotte. You are first among active drivers in pole positions at the track, and second behind David Pearson, who has 14. What makes you so good at qualifying at Charlotte, and what does it mean for you to win the pole there?
“In general, I like this racetrack, I like the speed, I like the banking. When I first came here with Buddy Baker, we drove around in a rental car and, after one lap, I told him I was going to like this place. I always have. It’s a place I like. I’ve been fortunate to have good equipment and I’ve been able to take that good equipment and make it fast. It’s just a combination of team effort and, nine times out of 22, we’ve been able to pull it off (winning the pole). Ultimately, it’s what we all strive for is to be the fastest, to be the best, to be the quickest and get to victory lane. It would mean a lot to me. I think David Pearson was an excellent racecar driver. Still is. Ultimately, it is just a number, but to be where I am and have a shot at it, that’s cool. But I’m still a long way away. It took me this long to get nine. Not that it took me that long, but it’s not easy to win one, and five more is not going to be easy at all. But I know that, when we go to Charlotte, we know we want to have to what it takes to have a shot at the pole. I really enjoy the racetrack – the speed, obviously, and the banking. I’ve always said I really enjoy banked racetracks and this is one of the best and fastest banked racetracks out there. I’ve had fast racecars with Penske Racing and now with Stewart-Haas Racing and just have been blessed with fast racecars. I couldn’t do it without fast racecars. I’ve always told my crew chief, whoever it is at the time, ‘If you give me a straight arrow, I’ll shoot it straight. But don’t expect me to shoot a crooked arrow to the pole.’ And they’ve done a very good job for me.”