RYAN NEWMAN 'And Son, Don't Forget To Kiss Your Racecar Good Night' KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (June 16, 2009) -- Ryan Newman can't remember a day when his father hasn't been in his ear advising him on his next move -- in life and on the...
'And Son, Don't Forget To Kiss Your Racecar Good Night'
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (June 16, 2009) -- Ryan Newman can't remember a day when his father hasn't been in his ear advising him on his next move -- in life and on the racetrack.
The story goes that when Ryan was born in 1977, proud papa, Greg Newman, announced right then and there in the delivery room that Ryan would be a racecar driver. So, at 4½ years of age, Ryan had a Quarter Midget and began going in circles, his dad overseeing him each and every lap.
Back then, Greg coached a young Ryan. Greg taught his son where to hit his mark in the corner of each turn by sticking his foot out in the path of the racecar. Greg would tell his young son to literally hit his foot. Repeating that exercise time and again would make Ryan faster and sharper on the racetrack.
Greg worked long hours at his auto body repair business to make money so that Ryan could race each weekend. And when Greg wasn't at the body shop working, the father and son would spend their evening out in the garage, tinkering on the cars, getting them just right for the upcoming weekend's race. And before turning off the light each night, Greg would tell Ryan: "Don't forget to kiss your racecar good night."
It was a figure of speech, of course. Ryan didn't really kiss his racecar good night, but it was a lesson that the son still carries with him today. Show respect and it is returned. Greg wanted Ryan to show appreciation and respect for his racecar and for all the hard work that the two of them and countless others had put into their dream.
And it truly is their dream.
Greg has been with his son every step of the way. From Quarter Midgets to full-size Midgets to Sprint Cars and, now, stock cars, Dad has served as mechanic, crew chief, pit crew member and spotter. It hasn't always meant smiling faces and high fives, Ryan says. In fact, there was a time when Ryan took the radio away from his father because Ryan didn't want Greg to talk to him during the race.
But now, Ryan relies on that familiar voice to talk him through each lap, every weekend of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Since 2006, Greg has served as Ryan's Sprint Cup spotter. After all, who could know Ryan's racing style better than the man who first strapped him behind the wheel of a car? Who could understand what Ryan needs to hear and what he needs help "seeing" better than the man who taught him how to turn lap after lap?
The two have an interesting dynamic that Ryan considers an advantage because no one knows him better than his father. The pair has experienced the highest of highs -- a trip to victory lane at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway for the 50th Running of the Daytona 500 in 2008 -- which both called a "dream come true."
Both still have goals to achieve. Since joining the No. 39 Haas Automation/U.S. Army team at Stewart-Haas Racing this season, the team has posted impressive results: five top-five and eight top-10 finishes in the first 15 races of the Sprint Cup season. The new team has also climbed to fifth in points.
The next goal is a trip to victory lane. In Ryan's mind, there is no better time than the present. Ryan has five top-10 finishes in seven starts at the 1.99-mile Infineon Raceway road course in Sonoma, Calif. He has completed every lap (772) since his rookie campaign in 2002, and even has a runner-up finish at the road course (2006).
So don't be surprised to see Ryan "kiss" his No. 39 Chevrolet before he leaves the track on Saturday night. He wants to give his dad the perfect gift at Sunday's Toyota/SaveMart 350k race, which just happens to be Father's Day. There's no better way for Ryan to thank his dad for guiding him through life -- and traffic.
RYAN NEWMAN, Driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation /U.S. Army Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You won on Father's Day back in 2004 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. Talk about what that meant to you and your dad.
"That was a very special day. At the time, my dad worked with the team in the pits. I told him, 'I'm only going to try to get you one thing today and that's a win.' I didn't get him a card or anything else. I just went out there and drove as hard as I could and we were fortunate enough to get a win. Afterward, I came over the radio and told him, 'There's your Father's Day present,' and he came over the radio and said 'That's all I wanted.' Obviously, it was no small task, but it was very special for us."
This weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to its first road course race of the season. What are your thoughts on Infineon Raceway and road course racing?
"It's the first time we get to run a road course and, typically, there's a different type of cream that rises to the top there. I enjoy it. I enjoy hustling the racecar around the track, and Infineon's a good road course. Personally, I enjoy Watkins Glen a bit more, but I enjoy them both and I look forward to racing out there. It's a big track position race, and fuel mileage has become a big part of the racing there. But it's the same for everybody.
"I think the addition of the double-file restarts this weekend will definitely make the race interesting, especially at the end of the race. We've always had double-file starts at the beginning of the race, but people are careful then because they want to finish the first lap. I think it will be opening a new can of worms when we get to Sonoma for those late-race restarts. It's going to be exciting."
Do you approach a road course race differently than other races on the circuit? How is a road course race different for the driver?
"Not really. We just did two days of testing at Virginia International Raceway last week so, aside from me getting used to shift patterns in the car and how the Hendrick chassis flexes versus what I have used in the past, that's been pretty much it. Once we get there, we attack it and do our thing like we do any other race weekend.
"Road course racing is physically demanding and mentally, as well. It's really a lot of fun to hustle the car around the racetrack. It's definitely challenging. Just doing what you can to save fuel on a road course, which is one of the hardest things you can ever do inside a racecar, in my opinion. It's a big track-position game, and if you qualify well, you have a chance to race well. If you don't, your challenge will be to make a bunch of passes and race hard all day."
This Sunday is Father's Day. It has been well-documented that your father, Greg Newman, has been instrumental in your racing career. He began helping you from the time you were 4½, and he still serves as your spotter today on the No. 39 Haas Automation/U.S. Army Chevrolet. Can you talk a little about that?
"My dad spots for me, so I get to listen to him and he gets to listen to me talking about the race. He's been around my racing career the entire time, and he knows how I typically drive and he knows a lot about racing. He's been a fan his whole life. Having him as my spotter is definitely an advantage for me, and it's pretty unique to have my father as my spotter. He's been spotting for me in the Cup Series since 2006 and he spotted my Nationwide races for me in 2005. I tell everyone that it has been a series of high-fives and arguments ever since he started spotting for me. We've gotten into it on the radio a few times. I will give it to him, but he'll turn around and give it right back to me. In reality, it just makes sense to have him as my spotter because he knows me and my racing style better than anyone else. He's been with me for every step of my career since I was 4½ and just starting to race Quarter Midgets. He showed me how to hit my marks when I was just a kid by sticking his foot out in the middle of the corner and telling me to turn there. My dad understands how I drive and what I need to help me get better on the track. He knows what I need to hear. It's a very special relationship, and I'm glad that he is able to be at the racetrack with me each weekend."
Talk about your relationship with your dad, racing, and what a win at Sonoma on Father's Day would mean.
"I think the easiest way to say it is that I wouldn't be here racing today without my dad and everything he did to further my racing career. My dad, my mom, my sister -- they all made sacrifices and everyone chipped in so that I could race. My dad had an auto repair shop, so he was busy making money so that we could go race. When he wasn't working at the auto repair shop, he was busy with me, working in the garage on my car, or we were traveling back and forth to and from the racetrack.
"I think everyone has heard the story, now, that when I was born my dad looked at me and said 'We have ourselves a racecar driver.' My dad got me my first Quarter Midget, and I started racing at 4½. But this wasn't something he pushed me to do. My dad had wanted to be a racecar driver, but he couldn't. Then, when I came along, he let me race. My dad actually tried to take racing away at one point to see if that's what I really wanted to do, and it was. He wanted to make sure that it wasn't something he was pushing me to do, that it's what I wanted as much as him, and I did. In fact, I think he would tell you that I wasn't too happy when he tried to take racing away from me. I appreciate that, in hindsight.
"It was a great learning experience for me, growing up with my dad, being around cars, around racecars, working on racecars together. I'm extremely grateful for all the things that he's taught me. And I'm grateful that he is part of my team every weekend. We've had our ups and downs, just like any father and son. We've also had some pretty incredible experiences together. Having him at the racetrack is something that is very special to me. Having him spot for me when I won the Daytona 500 last season, hearing the excitement in his voice, listening to him get choked up and then hugging him in victory lane. That was something not many people have. That was our dream coming full circle. I would like to be able to give him another great memory this weekend."
TONY GIBSON, Crew Chief of the No. 39 Haas Automation /U.S. Army Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What are the challenges of a road course for you as a crew chief and for the team?
"The biggest thing with road course racing now is making sure to maintain the brakes and your fuel mileage. Some guys will pit as soon as they can make it the entire race so that, when it all cycles around, they will be out front. So fuel mileage is critical. You just want to have the best strategy when it comes down to it. The car has to handle all the turns well, but we've seen that's just not as important as the fuel mileage."
How does testing Virginia International Raceway (VIR) for a couple of days help the team prepare for this race?
"We tested for two days at VIR. We tested the big course one day and then tested the shorter course the second day. We can use a few of the turns at the road course to help at Sonoma, but we basically use the test to check out the brakes, the shifter and just to make sure that Ryan is comfortable in the car. There are a couple of corners at VIR that we could compare to turns at Sonoma. So, we obviously tried out some changes to the car to see what might help us with different issues. We'll go to Sonoma with a few ideas, and hopefully what we learned will end up helping us out there."
Ryan's father has been instrumental in his racing career from the beginning, and he is still very involved with it as the spotter for the No. 39 team each weekend. How has your father, Bo Gibson, been an influence on your racing career?
"My dad is the reason I got into racing. He raced my whole life, both of my brothers drove, and my dad taught us all everything we needed to know to get started in racing. Dad got us all started. There were a lot of sacrifices on his part, moneywise and timewise, to get us in the sport. Everything I am experiencing now and have experienced in this sport is thanks to him. It would be awesome for me to be able to get a win for him on Father's Day. I know that it would be a big deal for Ryan and his dad, Greg. And it would mean just as much to me if that is something we could get done this weekend."
The No. 39 had a streak of six consecutive top-10s prior to Michigan, and the team is currently fifth in the point standings. With all that, the team has been the talk of the garage. To what do you attribute the success of this No. 39 team?
"In my opinion, the biggest thing is just how this team works together. Our motto from the beginning has been to never give up. This past weekend, we weren't good at all, but we didn't give up. We made a lot of changes to the car during the race, and we put ourselves back in the position where we could be in good shape. If another caution would have fallen, we would have gotten back on the lead lap. At the end, we had a fast car, so I think we could have gotten a better finish than where we ended up. It wasn't a great finish for us, but we still finished in front of a few others and ended up not losing as many points as we could have. The key was we didn't give up and that was something I was proud of. As a team, we just have to keep plugging away. We're not going to have a top-five or top-10 every week. There are going to be days like we had in Michigan. We just have to try to take advantage of the opportunities that we do get and build the points when we can. I'm just really proud of what we have done, and I'm confident we're going to keep it up."