In just three seasons, Newman has become one of the top drivers inNASCAR.
Ryan Newman made his mark quickly in NASCAR, claiming his firstCup win in his 34th start and becoming just the second rookie to winNASCAR's all-star race. He also garnered consecutive sixth placefinishes in Cup points during his first two seasons on the circuit.Success, however, was already part of Newman's life before arriving onthe NASCAR scene. He juggled a successful racing career with collegelife while earning a degree in vehicle structural engineering fromPardue University in 2001. While in Sonoma, California, for theDodge/Save Mart 350, Newman spoke with Stock Car Racing about his placein the sport.
SCR: Of course, you're just coming off your first win (atMichigan), and last year at this point you already had two wins. Asstrong as you finished last year, and with momentum oftentimes carryingover from one year to the next, how frustrating was it--or was itfrustrating--to have to wait 15 races into this season before gettingthat first win?
NEWMAN: Well, we were relatively close a couple of times togetting that first win earlier in the season, as early as Atlanta, wherewe finished fifth, and we had some other good runs. Finished third atDarlington, and came back from a lap down there too. But I wouldn't sayit was frustrating. It was a matter of keeping our nose to thegrindstone and following through with all the hard work to be able toget to victory lane.
SCR: Still, a lot of teams go through that same 14-race cycle youdid and never reach victory lane. There had to have been times when youwere ready to pull your hair out.
NEWMAN: There are teams that haven't reached victory lane inthree years too, you know. There are different ways of looking at it.
Newman has often seemed uncomfortable in the fish bowl that is NASCAR.
SCR: Is there anything about this sport that frustrates you? Youseem pretty calm and level headed and you have that engineering mindset,but is there anything that frustrates you?
NEWMAN: Just some of the randomness that happens, whether it'swith the way things have gone at Pocono and Dover, as far as timing andscoring and things like that. Some of the simple things that seem likethey should be so simple but end up being so complex and frustrating.
SCR: What's the cure? From an engineering perspective, you'veprobably analyzed those things, so how do you remedy them?
NEWMAN: It's pretty simple. Just make things black and white, andyou think about it before you make a rule. And you don't make a rulebecause of something that happened the previous week. You make a rulebecause of what you know is going to be right.
SCR: Anything specifically come to mind? Let's say you are incharge of NASCAR for a day, what is the first thing you would changecompetition-wise?
NEWMAN: Taking the spoilers off would be one thing. That's justmy opinion. Taking downforce off the cars would make a heck of a lotbetter racing.
SCR: You seem more outspoken this year. Is that a function ofyour performance and not being in the limelight the first 14 races thisseason? Or are you just more comfortable with your place in the sportnow?
NEWMAN: I feel that I'm not the dumbest individual out there, sowhen I can make an input to try to make everything better for everybody,I try to do that, whether it's safer walls or drivers not wearing glovesor certain rules that there are out there, and whatever we can do tomake the sport safer and better for the drivers and the fans. If I feelI know something, I'll say it. If I think something, I'll hesitate tosay it.
Although he led the circuit last season with 8 wins, it took Newman 15races to celebrate h
SCR: Would you agree that you've been a little more inclined todo that this year?
NEWMAN: I wouldn't say more inclined. I would say after eightwins last year people will listen to me a little more than before.
SCR: So it's a matter of being more comfortable with yoursituation?
NEWMAN: I think it's people being a little more comfortable withme.
SCR: With DNFs last year you were somewhat snake bitten. You woneight races but had five DNFs, and you had three this year in the first15 races. How much of a concern is that and what can you do about it?Does that frustrate you?
NEWMAN: It's frustrating, especially when it's not of your doing,like when you get caught up in somebody else's crash or somebody else'swrongdoing. It's frustrating but you know you can overcome that. Whenit's your own--multiple engine failures or something like that--that'swhen it's extremely frustrating.
SCR: Do those things cause stress or friction within the team?
NEWMAN: Without a doubt. But you've got to fight through it andnot fight with each other.
SCR: Has that been a problem in the past?
NEWMAN: Not with our team, no. I've seen it with other teams butnot with our team.
SCR: Last year a lot of teams probably would have folded and notwon eight races given the bad luck you had.
NEWMAN: The two restrictor-plate crashes, the fire at Michigan,going up on our side at Watkins Glen--we went through a lot of thingslast year. But we were able to come back and get those eight victoriesand 11 poles, finish sixth in points, and still have a shot. Although wewere over 600 points behind at one point, we still had a shot with threeraces to go at the end of the season to be the champion. We can'tcomplain.
SCR: How much does you background and training as an engineerhelp in those circumstances, when things get tough? Maybe you don't lookat it from an emotional perspective but see it more as a rational, A, B,C thing. Is that a fair statement?
NEWMAN: Well, you're a product of your environment and the peoplearound you. We've got a lot of great people here on this Alltel Dodgeteam. My upbringing and people around me help us be who we are.
SCR: By upbringing you mean your family background?
NEWMAN: Family upbringing and values and morals and things likethat.
SCR: Did your dad race while you were growing up?
NEWMAN: Never raced. Wanted to. He just put me in a seat at ayoung age and never looked back.
SCR: He was a race fan, obviously?
NEWMAN: Big fan. Very big fan, as well as my grandparents.
SCR: So they were all NASCAR fans?
NEWMAN: Oh yeah.
SCR: So you knew who Cale Yarborough and David Pearson were whenyou were growing up?
NEWMAN: My first quarter midget number at 4-and-a-half years oldwas 43.
SCR: So you were a Richard Petty fan, or your parents were?
NEWMAN: I was.
SCR: How much did your open wheel background help when you madethe transition to stock cars? You hear about car control and things likethat.
NEWMAN: The car control, racing the different race tracks, andnot becoming a track champion, but instead becoming a series champion.That's what this series is all about, the multiple race tracks, thedifferent venues, from road courses to superspeedways to short tracks tointermediate tracks, flat tracks, banked tracks, a little bit ofeverything. That's a huge positive that I have, my upbringing as far asracing different race tracks across the country, whether it was inquarter midgets or Silver Crown cars.
SCR: Does that apply to open wheelers in general, or just to yourcircumstances?
NEWMAN: More to the USAC style racing and racing different racetracks all over. I mean you can race open wheel cars at the same trackevery week. If you want to become the Kokomo (Indiana) track champion,that's great. But you're not as versatile as if you're USAC champion.
SCR: You hear drivers in this sport telling about how they wontheir first-ever go-kart race and telling of their early success. Howlong did it take you to get that first win?
NEWMAN: I don't remember. I know I won races before I was sixyears old. But I can't remember (the first one). That was over 20 yearsago.
Newman and crew chief Matt Borland are both trained as engineers.
SCR: You hear a lot about how this is a family sport, and you seedrivers with a background like yours or Kevin Harvick's or Jeff Gordon'sand their families really did nurture them for a career in racing; hasthat helped you in this sport?
NEWMAN: As far as family involvement?
NEWMAN: Oh, without a doubt. If my parents hadn't started meracing quarter midgets at a young age, I think that eventually I mayhave ended up doing this, but not in this way or with this amount offocus.
SCR: You alluded to this earlier, but your seeming levelheadedness is a function of that environment, I would guess.
NEWMAN: Yeah, that, and the same thing I said before: You're aproduct of your environment, whether it's at home, at the race track, orin a meeting with your team. If they'll stay level headed, then you'llstay level headed, or you're more apt to. That goes a long way when itcomes to being beneficial to a team.
SCR: This is probably a question you've answered a thousandtimes. But you had a lot of success in Midgets and Sprints while incollege, so just how tough was it to juggle college life and asuccessful racing career? That had to be pretty stressful.
NEWMAN: It was like working two jobs at one time. It wasextremely difficult, but I knew it was something I could accomplish. Ittook me a little longer and a little more effort than I thought it wasgoing to take. But nonetheless I was still able to accomplish that.
SCR: Given your success in racing, in hindsight, a lot of peopleprobably would ask why you even went to college?
NEWMAN: Ahhh, because you never know. You could be riding abicycle and have a bug hit you in the eye and never get to drive againthe way you always drove. You've got to have something to fall back on.On top of all that, it never hurts to be educated.
SCR: Does your engineering degree and background give you anadvantage over other drivers, given what this sport has become and howtechnical and advanced it's become over the last decade?
NEWMAN: I would like to say so, yeah. I know there are a lot ofsmart people out there. But I know that having an engineering degreethat I can say that I'm one of them.
SCR: You mentioned NASCAR's embarrassing moments and the problemsof the last few races. Looking at the situation with cautions and theconfusion they've caused, there seems to be a simple solution--justrevert back to the last completed lap. Yes or no?
NEWMAN: That's the way we all grew up racing. But that's not theway they've always done it. We have the technology to separate where allthe cars are when the yellow flag comes out. It took the IRL a fewmonths after Helio Castroneves won the 500 to figure out who exactly wonthe 500, even though he had already won it. So we're not the only oneshaving that problem. But there's definitely a lot of different ways ofdoing things than the way it's been done in the past.
SCR: Field fillers, for lack of a better term, what is youropinion of drivers in the back who are barely competitive but who makeraces because of the rules?
NEWMAN: I don't think there is such a thing as a field filler. Ithink people come to compete. When they are in the form or position tocompete, they will. If not, they'll play their best hand and fold ifthey have to. The bottom line is that no matter what series you're inthere's always some form of what they call field fillers. But they'recompetitors in the same right, and they come for a specific reason.Whether it's to win or to compete, they're there for the competition.That doesn't make them a field filler.
SCR: You look back to 25 years ago with Petty and Pearson intheir heyday, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, too, and half the fieldcould be labeled field fillers as far as that goes.
NEWMAN: Yeah, that's it. Somebody said field filler one time andtoo many people were listening. I don't think there is such a thing.
SCR: We've talked about this a little, but what are the biggestchallenges facing this sport today?
NEWMAN: I think a couple of things. Maintaining consistency, ineither judgment calls or in the rules themselves, and making sure itremains true to its form. Bill France Sr.'s famous comment (when NASCARwas being formed) about no telling how far this sport can go if it'shandled properly will be true forever. Because the sport has grown somuch, if it isn't handled properly, it won't be here. The biggest thingis to make sure that it stays true to itself and that it's handledproperly and managed properly and marketed properly and stays a cleanbusiness, or is a clean business.
SCR: From the inside, how are things different in the sport fromwhat you would have expected as an observer, say, 7,8, 10 years ago?
Newman's No. 12 Penske team notched 22 top 10 finishes in each of thelast two seasons.
NEWMAN: Just the politics of the sport, and I think everybodywould say that. Dealing with people is one of the hardest things anybodycan do in their life. It's easy to go sit on a boat and catch a fish.It's easy to go slide down a hill when it's raining. It's easy to do alot of things. But dealing with people and personalities is one of thehardest things. For me, that's probably been the most eye-catchingthing.
SCR: Is that the part you are least comfortable with, dealingwith people?
NEWMAN: Not the least comfortable with, but some people have aknack for it and some people don't. It's not a part I particularlyenjoy.
SCR: This part (with the media)?
NEWMAN: Not even just this, but in general dealing with people,whether it's a fan or an official or crewmember or whatever. There'stheir opinion and ego and everything else that goes along with it.
SCR: There was a story out there somewhere that you weredisputing the banking at Bristol, saying it was closer to 26 degrees andnot 36 degrees.
NEWMAN: It is 26.
SCR: Where did that come from? What compelled you to even measurethe banking in the first place?
NEWMAN: You've got to know what it is to be able to tune things.Flat is flat, 26 is 26, and 36 is 36. Bristol is not 36 degrees.
SCR: When you measured it, were you surprised by that?
NEWMAN: I thought it would have been closer to 36. But it's asmuch a false advertisement as there ever has been.
SCR: Do you think it seems steeper because it's such a shorttrack?
NEWMAN: You're misreading me. It is 26. It's not 36, so itdoesn't seem any steeper. It is 26.
SCR: How did the folks at Bristol react to that?
NEWMAN: They haven't yet.
SCR: You recently won your 10th race in your 95th start. Is thatbetter than you expected to do in this sport?
NEWMAN: I never put numbers together as far as what I wanted todo. All I could do is try my best, try my hardest, and see where I endup. You know, to be one of 15 people who have ever done that is reallyan honor for me.
SCR: So you were aware that you were in a pretty select groupthere?
NEWMAN: Yeah, once I saw it I realized what it was. To beatsomebody like Jeff Gordon to 10 wins, and know that he's a four-timechampion, is pretty cool.
SCR: Do you look back a lot and reflect on what you've done? Youwon eight races last year and that puts you in pretty heady companythere.
NEWMAN: Yeah, we've had some great moments as a team. It feelsgood to be able to accomplish those. But it just makes you want to go onand do more.
SCR: You ever look at those trophies and reminisce a little?
NEWMAN: Oh, always. Always. You can't ever forget where you camefrom.
SCR: Last year, of course, you had the eight wins and won 11poles, but you won a lot of races on fuel mileage. And when you win alot, rumors start flying. The biggest one I heard was that you had adouble firewall on your car, with the fuel line snaked through thefirewall, and you were getting extra fuel from that.
NEWMAN: I don't think they've done that since Junior Johnson wasaround, or Smokey Yunick. I can honestly say that our car is and alwayswill be straight-up legal. Usually the guys that are complaining are theones that are cheating and still getting beat.
SCR: You're not touching any gray areas there when you say it'scompletely legal?
NEWMAN: No, it's completely legal. Everything about it is andalways will be completely legal.
SCR: I read somewhere that you like to work on vintage cars. Doyou have a collection of cars?
NEWMAN: Got a few, yeah. A '57 T-Bird, a '57 Dodge Super D-500,two '53 Plymouths, a '28 Ford Roadster, a '74 Triumph TR-6, a '39 HudsonSedan, and that's it.
SCR: So which is your favorite?
NEWMAN: All of 'em. All of 'em for different reasons.
SCR: Do you do all the restoration work yourself, the bodyworkand all?
NEWMAN: A little bit, but no bodywork. Mostly the mechanicalstuff. And I can paint and make things look purty, but mechanical stuffand keeping things running, that's what I enjoy.
SCR: What was your first car?
NEWMAN: A '74 TR-6. My grandparents gave it to me for my 16thbirthday.
SCR: You like to fish also, is that right?
SCR: Talk about that a little.
NEWMAN: I enjoy mostly bass fishing, just being out on the lakeand relaxing. I enjoy going fishing as much as I do catching fish, so Idon't need to catch fish, but it's always an added bonus. Mostly largemouth bass, and anything that'll bite. I like trying to outsmart 'em.
SCR: Is that something you and your dad did when you were growingup?
NEWMAN: Actually I mostly did it with my grandfather up inMichigan on a little lake called Dewey Lake. I'll never forget thosemoments and always enjoyed fishing.
SCR: So you like outsmarting the fish? All about the competition,isn't it?
NEWMAN: That's right. You'll never catch a smart fish.
SCR: Any plans on starting a family since you were recentlymarried, in January?
NEWMAN: No plans.
SCR: If you have a young son someday, would you encourage him toget into this sport, knowing what you know now?
NEWMAN: I wouldn't discourage, for sure. Where I am at this pointin my career is great. I've had a great life and wouldn't wish anythingdifferent on anybody else, especially my own son if that were the case.
SCR: Who do you look up to most in this sport? Historically oreven one of you contemporaries.
NEWMAN: Nobody in particular as far as drivers go. I've learned alot from Buddy Baker and Don Miller. My father in everyday life, justracing and everyday life. But there's no one individual that I startrunning over to and start asking questions.
SCR: You mentioned Buddy Baker and he certainly has gotten a lotof credit for helping you. Didn't he encourage Mr. Penske to hire you?
NEWMAN: He's a very smart man when it comes to driving a racecar. All you've got to have is a good set of ears and tune into theBuddy Baker station and he'll help you out quite a bit.
SCR: I would guess that he would be more of a seat-of-the-pantsdriver.
NEWMAN: We're all seat-of-the-pants drivers, so we've got to useour voice box to communicate.
SCR: The cars haven't changed so much in the last 20 years thathe's lost touch?
NEWMAN: They still have an engine and four tires and a steeringwheel. And the race tracks, ironically, are still about the same.
SCR: Even with the level of engineering in this sport today, itstill all comes down to what you're feeling on the track?
NEWMAN: It doesn't all come down to that, but it's a big part ofit.
SCR: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
NEWMAN: Don't know. Probably not where I am right now, as far asdoing what I'm doing. But whatever I can do to enjoy life with my wifeand whatever else is what I'll be aiming for.
SCR: Not driving or not driving in this series? Let's clarifythat.
NEWMAN: I would say 10 years will probably be max.
SCR: Any plans of becoming a team owner someday?
NEWMAN: No, don't need that headache. I've seen enough. The risksoutweigh the reward in my opinion. My old car owner, Johnny Vance, oncesaid that you had to be crazy to be a car owner, and he was one.