Stronger as a Team
Waiting for the green flag at his NASCAR debut, Ryan Newman felt butterflies in his stomach for the first time. He’d started racing competitively at age 4. Over the next 20 years, he had worked his way through the ranks of motorsports, racking up countless victories at dirt tracks across the Midwest. Now, at age 23, he was preparing to race 40 of the best stock car racers in the world in front of 115,000 fans who had gathered in the Las Vegas sun.
“I felt a lot of pressure in that first race,” Ryan admits. “A lot of big wins had helped me get there, and a lot people had put their faith in me, to give me that opportunity.” But by the time the team arrived in Charlotte the next weekend, the butterflies had all but vanished. Ryan set the fastest qualifying time for that race, beating four-time Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon for the pole and establishing himself as a contender for the title.
As he starts his 17th season, the Cup championship is still in his sights. “I love being able to compete,” he says. “In NASCAR, you have to have dedication, desire, persistence, and ability. Winning the championship race in Miami this November has become the ultimate goal.”
A Team Effort
Racing may seem like an individual endeavor, but Ryan is quick to credit his team for their hard work behind the scenes. “It’s really the ultimate team sport. What you see on TV is less than five percent of what goes into racing. We have a team of 400 people who work around the clock to make this happen.”
One of those team members is Ryan’s father, Greg. Racing has long been a family affair for the Newmans—Ryan got his start racing a quarter-midget car his father had restored in the family’s auto repair shop. “Having my dad as part of the crew has meant a lot.”
In 2008, Ryan got to share a special victory with his father. “Dad was my spotter at Daytona, and he called me to the flag when I won. That was special—when I was a kid, he used to pull me out of school and we’d drive all night down to Daytona to watch the races. To have him help me win at that track was my proudest accomplishment.”
The High Tech Setup
The NASCAR formula may seem antiquated—the cars run on cast-iron V-8’s, without the benefit of overhead cams or turbochargers used on modern high-performance engines—but behind the scenes, Ryan’s team uses advanced technology to stay a step ahead of the competition.
Inside the car, Ryan’s instrument cluster may look old fashioned, but its dials are actually part of a high-tech LED “digital dash” that logs every reading for the crew to review. “I’m set in my ways,” Ryan says of the old-school analogue appearance, “but the digital dash lets me see the car’s oil and water temperature readings in greater detail than I ever could with needle gauges.”
Before the team heads to the racetrack, they run countless simulations to determine the ideal suspension setup. “We have several ways of learning about the car before we get to the track. This seven-post rig replicates the car’s high-speed performance,” he says of the shop’s hydraulic simulator. The platform rapidly pulsates beneath each of the car’s wheels independently, simulating the intense vibrations the chassis will undergo as Ryan brakes into a banked turn at 150 miles per hour.
“We also have a computer simulator that allows us to virtually set up the car,” he says. “We can fine tune everything from shocks to aerodynamics and see how it will perform in real life. So, before we go to Atlanta, we will have run a hundred different setups on the simulator to tell us what configuration we should show up with.” The technology helps his team stay competitive. “It puts us a couple steps ahead before we get to the track.”
“At the end of the day,” he says, “you’re stronger with your team. My favorite part of driving is being able to compete in a car that we’ve all worked so hard on.”