Ryan Newman is putting his money where his mouth is when it comes to his support of grassroots racing at short tracks throughout America.
While visiting New Hampshire Motor Speedway this past weekend for the NASCAR Cup Series event, the Richard Childress Racing driver strapped in behind the wheel of a Modified for Saturday’s NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race at “The Magic Mile.”
After finishing third in a thrilling conclusion to the race, Newman spoke to reporters about his involvement within the grassroots ranks.
“You watched it…right there,” Newman answered when asked why he competes in a Modified each year at New Hampshire. “That’s good racing, good drivers, it’s fun and it’s simple. Ain’t a guy on the team that has a computer. It’s just the way that racing is supposed to be in my opinion.”
Since the 2008 season, Newman has competed in at least one NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event each season. He has previously scored victories at both NHMS and Bristol Motor Speedway (TN); however, his only victory since the 2011 season came in the Whelen All-Star Shootout exhibition race at New Hampshire in 2014.
During a time when many in the NASCAR Cup Series garage are becoming more vocal about grassroots racing, Newman shrugged off the thought of more drivers competing in the Modified race.
“I’d rather be here on this weekend and see a bunch of guys like Chase (Dowling) that might eventually get to race on Sunday someday, rather than guys that come back and so to speak cherry pick,” Newman said. “That’s not what I’m here for. I feel like I’m at somewhat of a disadvantage when I come show up here because I don’t get a chance to shake these cars down very often. To come out, win the pole and have a shot at the win says a lot about our team. Having some confidence in the car, the engine and everything else. But I think it’s fine just the way it is.”
Newman is not the first NASCAR Cup Series driver to comment about grassroots racing in recent years. Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick have also taken their turn at bringing national attention to the short track ranks.
Like Newman, Busch is another NASCAR Cup Series driver who has supported a variety of short track racing events in recent years including the Snowball Derby, Dixieland 250, Kalamazoo Klash, Vermont Governor’s Cup, Winter Showdown and Money in the Bank 150.
Larson, who frequently competes at dirt tracks when his schedule allows, grabbed national headlines in 2017 when he claimed that, “We’ve lost touch with our grassroots racing fans.”
Harvick followed that up in March at ISM Raceway (AZ) when he pleaded for a better connection between the higher levels of NASCAR and grassroots racing.
Since his comments, Harvick has competed in a NASCAR K&N Pro Series West event at his home track of Kern County Raceway (CA) and sponsored a weekly contingency program for Stafford Motor Speedway’s (CT) SK Modified division.
Speaking with RaceDayCT.com last week, Newman expressed frustration with what he believes to be a lack of action from Harvick following his comments.
“That’s kind of a touchy subject I guess you could say because I haven’t seen Kevin Harvick do anything other than a little sponsorship for grassroots racing,” Newman said. “We’re going to run the truck at Eldora. We’re going to run the Modified at New Hampshire. We’re going to run the (USAC) Silver Crown car at IRP (Lucas Oil Raceway).”
In his discussion with RaceDayCT, Newman explained exactly why he believes the connection between the highest levels of NASCAR and grassroots racing is so important.
“Grassroots racing is extremely important. It keeps our core NASCAR fans in touch with reality so to speak,” Newman began. “Because reality being, we’re not there every weekend as a traveling sanction to be in touch with those fans. They need short track racing to keep them in tune with good racing and for when the big boys come to town. I think it’s always important for us to have banks for short track racing and make sure that short track racing is strong because that keeps our core fans – from a NASCAR sanctioning body standpoint – engaged with our sport, with our drivers, with our sponsors and collectively ties everything together.”
Although Newman denied feeling as though he has a personal responsibility to support grassroots racing, he did acknowledge that he hopes what he is doing can and will make a difference.
“I don’t feel a personal responsibility,” he said. “I want to come here, win races and put on a good show. Today, like I said, it’s sad to say that it’s fun when you don’t win when you race like that. It was still fun, but I’m here to win.
“I don’t get in the race car and put my helmet on because I feel a responsibility to grassroots racing, but I want to know that I’m doing my best and it makes a difference for grassroots racing.”
Making a difference for grassroots racing is what everybody at NASCAR’s highest level – drivers, teams and the sanctioning body – should be aiming for. Without a solid foundation, it’s not as easy to build an empire.
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor - Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51.com