A love of racing becomes the vehicle to help save dogs.
by Anna Cooke – first published in the spring 2009 issue of The New Barker dog magazine.
“Winning the Daytona 500 was a dream come true,” said Ryan Newman, who considers that win a tribute to his father, “for everything he had done for me to support and encourage my career.” As a kid, Ryan’s dad Greg would take him to Daytona each year for the 500. They made fake passes with construction paper and glitter, “so I could sneak into the garage and meet the drivers,” said Ryan.
After the 2008 Daytona 500 win, Ryan said, “I could hear my dad’s tear drops over the radio while he spotted for me as I came to the start-finish line to win.” We caught up with Ryan earlier this year during the week prior to the 2009 Daytona 500. He had just won his first career Modified race at New Smyrna Speedway.
To NASCAR fans, Ryan Newman is known as Rocket Man for his qualifying prowess. To the pet companion world, he and his wife Krissie are known more for their fundraising prowess when it comes to saving the lives of adoptable animals. NASCAR is just the vehicle, so to speak, that drives their efforts. A 2001 graduate of Purdue University with a degree in Vehicle Structure Engineering, the South Bend, Indiana native took his talent and followed his dream straight to the racetracks of NASCAR’s premiere division, the Sprint Cup Series.
Now in his eighth full season of Sprint Cup, the decision appears to have paid off well. In just his third-ever Cup start in May 2001 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway near Charlotte, NC, Newman shot to the top of the speed chart during qualifying and earned the number one spot for the Coca-Cola 600. That feat sent a buzz throughout the Sprint Cup garage circuit: Newman would be a force to be reckoned with during each and every qualifying season. He has not disappointed his fans. In 260 Sprint Cup starts, Newman has earned 43 pole positions, and has led the series in pole wins four times. Time and again, starting in the number one spot has given Ryan a distinct advantage, scoring top ten finishes in half of those races. He has collected 13 Sprint Cup wins, including winning the 50th annual running of “The Great American Race,” the Daytona 500 in 2008.
In 2004, Ryan and his wife Krissie were at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia when a woman approached them. “She handed Krissie a piece of paper that described how the family’s five dogs had been taken from them by animal control and placed into quarantine,” described Ryan. The family knew nothing about spay/neuter and as a result, the dogs continued to mate and produce puppies. They didn’t have the money to care for the growing number of dogs, nor could they afford to have the dogs spayed or neutered.
“The woman knew that Krissie and I were animal lovers and just asked if we would help her by taking her dogs,” said Ryan. It was an eye-opening experience for Ryan and his wife, who had both been thinking about setting up a foundation, but had not really focused full-time on what the foundation should or could do. That’s when the realization hit them both. No one in NASCAR had a foundation that was doing something for animals. And educating people about the benefits of spay/neuter had the potential to save the lives of millions of companion pets each year.
A year later, in 2005, the Ryan Newman Foundation was founded as part of The NASCAR Foundation’s family of charities. The Newmans believe that making a difference should start in one’s own backyard. As residents of North Carolina, the Foundation opened SNIP (Spay Neuter Initiative Partnership) Regional Spay/Neuter Clinic in 2007 in Hickory, North Carolina. Since it’s inception, the Foundation has donated $400,000 to the Humane Society of Catawba County (HSCC) capital campaign to build a low-cost, spay/neuter clinic. The multipurpose facility at HSCC includes the SNIP Clinic, a no-kill animal shelter and an education center. The clinic currently serves ten counties in the heart of NASCAR country.
Ryan and Krissie are also spokespersons for the Humane Alliance’s National Spay Neuter Response Team (NSNRT) which operates much like a NASCAR pit crew. Groups of trained veterinarians and vet techs are sent out to help nonprofit organizations learn how to open spay/neuter clinics using the Humane Alliance model. Since 2005, the NSNRT initiative has trained and mentored 42 organizations across the country, including the Humane Society of Catawba County. Another success story is the Humane Alliance of Western North Carolina, which has operated a nonprofit high volume, high quality, affordable spay/neuter clinic for 12 years. Since it’s inception, the clinic has spay/neutered 180,000 companion animals. The euthanasia rate in the Asheville community has been reduced by 72%, proving to the locals that spay/neuter does work to save lives.
“Krissie is really an integral part of the foundation,” said Ryan. He described how Krissie and Ryan Newman Foundation Executive Director Rosalie De Fini traveled to Gulfport, Mississippi in 2005 with Ryan Newman Motorsports executive assistant, Michelle Croom. “It was September, 2005, a month after Hurricane Katrina hit and destroyed the Gulf Coast,” explained Ryan. The group volunteered and donated a busload of supplies for people and their pets and a tractor trailer load of pet food. They spent a week traveling to New Orleans, Jefferson Parish and Slidell, Louisiana to distribute supplies and food. The Ryan Newman Foundation also donated $19,000 in grants to non-profit animal welfare organizations that were rescuing abandoned animals and helping families with pets.
Though he was named the Dale Earnhardt Toughest Driver of the Year in 2003 by The Sporting News, it’s clear Ryan Newman has a soft spot for animals. Ryan now drives the #39 U.S. Army Chevy for Stewart-Haas Racing. His teammate is two-time Sprint Cup champ, Tony Stewart. His purpose for joining the team was to have fun racing and to win.
With all due respect to the Stewart-Haas Racing Team, Ryan and Krissie are already a formidable team to be reckoned with, having proven themselves winners in the human race.
SIDEBAR from the 2009 Interview with Ryan and Krissie Newman:
Ryan and Krissie currently have five dogs, all adopted.They have fostered as many as 18 dogs at any given time on their 65 acre property in the country. The dogs all have free access to the property.
Digger is a Shepherd/Doberman mix that Krissie brought to the relationship. “She is our tripod. Her leg had to be amputated after an infection developed from a snake bite,” said Ryan. Harley is a Lab/Pit/Boxer mix. Mopar is a Rhodesian Ridgeback mix. “He was abandoned on our property.” Socks, “is a full-blooded Lab from his father’s side, but a full-blooded tramp from his mom’s side,” laughed Ryan. Fred is a Lab/Pit mix, another abandoned dog Ryan and Krissie found and adopted.
When not on the road, a typical day for the Newmans revolves around their dogs. “The toughest thing about having all of them is sharing the love,” said Ryan. “We wake up, feed them and let them outside. Squirrels to dogs are like cotton candy to a kid. Digger knocks on the door to come back in. If no one responds, she will continue to knock every 30 seconds until she’s let inside,” said Ryan. And coming home after being on the road? “They love it when we come home. Digger won’t stop barking for us. They all jump up to greet us. Socks, who has the personality of a cat, is so animated. She jumps on us from behind. Fred…he’s just jealous and pushes everyone away to get our undivided attention. It’s great to come home to them.”
The Ryan Newman Foundation is a 501©(3) nonprofit organization established in January, 2005. The mission of the foundation is to educate and encourage people to spay/neuter their pets and to adopt dogs and cats from animal shelters; to educate children and adults about the importance of conservation so the beauty of the great outdoors can be appreciated by future generations; and to provide college scholarship funding through the Rich Vogler Scholarship program for students interested in auto racing careers. Visit www.ryannewmanfoundation.org.