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Educated racer

If ever anyone was born to race cars, it may be Ryan Newman. A South Bend native and Purdue grad (IDE ’01), he got into racing when he was four-and-half years old. He was a member of the Richard Petty Fan Club and his boyhood heroes included the intimidating Dale Earnhardt and the fearless A.J. Foyt.

Still, NASCAR stardom isn't guaranteed to anyone. Long before Newman won the Daytona 500 and compiled 49 starting pole positions, he came up with a backup plan: getting an education. It's a plan he's now helping to build for others.

With all the racing success you had as a youngster, why did you decide to attend Purdue?

Ryan Newman: I didn't know I could become a professional race car driver. I wanted something to fall back on.

How were you able to tailor an interdisciplinary engineering degree to your sport?

Purdue gave me a better understanding of all the engineering areas of study. The interdisciplinary side of being able to create my own path was what interested me after I found that mechanical engineering was not entirely suited to my desire to become a race car driver.

How do you work with the engineers on your crew?

Because of my schooling, I have a common language with the engineers on my team. We understand each other. So when we go to make a change on the race car, we are more likely to do it the right way the first time, and that definitely helps the entire team.

Do you still work on engines yourself?

I love engines and love working with them. But the race car is their [the crew's] responsibility. I just focus on being the driver.

What's been your proudest moment on the track?

My Daytona 500 win in 2008 when my dad spotted for me and called me down to the start/finish line to take the checkered flag. It was the biggest race that I have ever been a part of because it was the 50th running of the Daytona 500, and I won it. And we did it in style — a 1-2 finish with my teammate. I'm very thankful for all the people who helped me get to where I am in my career, and that win was a tribute to all of them.

Talk about the Ryan Newman Foundation. In addition to the focus on animals, there's a strong educational component. What made you and your wife decide to focus your energy here?

I was a recipient of the Rich Vogler scholarship, which gives kids in motorsports a $1,000 grant. I feel like it is important with my career to be able to give back to the scholarship. From my standpoint, I just want to be able to help kids who want to go to school and who need help. It's nice to be able to get your books paid for and enjoy a couple of semesters.