MARTINSVILLE, Va. – official release — Martinsville Speedway photo — Ryan Newman got a grand send-off into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship Wednesday with a loud and enthusiastic pep rally at Martinsville (Va.) High School.
There were cheerleaders, a marching band, mascots, cheering fans and 16 young men with “MHS Hearts Ryan Newman” painted on their chests in school colors.
The event was part of the Chase Across North America Media Tour which featured Chase drivers visiting cities across North America. But there were none with more enthusiasm and excitement than the one hosted by Martinsville Speedway at Martinsville High School.
Newman entered the football stadium in his No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet, circling the field four times and revving the engine to the delight of the more than 600 students gathered in the grandstand as the Bulldog Marching Band played the school’s fight song.
He was escorted to the stage by the Martinsville High School mascot, walking through a double line of cheering cheerleaders. He was awarded a Martinsville football jersey … No. 31, of course, by team captains, and also received an honorary athletic letter for every sport in the school.
Newman was especially pleased with the athletic letter. “I never received a high school letter because I was off racing,” he said.
It was back to school in more ways than one for Newman. With help from students, he learned how to operate a robot, play the bass drum, lead a cheer, and participated in a punt, pass and kick competition with members of the football team.
“The cheerleading was probably the worst part of the day and I chose not to make it any worse than it was,” Newman laughed as he talked about the experience later in the day. “The best part to me, was putting a smile on people’s faces. And driving the race car around (the football field). The kids that were there probably will never get to see a race car driven around their track again.”
Newman also took a few minutes to turn the event into a learning experience for the high school students.
“You learn a little about math, a little about physics in the different classes they teach you, but the two things that are the most important that you will use in everyday life, and that you have used in everyday life that you need to learn how to do better are time management and problem solving,” explained Newman.
Newman spent a lot of time with the students, posing for countless selfies on stage, and then huddling with members of the football team and school administrators after a media gathering to talk about school, racing and life in general.
“The most important part and the most fun part of me today was having some kind of impact on the kids,” Newman said. “They really are not kids, but people that are highly influential and getting ready to make important decisions in their lives. They are not 12 years old, not eight years old. They’re probably all going to be 18 if not already and they are getting ready to have an impact in our lives. So having that positive impact is important to me.”