TULSA, Okla. — Ryan Newman’s return to the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals presented by General Tire was never a question, even after the harrowing crash that could easily have taken his life at the end of last February’s Daytona 500.
If anything, Newman’s desire to come back to the Super Bowl of Midget Racing was made even stronger because of that incident, particularly because of the association he cultivated with the Indiana Donor Network and its Driven2SaveLives initiative.
Newman is in the midst of his second career Chili Bowl appearance this week, back with Clauson Marshall Racing before he tackles another NASCAR Cup Series season with Roush Fenway Racing.
His drive behind the wheel of the No. 00c entry, made possible by the support of Driven2SaveLives, carries a dual purpose: to attempt to win and to continue to bring awareness to the importance of registering as an organ donor.
“My motivation is the same as it has always been — an effort to go out and have fun, but to do that, you’ve got to win and we’re here to win,” Newman said. “I’ve got an excellent team behind me with Clauson Marshall Racing and I’ve looked forward to the opportunity they’ve given me all winter long. What Driven2SaveLives has given us is some additional hope and some additional humbleness to be thankful for the opportunity.
“They’re an amazing story and an amazing initiative and after what happened to me last year in Daytona, it adds a little bit of extra frosting to the cake of what we’re trying to accomplish,” he added. “Being a proud organ donor myself, to be a part of this and having a teammate like Cole Bodine (a second Driven2SaveLives driver), it really all hits home when you think about it. It’s a really important deal for all of us.”
Asked if he ever second-guessed returning to the Chili Bowl after the Daytona accident that put him in the hospital for several days, Newman chuckled before shaking his head.
“My mind didn’t work, so there had to be no doubt about me coming back,” Newman noted. “The reality was that I never lost my desire or drive to be a race car driver and do the things that I love. And racing was one of those things. My daughters are definitely among those things, as well, and the outdoors, I guess, would be the third. This is an amazing opportunity and an amazing weekend. It’s just something that, I feel like, no matter who you are you want to be a part of it.
“I’m humbled to be a part of something that’s so special to so many people because of the number and the name on the car that I’m driving.”
The name bar on Newman’s car carries the name of the late Cade Frey, a Sullivan, Ind., teenager who saved five lives and healed many others through organ and tissue donation in November.
Frey raced quarter midgets in his youth, the same class where Newman began his career years ago.
“With more than 100,000 people waiting for a lifesaving transplant nationwide, I can’t think of a better way to bring attention to the cause and recognize Hoosier organ donors like Cade, who cemented his legacy of saving lives when he signed up to be an organ donor while getting his learner’s permit at 15 years old,” Newman said. “I grew up racing quarter midgets when I was younger and had a lot of fun; that was a stepping-stone to my career.
“It’s pretty special for things to kind of come full circle with myself and CMR honoring Cade this week.”
Newman was already an organ donor before last February, but he admitted that the aftermath of his crash gave him a new perspective on his and Clauson Marshall Racing’s relationship with Driven2SaveLives.
“We had a little bit of a media day back in July and it was kind of the first real shot at talking about what happened in February that I’d had, in reference to the Indiana Donor Network and the Driven2SaveLives campaign,” Newman recalled. “It hit home in many ways. It reminded me how thankful I am for how many people prayed and gave me the opportunity to continue doing what I love. It’s just special.
“We talked about it a little bit (Sunday) night when we went to a team dinner and Clauson Marshall Racing does everything first-class. They do it right; they do it to have fun, but they’re here to win and that’s obviously what drives us,” Newman added. “We’re going to have some fun whether we win or we don’t, but we won’t have quite as much fun if we don’t win. That’s two separate things, I feel like.
“I’ve said this to a lot of people, but I truly am so proud and honored to be a part of it and represent everything that CMR and Driven2SaveLives represents. It’s a special program for a special week.”
Newman’s preliminary night on Wednesday was full of memorable moments, but not necessarily the kind he’d hoped for. He popped numerous wheelies and ultimately biked into a near-flip off turn two during his heat race, relegating him to a C Main.
The Purdue University graduate transferred out of that C Main into a B Main and ended up eighth in the B Main, placing him in an F Main for the alphabet soup lineup of races on Saturday.
He won an E Main event last year during the Chili Bowl finale and Newman will look to march through the alphabet once again on Saturday afternoon.
“Wednesday wasn’t what we wanted, but we’ll get the car ready and see what we can do Saturday,” he noted. “It’s just fun to be here and we’ll see what we can get out of the soup.”
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