In the pantheon of NASCAR sponsorships, there are few that provide the adrenaline rush Ryan Newman experienced Monday at Fort Bragg, where he felt the kick of a 50-calibre sniper rifle and tried to master mid-air flight in a vertical wind tunnel.
The defending Daytona 500 champion will carry the United States Army colours on his #39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet for 23 races in 2009. If your impression of the Army is that it's more work than play, don't tell Newman.
“That was neat,” Newman said Monday afternoon, after three turns in the wind tunnel, which simulates the free fall of a high-altitude parachute drop. A 3,600-horsepower engine drives the fan that keeps instructors and trainees aloft.
“Physically, that was probably the coolest thing,” Newman said after sampling the firing range, mounting a mock assault and sampling the wind tunnel during his visit to the 167,000-acre base. “I've shot guns before - I've never shot a .50-calibre gun with that much kick - but that was pretty neat just to feel weightless.
“It was really neat flying with two other guys (the instructors), to be able to control your body as it's motionless, basically. It took me till the third time to actually figure out how to do the right things at the right time.”
A hunting enthusiast, Newman is a crack shot. He scored 95 out of a possible 100 in target shooting with a 9 mm Beretta handgun. In a simulated assault, he pumped five or six rounds into the torso of each “bad guy” with an M-4 carbine. Newman displayed such prowess with the weapons that “D” Company Major Pete Kranenburg was only half-joking when he offered to recruit the driver on the spot.
Newman got a surprise when he participated in a live assault with Special Operations Forces, where the team blew open doors with real explosive charges, as reporters protected by helmets and body armour watched from a catwalk above.
“I didn't expect all that,” Newman said. “I thought it was going to be just a mock-up deal. When I saw the 'Laser Shot,' I thought it was like laser tag or something where you just shoot lasers. I didn't expect doors to be flying.”
As much fun as he had on his trip to Fort Bragg, Newman takes the responsibilities of his Army sponsorship seriously.
“I have a ton of respect for the people and the situation that I'm in and the soldiers that are out there fighting for our freedom,” he said. “But there's way more to it than just saying it. It's an honour to fly the flag on my racecar.”
With Newman's defence of the Daytona 500 a month away, owner-driver Tony Stewart has yet to announce a sponsor for the remaining 15 races on Newman's schedule.
“They're working on it,” Newman said. “I know that it's not been easy, and I know that it's awful tough to find the right fit, because you're not going to put an alcohol company on there next to the U.S. Army. And I have requests with respect to that as well.
“But they're working on it. I believe that, especially if we come out of the box strong, we'll be fine.”
by Reid Spencer/Sporting News