KANNAPOLIS, N.C.– The echoes of rain falling and thunder booming, and a haunting whisper reciting a long-familiar chorus in music lore – those elements made “Riders on the Storm” one of the most recognizable refrains and songs by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees The Doors.
The evocative refrain and chorus from the 1971 hit will surely come to mind this weekend when Ryan Newman hits the racetrack for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race with the No. 39 Code 3 Associates Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City. The organization’s logo and slogan, “Riders on the Storm Animal Rescue Team,” will be front and center on the hood of Newman’s No. 39 Chevrolet.
Code 3 Associates, formed in 1985, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization specializing in animal rescue and recovery in disaster areas. The Colorado-based organization is a national response team that, at the request of local government officials, provides animal rescue and recovery in times of disaster.
While “Riders on the Storm Animal Rescue Team” might evoke memories of classic rock tunes for the typical race fan, there’s also a good chance the Code 3 Associates logo will be a familiar sight to many at the racetrack and those watching on television.
When a devastating tornado struck nearby Joplin, Mo., just a few weeks before last year’s June race at Kansas, Code 3 Associates arrived shortly thereafter with its mobile command center known as BART (Big Animal Rescue Truck) and its responders assisted in the search and recovery of animal victims displaced by the tornado. Code 3 Associates remained in Joplin before being called to Pierre, N.D., where severe flooding from the Missouri River necessitated the specialty work of the organization for nearly two months.
The partnership with SHR and Newman is a natural fit as animal rescue and welfare is a passion for both Newman and his wife Krissie. In fact, that’s the mission of the Ryan Newman Foundation. In addition to educating and encouraging people to spay or neuter their pets, the Ryan Newman Foundation also encourages people to rescue and adopt dogs and cats from animal shelters.
After a disappointing outing last weekend at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, where Newman finished 20th and lost ground in his quest to be the “best of the rest” – or 13th in points, the highest of any non-Chase driver, Newman wants to get back on the right track.
Kansas hasn’t been the strongest of locales for Newman in recent years. In his past 10 starts, he has just one top-10 finish at the 1.5-mile oval. But despite the recent hiccups at the track, Newman does know what it takes to finish up front at Kansas as he has a 2003 win there and runner-up finishes in 2001 and 2002. His only other top-10 finish came in 2010 with the No. 39 team.
New pavement at the 1.5-mile oval will present a new challenge this weekend for Newman and his team, as well as the rest of the Sprint Cup garage. With this fresh start at the Kansas City track, it is truly anyone’s race to win. And with the added significance of Kansas being Newman’s 400th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start, he wants more than ever to find his way to victory lane this weekend.
While Newman is focused on getting back to top form – he has nine top-10 finishes in his last 14 races – equally important this weekend is the task of raising awareness for animal rescue and the work of Code 3 Associates.
Pulling into victory lane in a downpour of confetti and champagne would be the perfect storm for the No. 39 SHR team, as well as for the dedicated people of Code 3 Associates – the “Riders on the Storm Animal Rescue Team” – who are in a race of their own every day on behalf of animals everywhere.
This weekend will mark your 400th career start in the Sprint Cup Series. Talk about what that accomplishment means to you. “I have to be honest. I hadn’t thought about it being my 400th career start in the Sprint Cup Series until I was asked. To me, that’s just a number. The biggest thing to me is it’s nice to be able to live my dream, so whether it’s my fourth start or my 400th start, it doesn’t matter to me because I am doing what I love. I guess the longevity of it says I’m at least successful at what I do, so it’s nice to be able to be successful doing something I love and making a good living doing it. I’m thankful to have this opportunity and for all the people who have played a role in my racing career, whether its giving me money for tires to get to the racetrack when I was a kid, or changing tires for me in the Sprint Cup Series today.”
Talk about your sponsor this weekend – Code 3 Associates – and the unique connection the organization has to one of your passions, rescuing animals. “We are big fans of Code 3 Associates, and they are big fans of the Ryan Newman Foundation. It’s fun to be able to partner up and have Code 3 Associates on the car. Animal welfare is something that is very important to me and my wife Krissie. We’re in the process of opening up an animal rescue facility in North Carolina. We know firsthand the costs involved and how important it is to create awareness of what you’re doing so you can not only see your project come to fruition, but to sustain it. All the things Code 3 does with animal rescues during times of need, whether it’s catastrophes or natural disasters, is pretty amazing. They are helping out and they are doing what they can to help the animals. That’s what we do through our foundation. Ours is more oriented to the dogs and cats of the world, but we have the same goals. We truly appreciate what Code 3 Associates is about and we’re proud to have them on our racecar and a part of Stewart-Haas Racing.”
It’s kind of a big question mark going into Kansas this weekend because it has undergone a repave since you were there in April. What are your thoughts on the repave and what do you expect this weekend? How do you get a feel back as a driver on tracks after they’ve been repaved? “The thing is, you’ll feel the same types of feelings in the racecar with respect to your seat. But you’re not going to feel the same things on the steering wheel because the tire will be different. That part changes more so than the actual racetrack does. You have to remember the things you’ve learned in the past, but you can’t rely on going back to those. You have to be able to adapt. I say that now, and hopefully I can adapt and be successful, but I look forward to it. It’s a challenge. All the repaves have not been something I’ve necessarily been thrilled about, and I’m not a fan of two days of testing followed by two days of practice and qualifying. But, in the end, we’re all going in there with a clean slate. We still have the opportunity to go out there and win the race.”
Kansas is one of eight racetracks where you have yet to get a pole position in the Sprint Cup Series. At the same time, you have gone more than a year since your last pole at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon last September. Your next pole would be your 50th pole. What would that mean to you? “I really want that 50th pole. I know I’ve said the 400th start is just a number, but that 50th pole is something I want really bad. I was asked last weekend at Charlotte if I was just morally opposed to getting that 50th pole because I’ve been so close several times this year – and in the last two races where I started second at Talladega and third at Charlotte. I told them I thought maybe I was just waiting for a special occasion and I think, since I don’t have a pole at Kansas and it’s my 400th start this weekend, this would be the perfect storm, so to speak. It would mean a lot to me, though, to get that pole and keep alive my streak of having at least one pole every season.”