An engineering degree isn't needed to drive a Sprint Cup car on the NASCAR circuit, but it definitely helps, local high school students learned.
Forty-four students from Fort Mill and Nation Ford high schools were among hundreds of Charlotte-area students who toured Stewart-Haas Racing in Kannapolis, N.C., last Thursday at a U.S. Army-driven event where they saw firsthand how technology and teamwork are key in both NASCAR and the armed forces.
"This was cool," said Caitlin Becker, a Nation Ford junior. "It shows how important an education is in life."
Among the Stewart-Haas Racing personnel who spoke to students was Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet. Newman, last year's Daytona 500 champion, holds an engineering degree from Purdue.
"Never pass up the opportunity to further your education," Newman said.
Students heard from U.S. Army soldiers, Newman and other Stewart-Haas Racing personnel about the value of education, teamwork and technology as young people consider their post-high school futures.
"Our main focus, while there is a little bit of recruiting, is the message to stay in school, about values, about how to be a better person," said Sgt. William Wagoner, with the Army Mobile Exhibit Company, based at Fort Knox, Ky. NASCAR has proven a valuable recruiting opportunity, with NASCAR and the Army sharing principles including "power, strength, teamwork and technology."
Students saw pit stop demonstrations from Newman's U.S. Army team, toured Stewart-Haas Racing and got to ask questions of Newman, Wagoner and other race team leaders.
Wagoner said most students ask about war when talking with an Army recruiter. While war is a reality, Wagoner said the Army is working to sell itself as a leader in educational opportunities and training in cutting-edge technologies.
"Today's youth really don't have the knowledge of what the military is all about," said Wagoner, a 16-year Army veteran.
For the Army, they could not have found a better NASCAR front man than Newman, a man who has won 13 Sprint Cup races while being the only driver to also be an engineer.
"He's a great asset," said Wagoner, who earned his bachelor's degree in marketing management in the Army. "Ryan's a great ambassador for the Army."
Education was a constant message imparted by Newman, telling students that whether they attend Harvard or a community college, furthering education makes them better people. When an emcee was working to liven up the student audience and joked that they were about to hear Ryan Newman, not their algebra teacher, the driver acted as if offended.
"What do you have against algebra?" Newman said.
Newman's message was clear: Whether or not students pursue an Army career, one way or another they should further their education beyond high school. The driver also imparted Army values that his race teams use daily, teamwork and dedication.
"Each and every week there is a race, and that's our battle," Newman said. "And the championship is our war."
The Army's message was central even during pit stop demonstrations, during which Newman's crew ripped off four-tire stops in under 13 seconds.
"It's just like Army training," said Joe Piette, pit crew coach for Stewart-Haas. "If you don't work as a team, it doesn't work."
Considering the demands placed upon the time of NASCAR drivers, Newman said he especially enjoys events like the one Thursday.
"I enjoy making an impact on kids," Newman said. "If I make an impact on just one kid, then I've had a great day."
Newman also went out of his way to meet some of the nearly two dozen Army soldiers in attendance.
The program seemed to have an impact on Becker, who said she has not decided what she will do after high school. But the Army got her thinking Thursday.
It was not Newman's star power that hooked Fort Mill High junior Tristan Albano. It was the technology inside the race shop that left him speechless.
"I never saw tools like that," Albano said. "The machines they have in there are really cool."
The machine shop equipment, in just one small portion of the massive facility, also is worth millions, according to Stewart-Haas personnel.
"Being inside there, seeing these high-tech machines was just amazing," said Matt Roberts, a Fort Mill High junior.
Students raved about the technology behind the cars. Stewart-Haas showed off a room containing equipment that simulates each turn and bump at every NASCAR racetrack, allowing crews to set up a chassis without actually driving the car.
"That even surprised me," said Nation Ford High auto tech teacher Mark Adams. "I've heard about the technology, but coming here and actually seeing it? Wow. It surprises me just how far the technology has come here."