By Todd Cohen
STATESVILLE, N.C. — Ryan Newman loves pets.
In part to educate people about the need to spay, neuter and adopt pets, the NASCAR Nextel Cup driver and his wife, Krissie, last year created the Ryan Newman Foundation.
The Statesville-based foundation has raised money by holding special events, and publishing Pit Road Pets, a book featuring NASCAR drivers and their pets.
Supporting Newman’s charity work has been a growing network of foundations formed by NASCAR and its drivers.
Drafting on marketing clout that has emerged and accelerated in the past 10 to 15 years, NASCAR has embraced philanthropy.
The Charlotte-based NASCAR Foundation, formed in January, expects to raise over $1.5 million for charity through special events, up from $55,000 just four years ago raised by the NASCAR community-relations department it replaced.
And most of those donations will be used to support more than two-dozen foundations that NASCAR drivers have created.
“They have passions on the track and passions off the track, and we want to focus on and help promote them,” says Sandy Marshall, executive director of The NASCAR Foundation. “We help our driver charities, and they then go out and help charities they’re passionate about.”
Ryan and Krissie Newman, for example, gave $280,000 to their foundation and hired the executive director of the Humane Society of Catawba County to run it.
The foundation netted $37,000 last November at a fundraising dinner and auction in Phoenix, Ariz., and another $19,600 by raffling a 21-foot bass boat Ranger Boats donated to NASCAR.
NASCAR helped sell tickets for the raffle and co-sponsored it with the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation in South Boston, Va., a philanthropy formed by the NASCAR driver.
The Newmans’ foundation, which also supports conservation education and a scholarship for students interested in motor-sports careers, last year made grants totaling $121,000 and hopes to create a $1 million endowment within five years, says Rosalie De Fini, executive director.
Critical to the foundation’s fundraising efforts, she says, have been partnerships with The NASCAR Foundation and foundations created by other NASCAR drivers.
The NASCAR Foundation provides marketing, public-relations and financial support to the individual drivers’ foundations, and promotes them through its website and viral marketing that let fans learn about and donate to their favorite drivers’ charities, Marshall says.
The foundation also raises money through its national NASCAR Day, and through “On track for charity,” a series of walks that will be held this at several local tracks.
“Fans may never have donated to a charity in the past or thought they could make a difference, but cumulatively they’re making a huge difference,” Marshall says.
Mark Dyer, who is vice president for licensing at NASCAR and chairs its foundation’s advisory board, says the emerging network of NASCAR philanthropies owes it strength to numbers.
“In philanthropy, the power of NASCAR is not just the NASCAR Foundation but the sum of all the philanthropic activity of everyone in our industry,” he says. “On a super-speedway, 10 cars together go faster than one going by itself.”