Former NASCAR Driver of the Year Ryan “Rocket Man” Newman knows what it’s like to start at the bottom. The son of a car mechanic who never realized his own driving dreams, Newman’s love of racing began when he was just 4 years old.
Despite modest means, his parents helped finance his childhood hobby and made sure he got first-hand exposure to the racing world. To save money on one trip, Newman and his father drove nonstop from their home state of Indiana to Florida to watch the Daytona 500, camping out in a Cracker Barrel parking lot. Many years later, in 2008, Newman would win that race.
Now, Newman, whose career spans 18 years, is part of the Roush Fenway Racing team and sat behind the wheel of the bright-green Acorns #6 Ford Mustang in the QuikTrip 500 on February 24. We caught up with him recently to talk about the money lessons he learned growing up, his investing style—and why recklessness (both on and off the track) never pays off.
What inspired you to become a NASCAR driver?
My dad always wanted to be a race car driver, [and] he passed his desire on to me. I grew up being a stock car and NASCAR fan. I was a big fan of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. I wanted to race against those guys—or against guys like those guys—and I’m fortunate that my parents gave me that opportunity.
When I was 4 and a half years old, they took me to the racetrack and put me in a quarter midget [race car]. Ever since, I've been behind the wheel. It’s not very often that your dream comes true, so I'm pretty blessed to be in the position I am.
[Editor’s note: Newman would go on to win more than 100 features and several championships and be inducted into the Quarter Midget Hall of Fame.]
How has your money management style changed since you've found success?
I'm still a penny pincher. [I don’t] leave the lights on in the house, leave the door open when it’s cold out or waste food. Outside of the small things, I try to make [money] decisions that are best for myself and my family. I’ve got two daughters, so I want to be able to put them in a position where they don't have to worry about paying for college and things like that.
Are there any professional lessons you've learned that could also apply to financial journeys?
Recklessness doesn't usually pay off. You can’t win a race on the first lap, and you can’t earn your retirement in the first month.
What money lessons did you learn growing up?
Don't spend what you don't have or what you can't pay off.
What’s been your smartest money decision?
Just saving. [It’s not enough to] just have a balanced budget, [where you spend what you earn]. You need to have savings.
What’s your investing style?
I invest to make a difference for my future—to grow [what I’ve earned] and let my money make money.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.