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Behind the Wheel: Martinsville was genesis for Newman's foundation

March 29, 2012, Ryan Newman, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com

Letter from young fan brought tears to Krissie and the couple found their calling

I hope everyone had the chance to enjoy a Bloomin' Onion on me and the No. 39 team on Monday.

For those of you who don't know, each time we finish in the top 10 this season, our sponsor Outback Steakhouse gives away free Bloomin' Onions on Monday. All you have to do is mention my name.

"Our animals love us unconditionally, so be good to them and take care of them. Give your dog or cat an extra treat tonight and tell them it's on me."

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While I'm pretty excited about the opportunity to get another top-10 in my No. 39 Outback Steakhouse Chevy on Sunday and another free Bloomin' Onion on Monday, I wanted to tell everyone why Martinsville is a special place to me and my wife Krissie.

As most anybody who follows the sport knows, one of my passions outside of the race car is animals. I've had a dog my entire life. In fact, Krissie had a dog when I met her -- and I joke that when I met her dog Digger, that's when I met her.

Back in October 2004, I had been out at an autograph session at my souvenir trailer. As we were leaving, a young girl handed Krissie a letter, which made her cry.

The girl's family had taken in a stray dog, but then the dog had puppies and they couldn't take care of them at all. They needed our help. Krissie had our bus driver go back and find the girl who had given her the letter and her family.

The next day, Krissie, along with a couple of our employees, went and got food for the dogs, and we paid to get the dogs spayed and neutered.

I guess you could say our foundation -- the Ryan Newman Foundation -- was kind of born that day at Martinsville. The young girl's letter and that family's situation opened our eyes to the fact there are people out there who either don't understand or have a situation beyond their control to be able to control the animal population.

In our eyes, the last thing we want to do is euthanize man's best friend. Controlling the animal population by spaying and neutering is our ultimate goal. So our foundation tries to educate people and promote spaying and neutering.

Earlier this month, I had the chance to visit the SPCA in Martinsville, which is about a mile up the road from the race track. It's a great facility and I met a lot of great people who work there.

It's fun for me to get to see the dogs. In a perfect world, they would only have one or two, but they have more -- and they had some great animals there for people to adopt. That's one thing people need to understand -- if you think you have to have a specific breed, that specific breed is there for you, waiting to be adopted.

There are dogs there that will unconditionally love you no matter what the breed. But if you are looking for a specific dog, they are there and you can find them.

I'm really proud of what our foundation does and has been able to accomplish over the years. One of the coolest things we have been able to do recently was to help reunite a dog from Afghanistan with the U.S. Army soldier who rescued him.

We helped pay for the cost to get Trigger, who made it safely out of Afghanistan after a 30-day quarantine, from New York to his new home after he was trained.

Trigger is now with Matt, a U.S. Army Special Operations soldier, at his home in the state of Washington. It was an honor for me to be able to help reunite a soldier with his dog, especially considering all that these soldiers do for us in protecting our country.

Our animals love us unconditionally, so be good to them and take care of them. Give your dog or cat an extra treat tonight and tell them it's on me.

Behind the Wheel with Ryan Newman runs twice a month on NASCAR.COM as he shares his experiences throughout the season, both at and away from the track. Follow him on Twitter at @RyanNewman39 and online at www.ryannewman.org and www.ryannewmanfoundation.org. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.