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A crash course in perseverance

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How one employee came back to win after a devastating accident

A black eye and some fractured ribs and vertebrae. Remarkably, those were the only injuries sustained by 412th TW Department Manager Chris Newman in 2019 when he crashed while racing at 190 miles per hour. His custom-built automobile, however, did not fare as well. The 1600-HP Top Sportsman Cobalt was completely destroyed.

Some people would have walked away from the sport after such a devastating accident, but not Chris. A drag racing aficionado since he was just a teenager, Chris was far from ready to hang up his helmet. “I love racing,” says Chris. “And it’s not just about the cars or the speed.”

For Chris, racing was about time spent with family. When Chris was young, he spent hundreds of hours with his father who owned an automotive repair shop. After years of helping his dad build racecars for other people, at age 16, he and his father built their own. They joined the racing circuit and sometimes even competed against each other in the same class. Chris, now a father himself, has passed on his racing genes to his six-year-old son who participates in junior drag racing. For the spouses and children who cheer from the sidelines, racing is truly a family sport.

Thus, despite the accident, Chris could not stay away from racing for long. After a short one-year hiatus, he and his dad started building a new car that they completed last summer. Better and faster, this 2021 Camaro is outfitted with the same $7,000 worth of safety features that Chris credits with saving his life. “I could not have walked away from my accident if I had not gone above-and-beyond on my safety gear,” admits Chris. From the 7-point seatbelt harness to his 15-layer fireproof driving suit, Chris ensured he had far more than the minimum safety requirements set by the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), the drag racing governing body that inspects all cars before a race.

Chris took his new wheels out for his first race in October 2021. Given his all-new set-up, no one expected much of a showing, including Chris himself. It can take years for drivers to become accustomed to their cars, which made Chris’s remarkable win the very next month, that much more spectacular.

Last November, Chris travelled to Las Vegas to participate in a divisional competition, his second racing event in his new ride. Although the event was not televised, there was a great turnout with over 800 competitors. Just two years after his crash and two months after completing his new car, Chris came out on top to win the 2021 NHRA Division 7 Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, the 10th divisional win in his racing career.

Overcoming his accident, however, means much more to Chris than the $2,000 cash prize, as does the sport of racing, which he credits with inspiring him to pursue a career in engineering. “It was actually my love for working on cars that led me to pursue mechanical engineering at Cal Poly,” recalls Chris. “And in a way, racing is also what brought me to the J-Tech contract.” It was a racing circuit friend who secured Chris his first interview with the company then known as JT3. From senior instrumentation operations engineer to director of engineering and operations, Chris has always stressed safety with his colleagues and employees during his tenure with JT4. “I’ve always known it, and now I’ve seen it firsthand: personal protective equipment—it can save your life.” ////

Remains of the 2008 Cobalt after Newman’s high-speed crash where he hit the wall at over 190 mph and barrel-rolled several times.