By Aisha I. Jefferson
No matter how hard he peddled, NASCAR driver Ryan Newman could not keep up with 7-year-old Connor Hedgecoth.
Hedgecoth, a Stockbridge resident, beat Newman, 27, along with two other boys in his age group during a tricycle race held Friday afternoon at Noah's Ark Rehabilitation Center in Locust Grove.
"(I won) because I am fast," Connor said, adding he often wins running and bike races with his friends.
Newman participated in four tricycle races with boys and girls of varying ages. The group raced around a makeshift, oval-shaped track outlined by cones.
Newman visited Noah's Ark to participate in tricycle races as well as promote NASCAR's Golden Corral 500 Weekend that takes place March 18 to 20 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton.
AMS is the fastest NASCAR track and Newman has been the fastest AMS qualifier for the past two years.
"It's a fun race track," Newman said, who also autographed T-shirts bearing his name on the front for the tricycle race participants.
The NASCAR driver said he got a workout from the race.
"I think you are supposed to wait a half-hour before you can exercise and I don't think I waited a half-hour," he said.
Noah's Ark is comprised of two parts: An animal habitat rescue center and Noah's Ark Children Care Homes, Inc., a group foster care home for abused or neglected children.
"We're actually are a beneficiary of the Speedway's Children's Charities and when they asked us we were just ecstatic to host it," Noah's Ark grant coordinator Tammy Cramer said.
Cramer said this was the first time they've hosted a NASCAR driver.
Tricycle racing was not the only activity Newman participated in.
Before the race, Newman answered children's questions and ate lunch with them. Afterward, he walked with children, some parents and Noah's Ark facilitators and toured an animal habitat that houses exotic animals such as Siberian Tigers and Emus.
Newman said he makes similar appearances as his Noah's Ark visit about five times a year.
After the race, many of the children remained star-struck.
"I'd like riding with him even though I didn't win," said Stockbridge resident Sydnee Smith, 10.
Ten-year-old Jordan Hedgecoth of Stockbridge agreed with her friend Sydnee.
"I got a chance to meet Ryan Newman and I thought that was pretty cool," she said.
A native of South Bend, Ind., Newman currently lives with his wife in Sherrills Ford, NC. He said he began racing with go-carts at 4-and-a-half years old. He has been racing in the NASCAR series for the past three years.