SAN FRANCISCO – Josef Newgarden broke a sweat as Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens was relentless in throwing batting practice before the San Francisco Giants hosted the Chicago Cubs.
Newgarden, who played baseball as a youth and for two years in high school in Hendersonville, Tenn., before committing attention and resources to racing, joined other Verizon IndyCar Series championship contenders at the ballpark to promote the title-deciding GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Aug. 30. It is the fourth consecutive year that the series title will be decided in California and the first for Sonoma Raceway.
Newgarden, Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves and Will Power were presented jerseys with their names and No. 25 -- as a tribute to fellow driver Justin Wilson, who succumbed to a head injury Aug. 24 sustained in a race a day before -- on the back and posed with the Astor Cup – the Verizon IndyCar Series championship trophy – and the Commissioner’s Trophy captured by the Giants in the 2014 World Series.
“It was the coolest thing ever to hit in the cage and work with ‘Bam Bam;’ dude knows how to get the ball in there,” said Newgarden, who grew up a New York Yankees fan (Meulens spent eight years in their system).
“My dad wanted me to be a center fielder for the New York Yankees when I was a young kid,” said the CFH Racing driver, who enters the season finale sixth in the championship standings. “That didn’t work out. Baseball is my second spot; I played since I was 5 years old. You don’t have a lot of go-karts tracks in Nashville, Tenn., and baseball was a big deal.”
Power, from Australia, joked with Meulens if he could pitch a few cricket balls on the field.
“You’re on the wrong side of the world,” Meulens said.
The previous evening, Graham Rahal – the sixth contender for the Verizon IndyCar Series championship in the 85-lap race on the 2.385-mile, 12-turn road course – threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the ballpark.