Josef Newgarden, Ike Taylor, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Ed Carpenter

Ike Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew know what it’s like to perform in miserable weather conditions on the football field. On a rainy, blustery day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, they learned how Verizon IndyCar Series drivers conquer the elements.

The retired professional football players, who now report for NFL Network and are in Indianapolis for the NFL Combine, visited IMS to record an upcoming segment of the show “NFL Now.” Ed Carpenter Racing drivers Josef Newgarden and Ed Carpenter gave the gridiron stars a thrill with rides around the famed 2.5-mile oval in the 2016 Chevrolet Corvette pace car, then let the players get behind the wheel for a few laps.

Both were thrilled and could only imagine what it’s like racing in dry conditions at speed in the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

“The drivers have to be so focused,” said Taylor, former defensive back for the Pittsburgh Steelers. “To blur everything off and be able to go 230 miles an hour average on that track, it’s crazy, man.

“I’ve got a whole new respect for this racing. I’ve watched it a few times but actually getting in the car, talking to Josef, he’s giving me (driving) lines like his coach would. Understanding I’ve got the pit (talking) in my earpiece, I’ve got 30 other guys on the track, I’m going 230 and I’ve got to stay focused the whole way. It’s a lot going on at a fast pace.”

Jones-Drew, former running back for the Jacksonville Jaguars, was just as impressed.

“To handle that much horsepower, to be in that type of shape, you definitely have to train as an athlete,” Jones-Drew said. “I think that’s where people get it wrong. It’s not what you do, it’s how you train. If you are a person that has to work out every day, do certain athletic movements to get yourself prepared to do anything, then you’re an athlete.

“Obviously when you’re driving a car around a track at 230 miles per hour, losing weight and sweating, you’re definitely doing things that most people can’t do.”

The four athletes became fast friends. So much so that they’ve scheduled a “friendly” karting challenge Feb. 28 when Newgarden and Carpenter return from the Verizon IndyCar Series promoter test this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway.

“We all hit it off, so the plan is after we get back from Phoenix, we’ll catch up with these guys and try to do some go-karting, which is even better,” Newgarden said. “Showing them around the track today was fun, but getting on the (karting) track together, being able to race, hang around, I think we’ll enjoy that even more.

“These guys love racing. Now we’ve just got to get them back for the 100th Indy 500.”

Karting event gets motors racing for St. Pete opener

Sebastien BourdaisWhat better way to kick off a racing season in St. Petersburg than with a race? On Feb. 23, drivers from the Verizon IndyCar Series, Mazda Road to Indy and Pirelli World Challenge joined local media members for a karting race at Anderson RacePark in Palmetto, Fla., in advance of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the 2016 season opener.

KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais (pictured at right doing a television interview at the event), Andretti Autosport’s Carlos Munoz and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Spencer Pigot represented the Verizon IndyCar Series. Each professional driver was placed on a team with a local media outlet. Together, they raced in a four-pass relay for the win. Sebastian Wheldon, son of the late two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon, was on hand to drive the official pace kart.

Bourdais’ team was the top finisher among the Verizon IndyCar Series group, in fourth. The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg hits the downtown streets of the city March 11-13.

Stoneman, Dickerson fill Mazda Road to Indy seats

British racing standout Dean Stoneman will make his Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires debut in 2016 with Andretti Autosport. Stoneman will pilot the No. 27 Stellrecht Mazda alongside teammates Shelby Blackstock and Dalton Kellett.

“Dean is a true raw talent and has an incredible, inspirational story,” Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti said. “I can’t think of a better fit for our Indy Lights team and the Mazda Road to Indy program for the 2016 season. We look forward to working with Dean and helping to grow his career in U.S. open-wheel racing.”

Stoneman is a race winner in nearly every category he has competed in, including capturing the F2 championship in 2010. On course to obtain a coveted Formula One ride, Stoneman’s drive was put on hold when diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer at the age of 20, sending him on a 12-month battle to recovery. 

Also, Afterburner Autosport announced that Dakota Dickerson will be driving for the team in this year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system. Dickerson, 19, will compete in a Soul Red race car, a color reserved for Mazda driver development scholarship winners. He earned the scholarship by winning the 2015 Skip Barber Shootout.

“My main goal is to reach the Verizon IndyCar Series,” said Dickerson. “The best way to get there is the Mazda Road to Indy. I’ve been racing karts for 10 years, so it’s been one of my dreams to represent a manufacturer. And I am very proud of the program we’ve put together and to be running under the colors of Mazda is an honor.”