Josef Newgarden

(This is the latest in a series of stories tracing the roots of Verizon IndyCar Series drivers through their own words. We’ll look at where they grew up and what first sparked their interest in racing. Today’s subject: 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden.)

Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden recently discussed his memories of growing up in Hendersonville, Tennessee, with writer Phillip B. Wilson.

Wilson: Hendersonville is known for Johnny Cash and his wife back in the day?

Newgarden: Johnny Cash’s house was not far from mine. It was probably a couple of miles, so you could go over there and see it.

Wilson: So the city signs will say “Home of Johnny Cash” and “Home of Josef Newgarden.”

Newgarden: (Laughs.) Not quite like that.

Wilson: What was your earliest childhood memory?

Newgarden: I think my earliest memory was Drakes Creek Park. It’s basically a local baseball/soccer field, where I used to play city baseball.

Wilson: Position?

Newgarden: I was third base, centerfield and then catcher later on.

Wilson: Scouting report on Josef Newgarden, baseball player?

Newgarden: Man, I think I lost my baseball touch. I threw a baseball in the dirt (on a ceremonial first pitch) at a Detroit Tigers game last year, which is like super unimpressive, right? They kind of made me nervous. They said, ‘Don’t throw the ball hard.’ I hadn’t thrown a baseball in 10 years, so I tried to softball it.

Wilson: But back in the day?

Newgarden: Back in the day, I was OK at baseball. I probably was not a pro player in the future, but I was OK. I could play pretty well.

Wilson: And you’re stick?

Newgarden: Oh, I was a good hitter. I wasn’t scared.

Wilson: So you were more of a stick than a glove?

Newgarden: Yeah, I was more of a hitter. I was not scared of the ball, I was up to the plate and I could hit pretty well.

Wilson: So that’s what you remember, the first clutch hit, the thrill and joy of playing?

Newgarden: Yeah, we were always Team Yankees. Each city team had a designation for a Major League Baseball team. I was always a Yankees fan growing up because of that.

Wilson: Is there anything else Hendersonville should be known for?

Newgarden: You’ve got Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift was in “H-ville.”

Wilson: Anything about school?

Newgarden: I wasn’t there a lot in high school because I was racing.

Wilson: Would they remember you?

Newgarden: Probably not. I have no idea.

Wilson: Prom?

Newgarden: I didn’t go to prom. I was in Europe racing. I was in England.

Wilson: Was this Hendersonville High School?

Newgarden: No, that’s where Taylor went. I went to a Catholic school actually, Pope John Paul II.

Wilson: So if they put up a picture of you some day, people will be like, ‘I don’t remember him.’

Newgarden: Probably not. I do not deserve a picture of me anywhere at a school in Hendersonville because no one would know what it means. There would be no significance to it. They would be like, “Who is this guy?”

(Check out Josef Newgarden's biography here. Also read previous “Racing Roots” entries on Marco AndrettiSebastien BourdaisScott Dixon and Ed Carpenter.)