Josef Newgarden

Some of Josef Newgarden’s biggest fans in Nashville – on two and four legs – will pay extra attention to his race this Sunday in the Big Machine Music Grand Prix.

Newgarden won the PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge earlier this season with his victory at Road America. That win completed a trifecta of triumphs in 2022 on the three different types of circuits on which the NTT INDYCAR SERIES competes – road courses, street circuits and ovals. Newgarden won on the oval at Texas Motor Speedway and on the streets of Long Beach earlier this season for Team Penske.

He earned a $1 million bonus from PeopleReady, to be split between his team and charities of Newgarden’s choice. Newgarden’s charities are Wags & Walks Nashville and the SeriousFun Children’s Network, which each received a $250,000 donation in Newgarden’s name. Newgarden also has earned $10,000 from PeopleReady for each of his four race wins this season, with half going to the team and the other half split between his two charities.

Wags & Walks is a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles and with another location in Nashville – Newgarden’s hometown – dedicated to rescuing dogs and placing them in loving homes. The organization has saved more than 10,000 dogs from euthanasia combined in the two locations since 2011.

Newgarden’s donation was the largest single donation that Wags & Walks has received out of either location, Wags & Walks Nashville Executive Director Kathryn Hurley said.

“We’re just endlessly grateful,” Hurley said. “I can't stress enough that that donation is life-changing for us and the way that we operate.”

For Newgarden, this donation was returning the favor. Newgarden and his wife, Ashley, It was received a life-changing gift of their own through adoption with Wags & Walks – their dog Axel, a 30-pound mutt.

“We’re very happy to be able to get some money to this group because they've done a lot for us and for a lot of people in Nashville,” Newgarden said. “Very thrilled.”

Hurley and the rest of Wags & Walks also are thrilled. Getting to know the Newgardens has been a connection that has benefited both parties and flourished into a strong friendship, even resulting in Ashley Newgarden joining the Wags & Walks Development Committee.

“It’s become this organic friendship,” Hurley said. “I love Ashley. Josef has been so wonderful. It’s been really nice to have such a natural way of connecting with people (the Newgardens) who wholeheartedly believe in what we're doing.”

With this donation, Wags & Walks will be able to do even more. Wags & Walks is using the funds to build a new adoption center, which will open later this year or early 2023 and will double their impact. Other funds will go toward production of medical exam rooms to provide affordable pet care for dogs, ensuring more dogs will receive better medical care access.

Yet, this isn’t all Wags & Walks has gained. Thanks to Newgarden, Hurley and her Nashville staff have become NTT INDYCAR SERIES fans. Before, Hurley had no concept of racing. Now, Wags & Walks hosts team events to watch Newgarden’s races and cheer him.

“To say I’m a fan of him and racing is absolutely true,” Hurley said. “I will forever be rooting for him and tuning in whenever I can.

“To see INDYCAR give back in such an enormous way and harboring a culture that cares about the community is something I was extremely unaware of. It was a huge nod for me that they were willing to back something like that and wanting to make nonprofit and charity a part of their storylines.”

Supporting the community also is something Wags & Walks values. Hurley founded the Nashville chapter because she noticed that since Nashville is more rural than Los Angeles, a lot of dogs were without homes. She sought to change that by planting a chapter in the vibrant Tennessee city.

Now, in just the three years since it opened, Wags & Walks Nashville has rescued 2,200 dogs. This PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge donation and continued support from the Newgardens and the Nashville community will boost Wags & Walks to help even more.

“Just really happy for him being able to come back to where he’s from and having the success that he’s already had this year,” Hurley said. “He continues to do really well.

“We’ll be cheering him on, and I know the rest of Nashville is, too.”