Caitlyn Brown

Josef Newgarden went back to work Friday in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear. So did Caitlyn Brown.

Newgarden is the more known of the two Team Penske employees, the one who drove to victory in last weekend’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and poured the ceremonial bottle of milk on his head. But Newgarden got to the Victory Podium at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with considerable help from Brown, who was part of the team standing behind him.

Pit crew members are the unsung heroes in motorsports, their work often the difference in track position, particularly at a venue like IMS, where passing amid relatively equal equipment can be challenging. Brown is one of those key contributors, the left-front tire changer on Newgarden’s car. Her full-time work is focused on the rear of the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet.

Brown isn’t the first woman to go over the wall in the “500,” but she is believed to have been the first to do so on a winning car. And officially, that’s two NTT INDYCAR SERIES wins for Brown, who also was over the wall servicing Newgarden’s car April 2 when he won the XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Team Penske president Tim Cindric said Brown has a career runway that “is really long.”

“If she’s patient and she continues to be in the right place and do the things she’s doing now, kind of the sky’s the limit for her,” he said.

Brown’s contributions largely go unnoticed because of the quiet approach she takes and the helmet she wears on race days. If not for the blonde ponytail, it’s likely few among the IMS crowd of 325,000 would have noticed her gender. She appreciates that being the case, so much so that when asked Friday about her part in the team’s achievement she couldn’t finish the response without getting emotional.

“I don’t know that it’s set in still,” she said being the first woman to have such a role on a winning car. “When I first realized it was when (a reporter) standing there and (took a photograph). It kind of hit me then. You don’t really realize how big it is until later on.

“It’s really special to me and my family and how I was raised and stuff.”

Brown was raised in the Chicago suburb of Wilmington, Illinois, in a family of motorsports enthusiasts, and she got her start in the sport in 2019 as a shop mechanic in Team Penske’s NASCAR program. Quicker than even she could have expected, she went from a fuel cell specialist to a traveling mechanic to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES program in 2021. When Team Penske aligned with Paretta Autosport to field Simona De Silvestro’s “female forward” program, Cindric said Brown was the first to raise her hand. She was on De Silvestro’s car for the ’21 “500.”

“We watched how hard she worked at it,” Cindric said. “(The women) came in at 5 in the morning to (practice) pit stops before the rest of our pit stop practices started internally, and she worked her butt off. She earned the respect of the crew and, obviously, we had some of our mechanics on that crew while it was here (in ’21), and they said, ‘Look, she deserves a chance on these cars if she wants it.’

“And then she worked really, really hard to earn her way and earn her spot changing the left-front tire on Josef’s car. She’s solid; she is solid. She’s all business.”

Brown said there was no looking back when she realized there was an opportunity for her to go over the wall in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.

“For me, I look at it as the fun part of the job,” she said. “Getting to go over the wall and change tires on race weekends is the fun part. You’re the one getting it done and getting the pressure put on you, to get your driver to the front if you need to and perform each race. That was motivating for me.

“I said if that’s an option, that’s what I want to do.”

The job is not without potential peril, and Newgarden said he came closer to Brown than he wanted on a pit stop during the preseason test at The Thermal Club in Southern California. Brown said she doesn’t remember that moment as she was focused on doing her job.

“It’s part of the job – everyone out there has to be able to react and be ready for anything thrown at them,” she said. “This weekend at Detroit with a split pit lane, I think it’s going to be very busy for everyone on pit lane, and it’s what we work for and train for. You’ve just got to be prepared for anything.”

Cindric understands Brown’s on-track contributions as well as anyone in the organization because he is Newgarden’s race day strategist. From a seat on the pit stand, Cindric is working one of the closest roles to inside tire changers, so he can clearly see everything they do.

Perhaps Brown’s most significant moment of the “500” came during the final pit stop, and Newgarden added to the stress by coming in more aggressively than usual.

“He definitely locked (the tires) up pretty good, so there was a moment of ‘Oh, no, he’s coming in hot,’ (and) we don’t know where he’s going to stop for sure,” she said. “You’ve just got to do your job and perform and do the best you can to get him in front.”

Brown, who aspires to be a chief mechanic, has received considerable attention in the days since last weekend’s race, so much so that Cindric joked that he’s become her agent.

“I signed her up,” he said, laughing. “I told her all the notoriety she has (received) she’s going to have to have an agent, and it might as well be me.”