Josef Newgarden

While celebrating the first of his two Indianapolis 500 victories in 1992, Al Unser Jr. famously said “you just don’t know what Indy means.”

Thirty-one years later, Josef Newgarden now understands what Unser Jr. was talking about. Most racing fans know of the added importance of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. The largest attended one-day spectator event in the entire world speaks for itself.

However, only 75 humans have ever experienced the thrill of actually winning the race dubbed, “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

It changes lives.

On May 28, Newgarden became one of the 75. The Team Penske driver passed reigning champion Marcus Ericsson on the final lap to win the 107th Running of the “500.” Seven months later, the impact of that thrilling victory still is foremost in Newgarden's mind.

“I love to see the impact of the Indy 500,” the latest race winner said. “It reminds you how special it is. I definitely met more people after winning the ‘500’ or seeing more race fans, more INDYCAR fans after the fact. And I think it speaks to the significance of what the Indy 500 is.

“So, it's only made it more special for me. Realizing that after the victory and seeing how special this race is for so many people, it was very noticeable.

“I think professionally, it's really a transformative experience to win the race. To me, this is one of, if not the greatest motorsport races, in the world. I think it has by far the most history. It’s an honor just to be in the field. And I've noticed the magnitude of this victory more than anything else I've done in my career.”

Newgarden has had an excellent NTT INDYCAR SERIES career thus far. He has won two series championships and his 29 career wins have him in a tie with Rick Mears for 13th place all-time.

To him still, there’s 28 wins and there’s the Indy 500 win. It just means that much.

“When I stop and really think about it, it feels very different,” Newgarden said. “I mean, this race definitely changes everything with regards to a career. I think it makes it more meaningful. There's no way around it. There’s no guarantee that you'll ever win this race, even if you're a deserving winner. That doesn't mean you're going to be given a victory. So, I think that being able to realize that is just something very special and, rare.”

That’s why Newgarden is fully embracing this year-long winner’s tour. On Dec. 15, he came up to Indianapolis from his Nashville home to be honored with the unveiling of his likeness on the famed Borg-Warner Trophy. One of the most famous pieces of hardware in the racing community is reserved for the faces that win the Indianapolis 500.

Borg-Warner Trophy sculptor Will Behrends, felt a special connection to Newgarden and noticed how embracing Newgarden was to the process.

“I've watched Josef (Newgarden) his whole career at Indianapolis and knew it was just a matter of time before he won,” Behrends said. “Ella, my oldest granddaughter (9 years old), picked him to win the race this year. And when Josef came to my studio last September, Ella and her sister, Lanier (8 years old), got to meet him in person. That was a very special moment for both of them, and I was a proud grandfather. The girls made him a friendship bracelet and had him take one home for Ashley and (their son) Kota. It was very special for the girls.

“In Tryon (North Carolina), it was fun to see how Josef enjoyed himself and relaxed for his sitting in the studio. I think he was fascinated by the process of getting his image made and what goes into it, it was fun to see his reaction.”

That reaction has stayed with Newgarden, who says he gets noticed more now since he’s won the “500.” He even tested that theory out while on hand at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While on the second floor inside of the pagoda, overlooking the exact spot to where he climbed through the fence to celebrate with the fans following his “500” win, a moment that will forever go down in history, Newgarden noticed the “Kiss The Bricks Tour” that is done through the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum.

When the group stopped and looked at that exact spot in the fence that Newgarden jumped through, he said, “Let’s go down there and surprise them. We’ve got to go.”

That’s the kind of person Newgarden is. That was his idea. He wanted to fully embrace this Indianapolis 500 winner’s role and took it upon himself to go chat and take pictures with the unexpecting tour group.

Folks on that group were from Louisiana, Mexico and Poland. Newgarden was generous with his time with all and even talked about that day and how his decision came about to have the celebration that he did.

Now, he wants to do it again. He wants more and those famous words by Unser Jr. ring true in Newgarden’s head.

“I think for me, the only thing that has stood out was that I had always had a deep desire to win this race, and I've always worked hard every year to try and realize that goal,” he said. “I've never felt more energized and motivated to win the race than I do now after winning it. That's the thing that's changed for me.

“I was always motivated before, but now having actually won it, I've never wanted to win it more. I just think that's something I couldn't have known without going through it.”

“I don't know what it is. It's not even that I don't want someone to take the thunder. It's just that you know how special it is and after the effort that everybody puts in. It's a sacrifice from everybody for an entire month. And when you don't win this race, it's demoralizing and crushing. And the high that you get from winning it is something I've never experienced before. So, you want to experience it again. Yeah, so the motivation is even more now having done it.”