With a resume that includes racing in the British Formula Ford Championship, Formula Palmer-Audi, and the GP-3 Series, the casual race fan might assume that Josef Newgarden is one of a long line of promising driver from Europe that have made their way to the Verizon IndyCar Series. Certainly the international flavor of the series, combined with Newgarden’s European spelling of Josef, could lead you down that path.
In fact, Josef Newgarden is a young American driver born and raised smack-dab in the middle of NASCAR country in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Newgarden is currently in his third season in IndyCar driving for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, and appears to be on the precipice of breaking through with his first win on any given weekend.
Let’s take a few moments to look at the career of one of the brightest rising stars in IndyCar.
At the age of eleven, the young Newgarden was interested in football and basketball. One day, while out getting a haircut, he asked his dad if they could stop into the skate board shop that was adjacent to the barber shop. In the skate board shop, Newgarden saw for the first time a motorized scooter called a Go-Ped. He thought is was one of the coolest things he had ever seen.
He eventually talked his folks into getting him the Go-Ped, and this set off a passion for anything motorized. In a few years time, he was racing go-karts competitively, and had won back-to-back Championships by the time he was fifteen.
In 2007 he brought his talents to open wheeled cars competing the the Skip Barber series. In two years with Skip Barber, Newgarden amassed ten wins and fourteen pole positions earning him the prestigious Team USA Scholarship. The scholarship brought him to Europe for two years where he competed in the British Formula Ford Championship.
He won ten races in Formula Ford, including becoming the only American to win the prestigious Formula Ford Festival held annually at Brands Hatch. In 2010, he moved up to the GP3 Series where he took a pole position and five top tens.
He returned to the United States when he was signed by Sam Schmidt Motorsports to compete in the Indy Lights Series. In the Lights Series Newgarden was instantly competitive. He won five times and took a total of ten podium finishes in the 14-race season.
He clinched the title with one race remaining on the schedule. He hoped that the title ’2011 Indy Lights Champion’ on his resume would lead to a ride in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
He certainly didn’t have to wait very long. Sarah Fisher, who had recently retired from driving, was looking for a young talent to replace Ed Carpenter on her race team. Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing offered Newgarden a three-year contract in December, a few weeks shy of his 21st Birthday.
While the team still lacks a true full-time sponsor, and relies on one-off deals to pay the bills, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing is a close-knit group with a talented crew, and a team owner who is a veteran of more than ten IndyCar seasons as a driver.
Newgarden meshed well with the team and qualified the car on the front row for the 2012 Long Beach Grand Prix in only his third IndyCar start. He did not manage to finish in the top five in his rookie season, but he was credited with three fastest race laps over the course of the season tying him with Will Power for the most.
In 2013, Newgarden came on quite a bit stronger, particularly on the street courses. He took top-five finishes at Brazil, Pocono, and Houston. In Baltimore, he took his first career podium, finishing in the second spot behind Simon Pagenaud.
His 2014 season thus far has shown tremendous promise. He got his car into the lead at the Grand Prix of Long Beach before being punted into the fence by a charging Ryan Hunter-Reay. Despite the unceremonious tow to the pit lane, there were a number of positives that came out of the weekend for the team.
On the track, Newgarden is as fierce a competitor as any. Off the track, he is a a genuinely nice guy with a great sense of humor and a magnetic personality. You may even come across Newgarden ‘incognito’ at the race track, with cameraman in tow and microphone in hand, interviewing fans that don’t yet instantly recognize him.
He probably won’t be able to do that much longer, as it is only a matter of time before this young talent breaks through to the win column.
Catch Josef Newgarden and the other stars and cars of the Verizon IndyCar Series when they roar into Barber Motorsports Park for the Grand Prix of Alabama on April 27.