INDIANAPOLIS -- A friendly, furry and often feisty birthday present has become a good-luck charm for Simon Pagenaud.
The Team Penske driver from France celebrated the birthday of his live-in girlfriend, Hailey McDermott, by giving her a Jack Russell Terrier puppy last month. They named him “Norman,” after Lake Norman, where the couple resides outside Charlotte, North Carolina.
Since that dog’s arrival, Pagenaud has reeled off three consecutive Verizon IndyCar Series wins entering today’s 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
“He’s got a perfect record,” the series points leader said while the 13-week-old dog played in his motorhome. “I didn’t expect him to win so many races right away. I thought he’d need time to get used to the car and all that.”
Norman is 8 pounds of non-stop energy from the time he barks to wake everyone in the morning. He turns over the cushions in his playpen, takes whatever he can find to stash under the dining table and loves to test his tug-of-war jaw stretch on stuffed animals.
“He can be a terror,” Pagenaud said, smiling with pride.
A few minutes later, the next description: “He’s fearless.”
A few minutes after that, the puppy is licking a friend: “He’s Don Juan.”
And much like Pagenaud, he has personality to go with good looks, which makes for great TV. Norman did his first television interview at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama: “He’s a natural.”
Bring out any camera and the dog seems to sense that it’s time to put on an endearing puppy face.
“He does his poses,” Pagenaud said. “As soon as he sees the camera, he’s like Zoolander.”
He’s even on Twitter at @NormanPagenaud as a “Fur son.” Just before Friday’s Miller Lite Carb Day practice, Norman was pictured getting a rubdown with the tweet: “Getting my pre-practice massage from @Racerdoc. Preparation is the key to success!”
Pagenaud, 32, grew up loving dogs. He had a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon named Newton that lived 17 years until 2012. There was Domino, a Miniature Pinscher that his ex-girlfriend still has.
Three years ago in May, Pagenaud temporarily adopted Hufflepuff, a 13-week-old chow, from the Humane Society of Indianapolis. He helped that dog, as well as three others, find new homes while participating in the Indy 500.
“They’re cute and I love how goofy a dog is,” Pagenaud said. “Norman is real smart, he picks it up so quick. It’s so enjoyable. And I love to see how happy he is every time he sees you. I could go for five minutes, come back and he’ll be just as happy as this morning when I woke up. I just love the joy he brings me to see that.”
The driver is trying to teach the animal French. That’s more about tone of voice than understanding the words.
Pagenaud displays a recent selfie picture of Norman and him.
“We have the exact same expression,” he said. “Hailey says, ‘He looks just like you.’”
Norman takes some time to pull at a purple crocodile named Pierre, which has a squeaky toy inside that drives the dog to tug with even more intensity. Then Norman spends some moments yanking away on a stuffed monkey.
“That monkey gets abused a lot,” Pagenaud said.
After disappearing for a moment, Norman returns with one of Pagenaud’s flip-flops. That’s getting stashed with the other one in “the den” under the dinner table.
If the day isn’t so swell on the track, Norman is always ecstatic to greet the couple back home. He’s an ideal stress reliever.
Sometimes, though, the puppy can’t help but be a puppy and expend some energy in an undesirable way. One morning, Hailey stepped into the shower and when she came out, a side of the couch was torn out.
“There was no hiding that,” Pagenaud said.
The driver’s No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet will start eighth in today’s race. If he wins, he intends to bring Norman to Monday morning’s traditional winner’s photo shoot on the yard of bricks.
“We’ll give him some milk and he’s going to do the picture on the bricks and everything,” Pagenaud said. “Think they’ll let me do that?”
It’s about time for Pagenaud to depart for another media engagement. But first, he picks up the puppy, who relishes the opportunity to shower his master with puppy kisses.
“Oh my God,” Pagenaud said, kissing back, ‘big French kisses!”