From 'Little League dad' to proud father of INDYCAR champion

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(This story originally appeared as exclusive content on the Verizon INDYCAR Mobile app.)

More than 100 times, Joey Newgarden made the five-hour drive north on I-65 from Hendersonville, Tennessee, outside Nashville and then east on I-70 to take his son, Josef, to New Castle Motorsports Park east of Indianapolis.

Josef Newgarden was just 13 when the trips began. From 2004-2008, the Newgardens would make the trip to New Castle to race karts at the facility owned by former Verizon IndyCar Series driver Mark Dismore.

The younger Newgarden honed his skills so that, by the time he was 15, he stepped up to Skip Barber cars.

Mention the term “Little League dad” and the vision conjured up is the overbearing, overprotective father who believes his son is the best and goes to great lengths to tell the world. Joey Newgarden preferred to remain private but that didn't mean he wasn't supportive.

He simply preferred to let Josef be the story.

“The term ‘Little League dad' is the actual precise definition of what I was,” Joey Newgarden told the Verizon INDYCAR Mobile app. “Of course, I was. Josef was my only son. I have two daughters that are older than him. I didn't want Josef to have to make his way through life by going into the family business.”

The elder Newgarden was in the photography business but never finished college. He wanted his son to get a college education and believed sports might provide that opportunity.

“I wanted to see him go to college, get a degree and become a doctor or lawyer or something like that,” Newgarden said. “I felt like baseball was his ticket to that. When we went to New Castle, he was in his 10th year of playing baseball and his seventh year playing basketball. I was his city league basketball coach.

“I tried to be the most polite ‘Little League dad' around at the baseball fields, basketball courts or at the racetrack. There are people out there that don't handle themselves in the most professional way or even a polite way sometimes. I always tried to (be polite). But if you want your kid to get ahead, you have to learn how to win, the way to lose and the right way to lose.

“Did we have a vision? Yes, and that vision started when he was 4 years old.”

The Newgardens traveled to New Castle in a Chevy Suburban. Young Josef would often sleep in the back and his father traveled at night. Sometimes, they would stay at a hotel in New Castle. Josef recalled father and son sleeping in the same bed when doubles were not available.

Just 13 years after Josef Newgarden's karting career began, the Newgardens stood on the championship stage at Sonoma Raceway celebrating Josef's 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series championship in his first season with Team Penske. Josef’s second-place finish Sept. 17 in the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma finale clinched the title.

“He came into the championship race pretty open-minded and it was the end of a tremendous year,” Joey said. “But he is thinking of bigger, better and more. There are multiple championships. There is the Indy 500. There is the Daytona 500. There is the 24 Hours of Le Mans. There is the 12 Hours of Sebring.

“It was a great, great victory for him and I'm really happy that he got that. But he was testing the aero kit (to be used by all teams in 2018) at Sebring on Sept. 26. That is part of his responsibility now – representing the series and I'm sure he will do a great job with that.”

Newgarden spent his first five Verizon IndyCar Series seasons with teams owned by Sarah Fisher and Ed Carpenter. He was well prepared to step up to Team Penske in 2017.

“It was like going to college, then to graduate school and then getting hired by the big-time law firm,” Joey said. “Once he got hired, he hit it out of the park.”

Young Josef delivered with a series-leading four wins, one Verizon P1 Award and his first Verizon IndyCar Series championship.

“We knew we had the winning hand,” Joey said. “Everybody played their cards and anybody that watched Josef that weekend knew he was going to do what he needed to win championship.

“I'm a proud dad. He might be the luckiest kid in the world and I might be the luckiest dad in the world. That's the only way I can describe it. We went out and did it and it was fantastic to see. But he's got a lot more to do in his career before he is done.”

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