ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (AP) — Up-and-coming IndyCar driver Josef Newgarden could be climbing a different kind of chart soon.
Top-five drivers in the IndyCar series standings aren’t often the subject of a children’s book.
“I can’t tell if he’s been affected by the possibility of being on the New York Times best seller list just yet, but we’ll see,” Ed Carpenter, team owner of Newgarden’s No. 21 Chevy, said with a wry voice.
The book, “Josef, the Indy Car Driver,” debuted last weekend at Road America , where Newgarden finished eighth. It tells the story of how the personable Newgarden got his start behind the wheel, and also serves as an illustrative primer to kids about racing and the IndyCar series.
A book debut alone during a race weekend would have made for a busy few days for Newgarden.
The 25-year-old driver had more pressing issues.
Newgarden broke his right clavicle and hurt his right wrist in a scary wreck at Texas on June 12, when his car slammed on its side and slid along the frontstretch wall with the top of the cockpit exposed.
“Just in the moment, you’re first thinking, ‘OK, no one else hit me,‘” Newgarden said this week. “In those kinds of moments, I get a little claustrophobic. For me personally, I don’t want to be in that space anymore.”
Newgarden was alert through the crash, but passed out after getting out of the mangled wreck. Surgeons used a metal plate to repair his collarbone.
With two weeks to prepare for Road America, just getting back to the track was a question, let alone signing autographs for a new book.
As it turns out, Newgarden didn’t have many doubts about his next move.
“I was with him in the hospital Sunday night in Texas. I knew what his motivation was,” Carpenter said. “I knew it was going to be hard to keep him out of the car. I just wanted to be sure that we could do enough to get him ready to get him cleared, to get the doctors to be comfortable.”
A week later, he was back in a simulator to test how he would feel behind the wheel. After two practice runs around Road America, two days before the race, IndyCar cleared Newgarden to race.
In between the practices, the right-handed Newgarden signed autographs , etching out a modified “JN” with a brace protecting his right wrist.
“His attitude was, ‘If I can drive a race car, I can sign with a Sharpie,‘” recounted Chris Workman, who wrote and illustrated the book .
It was Workman’s second children’s book about the sport after illustrating one about the 24-hour race at Le Mans. The Newgarden book was born out of the author’s affinity for Road America, the 14-turn, four-mile long course in rural Wisconsin.
Workman , who lives in North Carolina, had a mutual friend with Newgarden and made contact around the time of the Indianapolis 500 last year to get in touch with the driver. A fan-friendly personality made the young Newgarden the ideal subject, Workman said.
Newgarden jumped at the opportunity. He viewed it in large part as a way to reach out to what he hopes will be a new set of IndyCar fans, or even drivers and team owners.
“For me, it’s all about the next generation, coming up and filling the footsteps of people before them,” he said. “Naturally, there’s going to be kids who love racing and love cars, and we want to be able to reach those kids.”
Newgarden’s passion for racing started as a child, on a motorized scooter with friends. He later switched to karts, and at age 20 won the lower-level Indy Lights title in 2011.
“Even if kids aren’t into IndyCar racing all that much when they first read it, it shows that you can chase your dreams,” Workman said. “You get really excited about something like that, and be passionate about it.”
Newgarden has made steady improvement over his five years at IndyCar’s top level. He was fifth in the points race after Road America, where he had a respectable top-10 finish after a spin-out in qualifying forced him to start in 20th.
The wrist ended up being more of an issue than the collarbone through the weekend. The next stop on the schedule is Iowa on July 10, allowing Newgarden an extra week to heal. Maybe that race will end for Newgarden will end up just like his new children’s book, where he overtook the leader on the last lap to take the checkered flag.
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