The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, the current IndyCar points leader. These interviews are recorded as a podcast but are also transcribed for those who prefer to read.
1. Are you an iPhone person or an Android person, and why?
I’m definitely an iPhone person. I’ve always had Apple products; probably a bit of a fanboy of Apple. I see people go back and forth on the debate where (they say) the capabilities of Android are probably better and the infrastructure people say is better to some degree. But I’ve just always liked Apple products. I like the styling and the design. I remember when the very first iPhone came out and I was so pumped for that and I got the very first iPhone.
You were an early adopter?
Oh yeah, I was right away. I actually remember, Apple had a partnership with a different cellular brand (other than Verizon) — I don’t know why, because they could have chosen a better cellular brand for their partnership for sure — but they came out with a phone that had the iTunes button it. And you could put music on your phone, and that was like really cool to me, because I always listened to music when I was younger. From that moment, I was like, “Man, they’ve got to do something more with phones.” And then obviously the iPhone came out pretty soon afterwards.
But why I use an iPhone is because I integrate everything on Apple. Like I have an Apple computer, I have an iPad — when I need something lighter for travel I’ll use my iPad — and it’s all integrated. Everything that I do is over Apple, so I try to keep it consistent.
2. If a fan meets you in the paddock, they might only have a brief moment with you. So between an autograph, a selfie or quick comment, what is your advice on the best way to maximize that interaction?
If you’re asking me what’s most impactful? A comment is most impactful. It’s great to give a photo, it’s great to give an autograph, and that’s going to last. But I think the personal interaction is what matters most. Whenever you meet someone and you truly meet them instead of just trying to run through people — because it’s hard. You get pulled left and right when you’re walking through the paddock and you don’t want to just brush people off; it’s easy to get caught up just focusing on what you’re doing.
But if you give them a genuine amount of attention and say, “Hi, nice you meet you,” and you maybe learn a little bit about their story or where they’re from — Are they here locally? Did they travel in? — and you give them a nice comment about the track or what you’re doing or thank them for coming. I think as long as it’s meaningful and genuine, that goes the furthest than anything else. I think people will appreciate that the most, in my opinion.
3. When someone pulls a jerk move on the road when you’re driving down the highway, does that feeling compare at all to when someone pulls a jerk move on the track?
No, because it’s more of a jerk move on the track. Because the people driving the race cars know what they’re doing, generally, so when it happens, it’s very purposeful.
You kind of have to take into account that there’s a lot of people on the road in the U.S. who just are so unaware and don’t know what’s going on half the time. So they may have done something to offend you and they have absolutely no idea why — or they’re not even aware that they’ve offended you. So to me, it’s way more of a jerk move on the racetrack.
4. Has there ever been a time where you’ve had a sketchy situation with your safety equipment?
The biggest thing that happens is belts that come undone. That’s a very scary situation. I’ve had that happen once in my career — thankfully only once. It was at a road course, too. I think at an oval you’d be even more timid if your belt came loose or unbuckled.
What happened to me was I had my left side harness, my shoulder strap unbuckled. And I was like, “I don’t know what to do in this situation.” So I just kept on driving. And then fortunately, I’m pretty sure we had an exhaust failure, like I caught on fire and I had to come into the pits and I retired the race, thankfully. So like it coincided with this terrible safety issue. But that’s the one I hear about a lot.
Oh! I have an even better one. I have had a wheel fall apart in my hands while driving down a straightaway at 150 miles an hour, going into like a 40 mile-an-hour right-hander on a street course. Walls really close, not a lot of runoff, and the wheel literally just came apart.
It’s not like you can just put it back on. I’ve seen that before where guys have the wheel come off. I think Dale Jr., it happened to him once — the wheel popped off and he put it right back on immediately and he was fine.
This thing like, the bolts fell out of it. The hub was completely disconnected. So I just had the wheel in my hands and just fortunately the caster of the car just straightened it out and I just went into a runoff zone and I didn’t hit anything. So then I radioed in — I was like, “Hey, I’m just sitting here. I have the wheel in my hands. I can’t go anywhere. You guys have to come get me.” So that was the worst situation that’s ever happened, and it I think it was quite embarrassing for everybody. But yeah, you don’t want your wheel to just fall apart in your hands when you’re doing 150 miles per hour.
Where was this?
St. Petersburg. I think it was 2013, it was my second year in IndyCar.
5. If your team put a super secret illegal part on your car that made it way faster, would you want to know about it?
Yeah, I think I would, because I’m a control freak, and I crave information — but in a positive way. Like I feel the best when I have the most knowledge of something, whether it’s the session we just ran or the way I’m driving the car. I want to have as much knowledge as possible and understand everything. So I think I would want to know about it.
But at the same time, if I didn’t know about it and we were just fast, it wouldn’t bother me. You asked me if I wanted to know, and I’d want to know, but it wouldn’t bother me if I didn’t know.
6. What is a food you would not recommend eating right before a race and are you speaking with personal experience with this recommendation?
I would definitely say don’t experiment too much, which I struggle following myself. It’s hard to not experiment on race weekends. It depends on the driver. If you drive a race weekend where you’re in your motorhome for instance or if you take a motorhome to the track then you can generally control the food you’re eating for the weekend. There’s a lot of guys that don’t do that. I don’t have a motorhome, and outside of the Indy 500, I don’t take a motorhome anywhere.
So I’m at hotels, and finding food is different every night then. You’re going to all sorts of restaurants so it’s hard to not experiment and eat different stuff. But that’s where you get in trouble. Sometimes if you experiment with like a seafood dish, it’s probably unwise, but it’s definitely bit me before.
But then you also get bit by things that you think are fine. I had a lamb dish last year at the season finale — it was just lamb. You know, lamb’s a pretty safe choice, I would think! But I got food poisoning the night before the race in Sonoma last year. So you just never know, it can bite you whenever.
But yeah, seafood to me is the most risky thing in the business. If you’re eating seafood, make sure it’s at like a reputable establishment. That’s the best advice, I would say.
7. Is there life in outer space, and if so, do they race?
I hope so. Goodness, I hope so. I’m a Star Wars fan, so they race in and out of space, they race all sorts of stuff. I think it’s impossible to say that there isn’t life in outer space. I don’t think we know. I think we’re becoming more and more advanced as humans and maybe one day we’ll be able to answer that question from a more educated standpoint. But I would say I think there’s a high likelihood that there’s other life outside of planet Earth. Do they race? I sure hope so. It’s very sad if they don’t.
It would be sad.
We should totally spread that message one day if we meet them and they don’t race.
8. What do drivers talk about when they’re standing around at driver intros before a race?
All sorts of stuff. There’s a lot of people sizing each other up. That’s happening. Actually, everyone in IndyCar is pretty cool for the most part. You’re kind of mentally sizing everybody up, but you’re also not because I think we find that doesn’t really work in IndyCar. You can only do so much of that. You might be doing that with one individual, but for the most part, 90 percent of the people that are there, you’re really just catching up.
It’s like, “Hey, how’s your weekend been? Where are you staying? How’s your car?” Or if you know somebody had a bad qualifying session you talk to them about that. Maybe you both had a bad qualifying session. Like for instance, Ryan Hunter-Reay and me (at Barber Motorsports Park), we were sitting together at driver intros and we’re just like, “Man, this has been a bad weekend.” We both were just struggling. And I think 90 percent of the time you’re talking about what’s already happened that weekend, why your car is not good, how the race is gonna be, if it’s about to rain. Whatever it is, you’re generally talking about racing in those moments.
9. What makes you happy right now?
At the moment, this cookie in my belly makes me very happy. Penske hospitality only travels to like four events now. (Editor’s note: Some IndyCar teams and manufacturers bring hospitality tents to the track with catering for their teams and guests to enjoy.) They used to travel to a lot more. I’m so sad because we have awesome chefs and they always make good cookies. They actually make too good of cookies because then I eat them all. I have like 10 cookies on a weekend, which is not good. So that makes me happy.
Food in general — I’m big into food. I just like to eat. Whenever we’re going out in a different city, I really want to find a good restaurant. But everything makes me happy. Honestly, I’m so fortunate, I live a great life, get to work for Team Penske — which is the coolest. I’m healthy. My family’s healthy for the most part. So no dramas, man. That makes me so happy. I mean, that’s the biggest thing. You wish health for everybody just because you see it all the time, people who have all sorts of struggles. But if you’re healthy and happy and you’ve got a good opportunity to work in life, then that’s all you can ask for.
10. Let’s say a sponsor comes to you and says, “We are going to fully fund the entire rest of your racing career on the condition that you wear a clown nose and an 80’s rocker wig in every interview you do as long as you’re driving.” Would you accept that offer?
Yeah, no problem. It’s absolutely zero issue. I mean, I would like to think I don’t need to do that now to get a sponsor, but if I had to get a sponsor and that’s their gig and they’re gonna support me, I know they’re supporting me and I have to do this, then no problem. Like, can I reveal that to people? I would just tell them that it’s just part of my program. If this is what these guys like and I support them for liking it and they sponsor my race car, no problem. If I can reveal it, then that’s like no issue for me. Whatever you need.
That’s actually not such a terrible request. There could be worse requests, right? I don’t know what people would require, but if that’s the requirement, I could get down for that. That’s OK. Yeah.
11. This is the 10th year of the 12 Questions. There has never been a repeat question until now. Pick a number between 1 and 100, and I’m going to pull up a random question from a past year’s series.
OK. I’m gonna say 81.T
The question is: Where did your first paycheck come from?
Like a real real paycheck? Or can it be, “Hey, you got a check for mowing lawns?”
Thinking back when I asked this question, it was like where was the first paycheck you got that like went into a bank account. Did you mow lawns?
Yeah, I did. I mowed lawns. I had a car cleaning service at one point.
A car cleaning service?
Yeah, I was big into that because I’m kind of like OCD. So detailing cars was something I was very into. I’m into cars, and for me, everything’s got to be pristine. So I kind of fell in love with detailing vehicles and then just parlayed that into a job. Like you can do that for a living. Some people have very successful detailing companies.
So yeah, I mowed lawns and I detailed cars. That’s how I had some income when I was younger. I did this when I was like 15 to 19 years old. I got checks for that, I put them in my bank account, that’s probably been my more successful forays into business when I was younger.
But see, to give the real real job answer, the first time I started making real money was when I got hired in IndyCar. I was 20 — in 2012 — and you don’t get written a check; they send you a wire straight to your bank account. And that’s cool. If that starts happening where you’re driving for an establishment and you’re hired and they’re just transferring you money monthly per a contract, that’s pretty cool. And I remember that very distinctly.
That’s something I would enjoy as well.
It’s awesome, man. And you get to drive the race car! It’s so cool. It’s the greatest!
12. The last interview was with Matt DiBenedetto. He wants to know: What do you think is harder about racing open wheel cars than stock cars, and what do you think is easier about it?
I genuinely believe physically IndyCars are harder. That’s not a knock, it’s just what it is. But I would also preface that by saying the physicality is different. I think overall it’s more physical. If you’re talking about heat management, I think the NASCAR boys have a lot more difficulty than us. The temperatures in their vehicles are much higher, so they have to deal with probably 140, 150 degrees Fahrenheit of temp. We’re not nearly that high. But there’s no power steering (in IndyCars), there’s much higher G-loading because of the weight and downforce that our cars produce, so laterally we make a lot more grip. We go a lot quicker through the corners. I think physically they are tougher to drive.
That doesn’t speak to the difficulty skill-wise to drive the cars. I think physically you have to be a bit more fit to drive an IndyCar. Even Juan Pablo Montoya is a great example, him coming back from NASCAR to IndyCar, he knew he had to lose quite a bit of weight just to fit in the car and then also be fit enough to drive it. So I would say that part is harder.
What is easier? Pitting. Pitting is easier in IndyCar. We have a pit lane speed limiter, we can push on a button, it’s automatic. You still have the difficulty where you can’t speed coming into pit lane, but you don’t have to modulate your speed through the pit lane — whereas NASCAR they have to modulate that off of RPM, they have to do that off their foot. I think that’s more difficult than what we do on the IndyCar side.
I bet a lot of NASCAR drivers would love to have the button.
It’s amazing. I mean, there’s still some skill. You’ve got to get down to the speed limit, you’ve got to be the quickest in that segment. But then it’s easy street for the rest of pit lane. They would love that.
Do you have a question I can ask somebody in the NASCAR garage?
For the next person, what is your opinion on mullets and mustaches? Do you like them? Do you dislike them? Do you have one personally? And if you don’t, do you want to have one? And also, are you allowed to have one? That’s my question. It’s very loaded. If it’s Blaney, you can have a great conversation about that.
Previous interviews with Josef Newgarden: