The Thursday before the Grand Prix of Baltimore, I ran into Josef Newgarden at an abnormal place – outside the media center, preparing to do a photo shoot with kittens to raise awareness for “Show Your Soft Side” – a Baltimore based anti-animal abuse campaign.
Newgarden promptly delivered the best weekend of his IZOD IndyCar Series career, qualifying in the Firestone Fast Six for the first time this season and finishing on the podium for the first time in his career. He finished second to Simon Pagenaud after a roller coaster of an afternoon.
We joked at the time that Newgarden’s weekend in the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda was fueled by “kitten power.”
As it turned out, the kitten he’d met before the weekend made more of an impact on the 22-year-old Nashville native than we’d realized.
And now, a little more than a month later, Newgarden and little MJ – now called Simba – are reunited for good. Newgarden has adopted the kitten, with the help of the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS) and Southwest Airlines.
Newgarden submitted the adoption application to BARCS, and received the fatherhood approval. Southwest agreed to fly little MJ to Nashville on Thursday, where Newgarden picked him up.
Newgarden posted a pic of Simba on his Instagram page and wrote, “The prince has arrived. Thanks to @BARCS_SHELTER and @southwestair for helping facilitate the move. Supporting local animal adoptions is important to me, and Simba was a good luck charm to me in Baltimore this year for the @indycarofficial race. Happy to bring him into our family. Support @bestfriendsanimalsociety and your local shelters.”
Newgarden’s sophomore season on track has featured an impressive results improvement; he has three other fifth-place finishes, most recently in Race 1 at Houston, to go along with his Baltimore runner-up.
But to see him serve as an advocate for a great cause is just more reason to respect the mature beyond his years driver.
Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”
The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.
“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”
Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.