(Photo courtesy NBC)

IndyCar drivers come up a bit short in bid to become an American Ninja Warrior

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Helio Castroneves was light enough on his feet to win Dancing With The Stars in 2007.

Nearly a decade later, and as a contestant on American Ninja Warrior – which aired Monday night on NBC – Castroneves didn’t reach the finish line, but he certainly gave it a good try.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner was joined on a special edition of ANW by fellow Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Tony Kanaan and Josef Newgarden, as well as NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The episode was taped in Indianapolis for the first time ever in the last week of April. The 41-year-old Castroneves reached the third stage of the challenging obstacle course before being eliminated.

“Wow, let me tell you, I had a great time,” Castroneves said. “I wish I had done it again – or maybe not. It was a lot of fun and very, very difficult. I was so worried about the first and second obstacles that I didn’t (think so much) about the third.

“I couldn’t go more than the third stage, but let me tell you, I had a blast.”

 

Newgarden also reached the third stage before seeing his evening end short.

“Just getting to do something like this was incredible,” Newgarden said. “It was one of those once in a lifetime deals. Personally, I’d like to come back. I didn’t feel like I did good enough. I tried really hard, I was happy to get to where Helio got but I just lost my momentum and really didn’t know what to when I got up there.”

Newgarden, who is recovering from injuries sustained in a crash at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, was in fine form when the episode was taped. But he also illustrated that race car drivers truly are athletes.

“I hope we showed some of our athleticism,” Newgarden said. “This is obviously a very different sport. The discussion is always athleticism and fitness in racing, is that a thing? For us, it very much is.

“It’s a big fitness sport and you really have to be very prepared mentally and physically to drive an Indy car, but that doesn’t mean we can be football wide receivers. Just because we’re trained well and can drive Indy cars great doesn’t mean we’re Ninja’s. I thought we did alright in representing and showing we had some athleticism.

“This was such a cool opportunity. When do you get a chance to do American Ninja Warriors and complete the course? Personally, I want to come back and really want to try it again with a little more training specific to these type of obstacles.”

Kanaan and Stenhouse both made it to the second stage.

“It’s one of the most nerve-wracking experiences I’ve ever had,” Kanaan said. “It was the unknown, something that I’m not used to. I was definitely more nervous than any of the Indy 500 starts I’ve ever done. It was a great experience.

“Obviously, we’re privileged because of what we do, we get to do some cool things like this. But I definitely found out I’m not a Ninja today. It’s going to be hard to tell my kid that.”

Click on the following links for more highlights from Monday’s episode:

American Ninja Warrior

Helio Castroneves qualifying

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. qualifying

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Top Fuel driver Austin Prock earns 2019 NHRA top rookie honors

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Having just completed a promising first year in NHRA Top Fuel competition, Austin Prock is on the road to even greater drag racing success in his career.

That’s why it’s not surprising that Prock was named the winner of the 2019 Auto Club Road to the Future Award during Monday night’s annual NHRA Awards dinner at the Ray Dolby Theater in Hollywood, California.

The Road to the Future Award is NHRA’s version of Rookie of the Year, and Prock was among the brightest young stars on the circuit this past season, including winning his first national event at the Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways in suburban Seattle, the 16th race on the 24-race schedule.

What made that first win all the more sweeter is it came at the same event that his boss, legendary 16-time Funny Car champion John Force, captured his milestone 150th career win.

One month ago, Prock set a personal best run of 3.688 seconds at 334.40 mph over veteran driver Doug Kalitta in the first round of eliminations at the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals three weeks ago in Ennis, Texas (suburban Dallas).

“I am proud of the season this Montana Brand / Rocky Mountain Twist team put together,” Prock said in a media release. “My guys worked their asses off all season long to give me the opportunity to win the Auto Club Road the Future Award. I couldn’t have done it without them.

“I would have never been here without John Force and Robert Hight (president of John Force Racing). They gave me the opportunity to fulfill my dream and I owe the world to them. I hope I made them proud.”

Prock became only the 10th rookie in the history of the NHRA pro ranks to both win a race in their first season and also go on to win the Road to the Future award. He also was the 13th rookie in the sport’s history to qualify for the Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six race playoffs.

Prock becomes the sixth John Force Racing driver to earn the Road to the Future Award, joining Tony Pedregon (1996), Hight (2005), Ashley Force-Hood (2007), Mike Neff (2008), Courtney Force (2012) and Brittany Force (2013).

Austin Prock is the son of veteran crew chief Jimmy Prock, who tuned Hight to his third career NHRA Funny Car championship this past Sunday.

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