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Q&A: “Josef, the Indy Car Driver” book author/illustrator Chris Workman

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One of the elements that made Josef Newgarden’s Road America weekend busier than a normal one was the fact his children’s book – “Josef, the Indy Car Driver” launched during the weekend.

Newgarden, driver of the No. 21 Direct Supply Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series is the subject and featured driver in the book, written and illustrated by Chris Workman.

Workman is the owner of Apex Legends, a content creation and publishing company that looks to find and create the next generation of race fans. NBCSN lead F1 and IndyCar announcer Leigh Diffey has written the foreword.

The hardcover picture book is available via ApexLegends.com/store and Amazon. A donation to Racing for Kids will occur for every book sold at the store.

We caught up with Workman at Road America. Here’s his thoughts on the creative process as the book launched:

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NBCSports.com: What was the buildup process to getting the book created and launched?

Chris Workman: “We’d done an IndieGoGo campaign last fall, and that was to get some interest around the book, get some pre-sale and so forth. This is the official launch, this weekend.”

NBC: Of course now to premiere it here after what’s happened the last couple weeks (Newgarden’s accident at Texas and pressing on through the pain) has to be a bit surreal!

CW: “It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. I was watching via timing & scoring and saw him drop to 22nd, quickly went to Twitter and we thought, well this is unreal. I’ve been in contact with him a little bit, but his big focus was getting ready.

“When I heard he was going to be here, it was just amazing.”

NBC: What was the idea behind the book? Was this your idea? His?

CW: “It was my idea I brought to him. My first book was on Le Mans in the ’60s, so I wanted to do something more modern and current, and just look at the overall landscape of drivers in IndyCar, Josef immediately came to mind. He won Alabama last year.

“So I began to approach him about the concept, and he was immediately on board. He saw it as something different, as a unique way to get fans engaged and educated.

“I chose Road America. I was going to do Alabama – Barber – or Toronto initially because he won there. But once Road America got back on the schedule it was like coming home. It was the first race I ever went to. I grew up in Milwaukee. It’s very personal to me to tell the story for kids getting excited and motivated about racing here, because you couldn’t tell the story at a cooler track when all was said and done! All the stars aligned.”

NBC: We get to see Josef in a team dynamic on a regular basis. How was he to work with for you? What was the feedback and process between you two?

CW: “He was primarily like, ‘I like what you are doing, and I want to respect your creative process.’ So run stuff by him and his manager. ‘Hey guys is this correct?’ But for the most part Josef was relatively hands off on the formation of the story. He immediately bought into the idea of his telling about how he became a driver, because he wants to help other kids realize the path of going from – in his case, a motorized scooter – all the way from racing in his neighborhood to becoming a racing driver. We wanted it to be attainable. There’s two parts about his career, then the race, then join it together.”

NBC: Does Josef work because he’s one of the drivers sellable and appealable to the next generation?

CW: “The biggest challenge for the book was trying to make it current so the fans can recognize it and see turn on TV, and see similar to what’s in the books, with legs. It’s funny to see how the paint schemes have turned up, how they actually are versus what I predicted. Some I got right, some not! Dixon in a dayglo yellow would have been a complete unknown. That was challenging.

“But in Josef’s case, the fact he’s around for a while and Direct Supply is huge here, and supported him, gives that some legitimacy. Odds are good there will always be a Direct Supply car – at least in Wisconsin – so year-to-year there is continuity.

“He’s such a kid at heart!”

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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