Seth Quintero aiming for Dakar win record: ‘I’ve learned giving up is not in my vocabulary’

Dakar Quintero win record
Garth Milan / Red Bull Content Pool

Before starting an improbable charge in light prototype — putting him on course to break a Dakar Rally win record — Seth Quintero entertained the idea of withdrawing completely.

Having lost nearly 17 hours on track, waiting in the bone-chilling cold of the Saudi Arabian desert for a middle-of-the-night rescue and facing the reality another 10 days of racing with no hope for an overall title, it’s understandable that quitting seemed a decent option.

“I want to be honest, for sure it crossed my mind getting towed back when it’s freezing cold and 2 or 3 in the morning,” Quintero told NBC Sports. “I definitely wanted to give up, but I’ve learned that giving up is not in my vocabulary. It’s not in my mental state. Unfortunately, we had a similar issue last year. I learned giving up is not an option. And I’m never going to.”

DAKAR RALLY ON NBCHow to watch nightly coverage at the Olympic Channel

Persistence has paid off since for the San Marcos, California, native, who returned to the Dakar bivouac at 4 a.m. from the Stage 2 mechanical disaster. After an hour or two of sleep, the 19-year-old was on the Stage 3 starting line by 8 a.m. in his OT3-02.

A little under 3 hours later, the Red Bull Off Road Junior Team driver had another checkered flag in Stage 3 and a new objective for this year’s Dakar.

“It was definitely an awesome feeling and woke me up getting that win after those difficulties,” Quintero said. “Hopefully we can keep getting more wins and keep the mental game strong.

“The whole never give up thing is obviously something I live by … for some reason, something mentally in me, I can’t say no and can’t give up. It’s not in my blood. It’s not what my parents taught me. Obviously, these stage wins are definitely helping me get back going again.”

Quintero has been unbeatable since the broken differential in Stage 2. He has won five consecutive stages while overcoming even more mechanical problems to raise his stage victory total to seven despite being ranked 24th and still nearly 16 hours off the lead.

Though he entered the 2022 Dakar Rally with a dream of becoming the youngest class winner at Dakar, Quintero now has a shot at making history in the prestigious endurance race another way.

If he can win at least four of the remaining five stages, he will break the mark for stages won during a Dakar Rally.

“It hadn’t even crossed my mind what the (Dakar stage win) record was, and then I got a message on Instagram saying I was on my way,” Quintero said. “Which woke me up again. It was definitely hard to mentally gather myself to race every day knowing that there’s really no full purpose of going out (because) we couldn’t race for the overall. So yeah, just trying to keep on finding motivation and every little bit helps.”

Even more motivating is that he will have only 13 shots (12 stages plus the prologue) to set the mark. The record of 10 victories was set by Pierre Lartigue during the 17-stage Dakar Rally in 1994 — four more chances than Quintero will have.

“I really just want to win the rest of the stages, regardless of the record,” said Quintero, who also won the prologue and Stage 1. “Hopefully we can win those last (five) and basically have a flawless Dakar apart from those 30 (kilometers) of Stage 2.

“It definitely feels realistic. We’ve put in the time for the past couple of years. Nonstop preparation, spending months outside the country. I definitely feel like it’s realistic. It’s not going to be easy for sure. These last stages are getting really, really rough. Really rocky. It’s going to be who can be the smartest driver to the finish line.”

Seth Quintero takes a break from a November test of his lightweight prototype in Dubai (Marcin Kin/Red Bull Content Pool).

Quintero has been sharpening his skills through countless 4 p.m.-midnight test sessions with co-driver Dennis Zenz, mostly in Morocco and Dubai (but also some racing in Italy and Spain). Because it’s the prototype class, there are many bugs to work out with the untested technology.

“It’s definitely been a pretty crazy three months,” Quintero said. “From the beginning of September until now, I’ve been home for about three weeks.”

The hard work paid off during a hard-fought Stage 6 victory in which he lost the brakes for the final 180 kilometers.

In order to slow down while racing across the desert at a maximum speed of 90 mph, Quintero swung the OT3 side to side on the sand and used engine braking through the gearbox.

Seth Quintero races to a Stage 4 victory, one of five consecutive the American has notched during the 2022 Dakar Rally (Flavien Duhamel / Red Bull Content Pool).

Compounding the braking problem, Quintero then lost four-wheel drive, which left him “like driving in the mud” trying to scale the dunes in an underpowered car.

Yet he still finished more than 11 minutes ahead of his teammate Cristina Gutierrez Herrero for another victory that impressed his rivals.

“I’ve definitely gotten props from a couple of different competitors, which is nice to hear,” Quintero said. “I’m on a different mindset than they are trying to compete for 12 stages. I’m really just competing day by day. So I think that also comes into play with our success. I’m ready to go for it every single day, all day long. I’ve got nothing to lose. I really only have anything to gain.”

There’s been much respect to amass, though, in a bivouac that includes some of the greatest names in off-road and rally history.

Though being a generation or two younger than those legends, Quintero has aspirations of eventually reaching the T1 car class (“maybe another year or so”) to compete against the likes of Carlos Sainz, Sebastien Loeb, Stefan Peterhansel and Nasser Al-Attiyah.

“I’m definitely quite a bit younger than a lot of the guys I’m racing against,” Quintero said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to become very good friends with Sainz, Loeb, Peterhansel, Nasser. They’ve all been really amazing, humble guys. All people I’ve looked up to for a very long time.

“It’s been nice to come back to the bivouac and talk to them and just really learn. I’m just trying to soak in all the information that I can. Because they’re not going to be around driving the car forever, so hopefully that next step I can take, and they can help me into it.”

The best lessons he has learned so far?

“One that’s really stuck with me this race is ‘Go very slow in the slow and very fast in the fast,’ ” Quintero said. “From Carlos, I’ve definitely learned to take every opportunity I can possibly get.

“And also my parents, they’ve just taught me to just never say no. That’s a very good trait to have – and a very bad trait to have. Because I’m willing to put in the work. You can’t really break me, but you can overwork me every once in a while.”

Switching from dirt bikes to UTVs about a decade ago, Quintero quickly rose through the ranks and caught the eye of sponsor Red Bull (which has been tracking his progress on its Dakar Daily TV) by winning the youth class of a 2014 world championship.

He became the youngest driver to win several desert races in the UTV Pro NA Class, and he scored six impressive wins in 2019, including the overall championship of the Best in the Desert Pro Class, the MINT 400, the Parker 250 and the Silver State 300.

All while maintaining a 4.2 grade-point average in high school, which he described as “one of my bigger achievements.

“School is everything for me and for my parents as well,” said Quintero, whose mother and father both work in construction. “They were paying for my race program for a very long time, obviously. And they told me if I didn’t get good grades, I wasn’t racing. I’m very proud of that to be able to be full time at Mission Hills High School and then be also a full-time driver, mechanic, team manager and all that stuff. It’s been a wild ride but one of my biggest accomplishments.

Seth Quintero already became the youngest stage winner in Dakar Rally history last year as an 18-year-old rookie (Marcelo Maragni/Red Bull Content Pool).

“We were just a blue-collar family that the only thing we know how to do is work and somehow came out lucky, and here we are traveling the world and having some fun racing.”

And making history. After becoming the youngest stage winner in Dakar history last year, Quintero still has another record to chase beyond the stage victories mark.

“It’s been our goal to be the youngest person ever to win Dakar ever since we started this journey,” he said. “Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to get it done the last two years, but we still have a lot of time. I’m only 19 years old, and I plan on staying here for as long as I can. We’ll keep on trying and keep on charging.”

Through belief and grief, Josef Newgarden won Indy 500 with life lessons from his family


INDIANAPOLIS – Josef Newgarden was taught by his father that he could win the Indy 500, and he learned through his wife that it would be OK to always lose it.

After finally winning the 107th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the typically unflappable two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion got choked up when discussing the importance of Joey Newgarden, who instilled “internal belief,” and Ashley Newgarden, who “helps make my world go round and sees the heartbreak more than anyone else.”

Monday morning, while Josef Newgarden made the rounds of photo shoots and media obligations at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, beaming family members lingered among incessant laughter on the Yard of Bricks – savoring the moment and recounting their supportive roles through a journey that took 12 tries (Newgarden tied the record for most Indianapolis 500 starts before his first victory).

VICTORY SPOILS: Newgarden earns $3.66 million from record purse

INSIDE TEAM PENSKEThe tension and hard work preceding ‘The Captain’s’ 19th win

For Joey Newgarden, it was turning a scrawny kid (“when Josef was 11, he was 4 foot 11, 67 pounds”) into the superstar with six-pack abs who proved a worthy main character in the first season of IndyCar’s “100 Days to Indy” docuseries.

For Ashley, there were the anguished and helpless days after many Brickyard disappointments that thrust her into the role of an indefatigable sports psychologist.

“In a lot of ways, it’s terribly difficult for someone like Ashley,” Newgarden told NBC Sports during a reflective interview late Monday morning in an antiseptic glass-paneled office on the fourth floor of the IMS media center. “She carries the burden more than anybody, and people don’t know that and see that. I’m not easy to be around when my heart’s broken.

“And when this place breaks your heart, it’s tough to leave here every year. I’m going to cry thinking about it. It’s really, really hard. And she just … endures it is probably the one way to put it. She has endured the pain. And I think it’s almost a harder pain than the pain I feel because she’s not asking for it, but she’s having to live it.

“And there’s more than just that. You think about the genuinely impossible odds that are so against you to make it to this level, and a lot of it is down to my mom and dad, and the way they literally laid everything on the line to make this happen.

“We don’t come from just some blank check group. I came from a great upbringing. We had great opportunity, but you really have to put everything on the line if you’re going to make this type of career work, and they did that. So to come against all these odds, and for all of us to be there together and win this race.

“It’s full circle.”

Josef Newgarden father wife
Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden poses with parents Joey and Tina and his wife, Ashley, during the Memorial Day photo shoot at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

Josef Newgarden was ready to quit motorsports after his first full-bodied car race – a Southern Regional Skip Barber event in 2006 at Sebring International Raceway.

After a hugely successful career in go-karting, this was his chance to take a critical next step toward the major leagues, and it was happening on one of the most daunting, physically punishing road courses in the United States.

So on the first lap, Newgarden fully committed to taking the Turn 17 corner, pancaking his car into the wall with embarrassing overexuberance.

“It was basically a typical me move,” he said sheepishly. “I always overcook high-speed stuff. I love it. That’s what my essence is. I love a high-speed track. I will send it bigger than anybody. That was one of the days I oversent it into Turn 17 and overcooked it straight into the wall.”

There was another race the next day, but at dinner that night, Newgarden was having second thoughts.

“I was saying I don’t know if I want to do this,” he said. “I don’t know that I can do this. There definitely was doubt in a lot of ways, and I’m saying this stuff, and my dad made me run the race the next day when I didn’t want to run the race. That’s how much I was taken aback by the whole thing. He made me run the race. And most people would not ever guess that story that my dad is trying to help make me run the race the next day because I don’t want to do it, and because I feel like I can’t do it.”

It’s unfathomable to consider because Newgarden, 32, comes off as one of the most supremely confident drivers in IndyCar through a persona of unflagging optimism. Whether starting 17th (as he did in the 107th Indy 500) or first, he never betrays an iota of doubt that he can win every race.

Which, under the watchful eye of his father, is exactly what he did in the second Skip Barber race at Sebring.

It was “a big turning point” on the championship mettle required for big-time auto racing.

Josef Newgarden celebrates with parents Joey and Tina the morning after winning the 107th Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“There was a light bulb that switched for me for sure that I was like you have to dig deep,” Newgarden said. “It was one of those moments of do you want to do this or not? And I think you either change in that moment to fully get on board or not. Because you can’t be in the middle. You won’t run for Roger Penske in the biggest race in the world if you are.

“It’s weird to go back and talk about it because I know it’s become second nature to me. There’s so much pressure, there’s so much obligation of be you, be awesome. Talk to our sponsors. Be their representative. Get in the car, do a great job. The amount of commitment that people put on you. You just can’t crack.

“It must have been in there, and Joey just brought it out of me.”

Josef Newgarden describes his dad as “the ultimate believer” who was always there as his son barnstormed around the Midwest on dozens of go-kart trips from their home outside Nashville, Tennessee.

“He’s just a very distinct human being,” Josef said of Joey. “But he has an amazing talent for optimism, and that can’t be understated how he’s given that to me. I can be a very realistic and pragmatic person.

“Those don’t always line up, having extreme optimism and trying to be realistic about something and see all scenarios. I think I’m able to be both now. I try to see things truly for what they are, and I don’t overreach. But I also have ultimate belief that anything can happen and anything is possible. My dad embodied that from the very beginning.”

Though Joey refers to it as “putting in the work,” Josef Newgarden said there were immense sacrifices made by him and his mother, Tina, so their son could pursue the dream of becoming a professional race car driver with a single-minded focus.

Josef Newgarden celebrates with fans in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway grandstands after winning the 107th Indy 500 (Jenna Watson/USA TODAY Sports Images).

“It was, ‘We don’t have enough money? We’ll get the money,’ ” he said. “We will figure it out. And I didn’t have to carry any of that burden when I was young. If we go into debt, who cares? We’ll figure it out. Are we out of opportunities? Doesn’t matter. We’ll figure something out and keep going.”

His father recalls it all as being my design of trying to mold a young teenager “who never had belief in himself” while competing in baseball, basketball and go-karts against bigger competition.

Joey Newgarden, who grew up sweeping floors for 75 cents an hour in Miami while working for his father in the business of photography chemicals, set to establish that the simple principles of hard work and a positive attitude can take someone to whatever station in life they desire.

“Maybe I was just trying to trick him,” Joey Newgarden, wearing an Indy 500 champion’s hat and dark sunglasses, told a few reporters Monday morning at IMS. “I was scrawny like that when I was a kid, too, and I didn’t really have a male role model doing that with me, so I had to try to come up with a plan. We’ve got two daughters and one son, and he was the youngest. And it was, ‘How are we going to do it and convince him that he can be No. 1?’ It’s tough competition out there.”

Though there was a physical aspect (Newgarden became a fitness fanatic in his later teens), much of dad’s grooming was on the attitude of his son, who has retained the competitive fire and grace as a world-class driver but shed being a poor loser.

AUTO: MAY 29 INDYCAR Series The 107th Indianapolis 500
Josef Newgarden with his parents, the winning No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet and the Borg-Warner Trophy (Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

“He was the biggest baby about racing cars,” Joey recalled with a laugh. “He wanted to win every race and lead every lap literally from the very beginning. And when he’d get out of the car, he was Tony Stewart Jr. He wanted to win every single time.

“I always told him you’ve got to learn how to lose before you learn how to win. Because if you don’t know how to lose, you don’t know what winning really means.”

Josef Newgarden said the crash in Sebring went a long way toward establishing his mental toughness.

“You either are hardened by that, and you’re steel,” he said. “Or you’re weak, and you’re not going to make it at this level. It’s just what it takes.

“From that point on, it was never again am I going to lack that type of belief. But Joey is central to the belief system. He should have full credit for that. It sounds simple, but not everybody can truly put their all into something and make it happen at all costs. He gave that to me.”

If his parents provided the immutable faith in pursuing a goal that seemed impossible, his wife of four years (and romantic partner of nearly a decade) gave him the gift of letting go of it.

Ashley Newgarden annually watched her husband agonizingly wrestle with the toll of coming up short in the Indy 500 (which Team Penske now has won a record 19 times).

“Every year, you see someone else get that, and you want it so desperately for yourself and you can picture it for yourself, too,” she said. “So with Josef, the heartbreak just comes from just the thought of, ‘Maybe I’ll never get this opportunity.’ And that’s the worst thing. Because you only get one chance a year, and you only have a certain amount of years you can do this and be competitive at it.

“And he knows that it’s now or never. Every year we left, it was just more hard and more hard and sadder and sadder and sadder.”

There was little she could do to console him, too.

“It’s the toughest part because she wants nothing more than to help, and she can’t help me,” Josef said. “That’s why I say she’s had to endure the pain because in some relationships that person is able to help the individual that needs it. And that doesn’t work for me. So she can’t help.”

Ashley Newgarden watches the 107th Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

Said Ashley: “There’s nothing you can say. Just give him your support. You can say, ‘That one hurt, it’s yours next year.’ But he’s such a realist, and he doesn’t need the coaching like that from me. You just have to be supportive, and my biggest focus was always how do we get him in a mentally stronger place before the next race and not let this bleed over, (and) he goes into the next race angry.

“It was always the focus of how do we somehow let this go and just put it on the back burner and kind of forget about it. This race is done. After the month, just forget about it until next year. Go to Detroit and have a good season.”

Eventually, Ashley helped Josef with landing in a place where he could divorce himself from some of the pain in the Indy misses. After his second IndyCar championship, Josef struck a new tone publicly about refusing to let the Brickyard define him.

“I think you have to get to that point, because if not, this will just eat you alive,” Ashley said. “And you’ll just not feel you’ve accomplished enough, even though it’s harder to win a championship. This is a very hard race to win, of course. But it’s harder to put together seasons and to be an IndyCar Series champion, but yet this race is more elusive, and you want this more almost.

“I think recently over the last couple of years, really the last year, he started to focus on ‘I’ve done my job. I’ve done everything that I can. I’ve given them two championships.’ I think he started to focus more on that, and he was going to do everything that he could, and it’s going to be enough, and if he doesn’t win the 500, that does not take away from his career. Because I think people think it does. And I think he just kind of let go of it.”

Newgarden described the new outlook as conceding he never might win the Brickyard despite the omnipresent belief that he could.

(Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment)

“I kind of grieved it in a way,” he said. “It’s a weird way to put it, but I’m going to grieve the Indy 500 and it just doesn’t matter if I don’t ever win it. I truly do not subscribe to this thesis that you have to win this race to have a complete career. Of course, I would love to win the race, and it is a huge achievement. And it is the most difficult race and the most accomplishing race to win.

“But it shouldn’t define your time in the sport if you’re given that time. So I grieved the possibility of it and said if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. I’m not going to linger on it if it doesn’t work out.”

Ashley, who studied psychology in college, provides an emotionally intelligent yin to her husband’s coolly detached yang.

“She’s a very smart woman and more of an empath than I am, which is a little tough because she can be very emotional, and I’m not emotional at all half the time,” Josef said. “But she’s very intuitive with that type of mentality and trying to understand how to survive things and construct things in your brain or how to reason with things. So she’s definitely been most helpful for me to find balance in life.

“Because without her I would probably be a much darker, more miserable person. I would cut everything off and have no balance in my life without her. She’s really the only one that’s figured out how to give that to me.”

Serving as an unofficial nutritionist for her husband’s elite athlete lifestyle, Ashley has tried to find other ways to “make sure everything in his life is easy. Home, food, everything else is taken care of, and I don’t think it comes from a place of him needing that. But that’s how I show him love in those moments and am supportive.”

On the Sunday morning of the Indy 500, Ashley and Josef Newgarden usually awake to a stress level that never subsides.

It wasn’t there this year.

“It was so weird,” she said. “I’ll be honest, starting 17th, I’m like, ‘Oh man, I don’t know if we’re going to get up there’. But yesterday morning, we were so easy. And I don’t know if it was because I just felt so confident within. I think it was just a different change of mind for him and I. It was like if it doesn’t happen today, it’s OK. I think you have to get there mentally because if not, this will emotionally kill you.”

Josef and Ashley Newgarden shared their winning Indy 500 moment with their 13-month-old son, Kota (Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images).

Joey Newgarden also has noticed an off-track calmness surrounding his family.

When Ashley gave birth to their first child, a son named Kota, in April 2022, Josef Newgarden joined his siblings in each having children within a 20-month span after the trio had gotten married within three years of each other.

His two sisters (the oldest works in pharmaceutical sales at a California company; the other is a registered nurse at a cancer research facility in Seattle) “are doing really well for themselves” to the delight of their parents.

“It’s storybook, the whole thing,” Joey said. “It almost scares me at this point. When things go this well, you’re always waiting for something to go wrong.

He’s got a wonderful wife that he’s been with for 10 years, married for three or four. He’s got a great relationship. What is that movie with Jimmy Cagney? Top of the world, ma.”

And his family says Josef Newgarden is not stopping there.

“I’ve never met someone that just wants to break all the records,” Ashley said. “I know everyone says that, but this dude, he knows the stats. He watches them. It’s never enough.”

AUTO: MAY 29 INDYCAR Series The 107th Indianapolis 500
(Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)