Painful lessons part of preparation to run Indianapolis 500 for local racer

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 7:54pm

Four races into his IndyCar Series rookie season, the rubber continues to meet the road for Josef Newgarden.

With his first Indianapolis 500 looming, the 21-year-old Hendersonville native believes his crash course over the last six weeks delivered valuable lessons. He placed 11th in the season opener in March and twice he failed to finish. Three weeks ago in Long Beach, Calif., he didn’t make it one lap, colliding with Dario Franchitti on the first turn as he tried to jump in front of the Scotsman.

“A couple things I’ve been bitten on a little harder than I should have been,” Newgarden said during a media luncheon in Nashville on Tuesday. “I got kind of caught off-guard at a couple events by certain people that I ... it is learning lessons the hard way. I learned things about drivers that I didn’t know about until they actually happened. Sometimes that is how you have to learn the things.

"You have to have it happen to you before you can learn from it.”

Newgarden expects to pick up more pointers at rookie orientation Thursday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The event kicks off more than two weeks of preparation leading up to the Indianapolis 500, which runs on May 27 and figures to draw a crowd of more than 400,000.

“Seeing that, personally it is hard to describe,” Newgarden said. “It is like a kid going to Disney World or something for the first time. It is just so huge. You can’t really put it into words or express how cool it is. It is certainly the coolest thing I’ve ever experienced, especially in the racing world. You can’t top it.”

Newgarden attended his first Indy 500 in 2007 and cruised around the 2.5 mile oval speedway last May when he won the Firestone Freedom 100.

It was one of five victories in 2011 for Newgarden, who captured the Indy Lights championship. He caught the eye of Sarah Fisher, who became the youngest and first female IndyCar owner in 2008 at the age of 27. The former IndyCar driver signed Newgarden to Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing last December.

With 54 points, he ranks 22nd out of 27 drivers and second among three rookies.

“I think they’re watching out for me,” Newgarden said. “But it is stiff. It is really stiff competition. There are a lot of really talented guys. It is not easy to win IndyCar races. You can’t just be quick. There is so much more that goes into it from the team side, the race craft side, getting everything right with strategy and pit stops. It’s difficult and that is a whole new learning curve for me. That is all part of it.”