Josef Newgarden wants so badly to win the inaugural Big Machine Music City Grand Prix next month.
The Hendersonville native and two-time IndyCar Series champion was just starting his pro career when Scott Dixon won the eighth and final running of the Firestone Indy 200 at Nashville Superspeedway in 2008.
At long last, Newgarden gets to perform in front of a hometown crowd.
“This (race) is No. 1 on my list,” he said. “Now that we’ve gotten through the Indy 500, this is the race I want to win more than anywhere else, just because of how proud I am to be from Nashville.”
The final result isn’t his only concern, though.
Newgarden is doing his part to ensure the Aug. 6-8 event becomes a Nashville mainstay. He is working as a spokesperson and brand ambassador to promote the first street course race in the city’s history.
“What’s even more important (than winning) is having the event succeed overall and having it for multiple years,” he said. “I could see this as a marquee event for many, many years on the IndyCar calendar.”
Nashville Sports Council CEO and President Scott Ramsey is glad to have help from one of the sport’s biggest stars. Newgarden, a member of Team Penske, won the IndyCar Series in 2017 and 2019 and finished second in 2020.
He ranks fourth in the 2021 standings heading into the Music City Grand Prix – 69 points behind series leader Alex Palou.
“I think somebody referred to it as the cherry on the top of the sundae,” Ramsey said. “Anytime you have an event where you have a local star flavor piece to the story, I think that adds a lot of excitement and promotional opportunity for us.”
Ramsey said ticket sales for the weekend have been strong. Most reserved grandstands are sold out, but a limited amount of single-day reserved grandstand and general admission tickets went on sale last week.
Newgarden and Music City Grand Prix officials think the race – combined with Nashville’s lively music and restaurant scene – will make for a festival of sorts.
The 2.17-mile temporary track will take drivers by Nissan Stadium, over the Korean Veterans Memorial Bridge and into downtown. Nearly 100,00 fans are expected to attend, according to the race’s website.
“I never dreamed of having this type of event take place in my hometown, and especially not a street course race,” Newgarden said. “This is one of the coolest events you’ll see. Even if you’re not a motorsports fan or don’t like racing at all, I think this is still worth checking out.”
Since the track is not yet complete, Newgarden and other drivers are preparing for the race using simulators, which Newgarden described as “building a roller coaster in a room.” Getting a feel for the track virtually helps drivers understand how to optimize their cars for the event.
“This will be the biggest challenge of anywhere that we go this year,” he said. “We theoretically know what it’s going to look like and feel like, it’s just a matter of how close the simulation is to reality.”
Newgarden, who moved back to Nashville with his wife Ashley in 2019, admitted he’s feeling a mix of confidence and nervousness heading into the Music City Grand Prix. Although he just won the Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio with ease on July 4, racing at home will be uncharted territory.
“To represent Nashville and my home city – it’s a different experience,” Newgarden said. “There’s going to be a pressure that I’ve not had before at any other event that this place is going to give me.”