Editor’s note: Josef Newgarden was in an accident while racing at the Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday June 12th. This interview took place before the accident. We wish him a quick recovery! -Nikki
How long have you been a fan of the show?
"Well I've known about it for awhile. Since we got it here in the US. It was obviously just a Japanese show before this. And I had seen a couple of those and thought it was really cool.
It was a big deal when it first started airing in American. I thought it was really cool and interesting, and I always found obstacle courses fun.
I think it's probably from when I was a kid. I always loved the jungle gym. You know, it's kind of what it is. The course is a big kids' jungle gym. Just super-sized and a lot more challenging. I've always known about it since the first season.”
How'd you hear it was coming to Indianapolis?
"Basically through IndyCar. We found out it was coming to Indianapolis to be filmed and then IndyCar said there might be a chance we could do this.
Would this be something you'd want to do? And I was like "'Absolutely. You know, 100%.' When are you going to get an opportunity to do something like that? So I said yes immediately."
How long have you been training?
"Not long. About 3 weeks. But that's not really accurate. I learned about it like 3 weeks ago and I've only gotten 2 really good training days in. I was trying to squeeze that into my racing schedule.
Because when we race, we travel a lot, and you can't just go into a regular gym and do pull ups. You have to have specific obstacle course stuff. Specific types of things to train on. So you can get specific forearm movements, whatever it is that you need. You can work on swings.
So I only had 2 really good days to do that. And I got significantly better. I was terrible the first time. I could not do the laches very well, or the swings from bar to bar. And then I didn't do the Salmon Ladder the first time.
Then the second time I came in, I was significantly better. I can do the laches no problem now. I can do the Salmon Ladder no problem. I can get the vert wall okay. But there's still some things that I'm not proficient in. I feel like I need more time."
What are you most nervous about?
"Grip strength stuff. It's different from when we drive race cars. We have to have really good grip strength too, but it's a different type of grip strength. It doesn't work the same muscles.
There's definitely a different use of the fingers and the hands. I actually think this show uses more types of hand and finger muscles. The bone density in the hands needs to be a little bit stronger.
It’s more specialized to rock climbers. Rock climbers really build up bone density in the tips of their fingers. We don't use the tips of our fingers when we drive a race car. We have to hold on to a really heavy wheel, but I'm not using the tips of my fingers.
So it's all the sort of rock climbing specific stuff that I think I'm going to struggle with. I wish I had more time to build up those movements, because if I had those down, I feel like I would be okay. Like I'd be ready to go. 100% That's what I'm nervous about. Any of the rock climbing specific stuff.
Also, I think they're doing the nunchucks (Swinging Spikes) here. So even that type of grip strength is very rock climbing specific. I think that's where I'm going to struggle.
But power stuff, like the Salmon ladder I could do no problem. It was powerful and I could get the technique down, and even the laches, using my core, and being able to use the power of my core to swing and grab. All that stuff I could get down, but I needed more time for the very specialized grip training stuff."
What racing skills will come into play?
"I think just the general athleticism will help. That's why I think I was able to get some of the stuff down so quickly. It only took a couple of days of training over a couple weeks to get the Salmon Ladder and the laches and the vert wall.
Height is going to help me there too. But we're just generally conditioned already cardio-wise. I don't think cardio would be an issue. I think general muscular endurance is really good for us.
It's just the grip muscular endurance that I'd be worried about. But back endurance, anything using your core or your back, or your biceps or shoulders. I think all of those muscles are very conditioned from racing. So I'll be fine with that. It's really just the very grip intensive stuff that I'm worried about."
Who's your favorite Ninja?"
"Kacy Catanzaro is pretty cool. I saw a lot of her stuff online. She's the first woman that did the vert wall. So that was cool. I also got into this Youtube series called Ninja Quickie, by Evan Dollard. I follow his stuff on Youtube, and I watched a lot of his videos. I really think those 2. Then I saw who won last year, those two guys who had made it to Mount. Midoriyama (Isaac Caldiero and Geoff Britten).
"I'm actually a really big fan of all the guys coming from Hoosier Heights too. (A local Indianapolis Ninja gym.) I got to meet a lot of potential future Ninjas. There's a bunch of guys I met from Boston that came here to do walk ons. They were awesome guys. So there's a big group from Boston that I like.
Then Jay (Haas, the gym instructor) is really cool. I like Jay a lot who's going to do it. He helped me kind of train a little bit too. The first day I was there learning about this like 3 weeks ago, he helped me get into it, and prepared me for what I needed to know, like quick 411. I think Jay is a cool guy. He's a really nice dude.
What did your friends and family say when you told them you were going for American Ninja Warrior?
"My girlfriend thought it was awesome. I think she hopes I do well. She was very excited. And then my dad thought it was super cool. Same thing with my mom. My mom is going to be coming with my girlfriend to the show.
My dad is not going to be able to make it, but those two will be here. They thought it was incredible. It's a cool opportunity. I already get to do some nerve-wracking stuff with driving race cars and this is a whole different type of nerve-wracking deal I guess."
Are you feeling competitive with the other drivers doing the course?
"Yeah! So I was there (at Hoosier Heights) with Ricky Stenhouse Jr, who's a NASCAR guy, and really we want to beat him. We've really been helping each other. Texting back and forth like 'What's he done? Here’s what I've been doing.'
Then we trained a little bit there yesterday. But we'd like to beat Ricky, you know, the IndyCar guys. I'd like to beat the other IndyCar guys. But we'll see. I don't know. I don't think any of us are as prepared as we need to be. So we'll see how it goes.
I think I have some strengths that will help me. I don't know about (IndyCar drivers) Castroneves, or Kanaan, but I think they would have strengths too that would help them over me. So I think we'll have some advantages and disadvantages between us."
Have you looked at the course yet?
"Not yet. I haven't seen it. I've seen sneaked photos from other guys who have been down here. But I haven't seen it personally yet."
"I fear for even the simple stuff. Like even the rolling log. It looks like that thing could just mess you up. Something like that, that you think is going to be the easy part. I don't know about my equilibrium. I don't know how strong it is. Hopefully it doesn't get knocked off. But that's the type of deal I think is going to mess you up."
How are you going to balance your time being an IndyCar driver and the next American Ninja Warrior?
"I don't know! I secretly hope that this goes really well and I get to the finals. I want to train more and do this legit. Actually go to Vegas and try to win this thing. I think it would be really fun to do that. We'll see.
If it's not enough, if I'm not good enough, then maybe they'll invite me back again, and I can prepare a little longer. I'm hoping it goes well. I'm hoping I at least qualify and then maybe go to the finals."
Weigh in using the comments to tell us how far you think Josef is going. Then find out on tonight’s new episode of American Ninja Warrior!
Crazy cool opportunity to compete on the @ninjawarrior course last night in downtown Indy with some other racing pals @tkanaan @stenhousejr & @heliocastroneves. What a cool community too. So much positively and support from all the competitors which was super refreshing. // #IndyCar #ninja #indy Photo by - @indycar