---- — By Shawn Wood
For The Daily Item
DANVILLE -- On a rare off-day for the IZOD IndyCar Series on Friday, driver Josef Newgarden spent his morning bringing smiles and cheer to those he met as part of the Racing For Kids visit to the Janet Weis Children's Hospital.
The series is making its return to Pocono for the first time since 1989 with Sunday's Pocono 400.
Newgarden, 22, of Nashville, Tenn., is in his second year of driving Indy cars. He was the Firestone Indy Lights champion in 2011.
The Racing for Kids program was started 25 years ago by Dr. William W. Pinsky to use the popularity of motorsports to bring attention and funding to the health care needs of children and child health institutions.
"To help the kids have a better day," Dr. Pinsky said of the idea to start the charity. "Robbie Buhl was our first driver and he is our national spokesperson. Robbie used to say that it helped him get a better understanding of what he is doing at the track because when he is having a bad day at the track, he knows that there are kids having a worse day than he is."
Dr. Pinsky noted that when Buhl was racing full time, he couldn't do a race weekend without going to the hospital.
Friday's visit was the second time Newgarden has gone to a children's hospital with the Racing for Kids program. He was a hit with the kids.
"Hopefully, there are more visits for me to go to as I enjoyed it," he said of Friday's event. "It's a blast and you meet a lot of different and super-cool kids, they are fun to see."
Aside for the rigors of getting his car ready for this weekend's IndyCar race at Pocono, Newgarden got some advice on driving from one patient.
"The kid told me that I needed to go slower in order to make my race car handle better," he said. "I thought that was very interesting and I loved the theory. There was a girl who told me about her poetry and her fear of helicopters. There were tons of stories today and it's fun to interact with the kids. They give you the purest thoughts themselves and it's very uplifting."
Newgarden, who drives for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, noted that the visits make him feel better when he leaves and it puts life in perspective.
"One of the ideas to bring young drivers in particular is to get them involved so they can see the other aspect of racing, as opposed to just going fast," Dr. Pinsky said. "We've been to over 600 hospitals and seen 25,000 child and through various charities have raised $6 million dollars for children's hospitals." Racing for Kids brings young outpatients and their families to a track to experience the thrill of open-wheel racing.
"These visits make you thankful and more humble for everything you are doing." Newgarden added. "Just the fact that I get to drive an Indy car for a living is pretty special and rare, it's something you should be thankful for.
"They keep you grounded a little bit more for those days that you are struggling with the worse thing in the world. It's pretty small in comparison."