The Iso: Josef Newgarden

Michael Owens/The Players' Tribune

The Players’ Tribune is introducing a new series called The Iso. With so many of us keeping our distance from each other in a variety of ways, we decided to ask some of our favorite athletes to share how they’ve been dealing with life in the Covid-19 world, and how they’re spending their time away from their sport.

I had traveled down to St. Petersburg, Florida, for the very first race of the season. It was March, and I’d spent the last five or six months getting myself ramped up for the racing year. It’s a whole process — testing, getting as physically fit as possible, traveling to see sponsors, doing media events. And then — the game plan shifted. The Wednesday of race week, the NBA shut down. I saw the announcement that night. And that set everything off.

That Thursday the Grand Prix announced that the show would go on, but things would look a lot different at the track. There would be no fans. It was kinda similar to what the PGA was going to do for their event in Florida. Then on Friday, they called the whole thing off. Within 48 hours, it went from We’re going to have our very first race of the year, to, Oh, no, the race is going to be very different looking, to, There’s no race anymore, you can go home.

I remember going into a daze for like seven days after that. That very next week was just … strange. I went home to Tennessee from St. Pete and was in a really weird mental space. It’s been tough to process. Everyone back then was just trying to adjust to what was becoming a new reality. I just remember not being very productive that week because it was so odd.

Slowly, you find your footing. You sort of understand what’s happening, and you get on a new program. That’s where we’re at now, we’re just on a different program, waiting for what should be the normal program to start back up.

I’m still in Tennessee now with my wife. We’re the same as everybody else — just trying to stay home, only going out if we need something essential. I’m trying to keep engaged, keep up to date with the schedule change for our year and our racing season, and see when we’re going to maybe get back rolling again.

Luckily, my family’s all good. It’s a pretty crazy time, and I think we’re trying to be cognizant of everyone else, especially people who are at higher risk. But we’re doing really well. My parents are good, sisters are good, me and my wife are great. We’re just trying to follow procedure and do our part — and stay a little bit active at the same time.

In the mornings, I get up and do breakfast, then head straight into the garage. In the garage I have this makeshift gym. I’m working with what I got. I don’t have everything that I would normally need from my gym because it’s closed. But I’ve got some kettlebells, I’ve got dumbbells, I’ve got all sorts of stuff. I got a SkiErg machine. Just trying to keep up my fitness level.

I’m gettin’ that quarantine bod! Which, I would say, is a fit body — I’ve never seen so many people in the world being active ever. Maybe people just don’t have the time or they don’t prioritize it, but people have been out walking their dogs or out on runs, out in their driveways doing push-ups and sit-ups. I’ve seen so many people working out around the neighborhood when I have to go get groceries or I’m out on a run myself. So everyone seems like they’re getting fit.

Don’t worry — there’s been plenty of binge watching, too! Me and my wife just finished watching Ozark, which was super cool. We blew through Tiger King in like 24 hours. There’s plenty of time for that. We’re making time to get our binge watching in.

When all is said and done, outside or no outside, we’ll still have racing. (There will just be less exhaust and grease.) Once the race weekend got canceled, it was very apparent that online racing was gonna happen soon. I myself am a rookie in this arena, but there’s definitely a small percentage of real-life racers that already race online in simulators — let’s say 20% of the real-world drivers. This small group quickly sparked competitive online events. IndyCar, NASCAR, Formula 1 — everybody was getting on board.

I’m racing in the IndyCar official races that they’re doing online. We had our very first event on a Saturday, and I literally got all my simulator stuff shipped to my house just a couple of days before. I had Thursday night and Friday to build it, and basically only had about 24 hours of preparation before the first race. I was thrashing around all day to put my sim together and figure out how it works and how to drive it properly, figure out how to get a little better. And I ended up finishing seventh, which wasn’t terrible — I think we had 26 guys in it. You know, it was a good solid top 10. But it’s never good enough! Got to be first.

The good thing is it’s not reality. I’d rather be better in reality!

The biggest thing you can’t replicate is the actual car movement. When you’re in a car in real life, you’re getting all the actual effects from the car directly through to your body. You’re feeling the g-force effect, you’re feeling the chassis and how it moves on top of the road, you have a much better sense of the tires and the way they actually feel when you’re sliding the car through the corner. On a simulator, everything’s supposed to give you signals for what it should be like in real life, but it’s never perfect. It’s still a model.

I’m a huge Forza Motorsport player, by the way. When I’m at home, and I’m playing racing, I’m playing Forza on Xbox. That’s the game I grew up with. Forza Motorsport was my GAME. Back at home, when I was like 15 years old — and not out racing a go-kart — I was playing Forza. That’s my O.G. game, true story.

The cool thing about sims is that, of any sport, we are for sure the one that can most closely model our actual environment. It’s not one-to-one, but you know, you can’t give Steph Curry a perfect virtual environment — or even a close virtual environment — to play an NBA game. The same thing for the NFL or hockey. But with a race car, you can get reeaally close. You can get within like 90% of reality.

It’s natural to fear a time like this. I think we’re all going to go through different emotional phases. Knowing the world, and seeing how things have always evolved, I think we’ll get through this as a unit. We will work to find solutions for the future, not just for the current outbreak, but to protect humankind from different versions of this coronavirus in years to come.

I have the utmost faith in humanity. We have the ability to make the right decisions to protect the weak and get ourselves back on track. We just have to follow the guidelines coming down from up top, and we’ll be back before we know it.