Just days after winning one of motorsports most prestigious titles, IndyCar series champion Josef Newgarden received a hero's welcome in a very familiar place.
"He played baseball here, he played football here, he played basketball nearby here, and he just told me this is the right place to have it, so I'm glad we chose Drakes Creek Park," said Hendersonville Mayor Jamie Clary before proclaiming Sept. 20 Josef Newgarden Day.
The 26-year-old race car driver was in high demand after winning the series Sept. 17 in Sonoma, Calif., but said Wednesday few things made him happier than being honored in his home town.
"This is too much, actually," he said to a group that included city and county leaders, family friends and a few fans. "This is something else to come back to my home city here and to see a lot of people I knew here growing up."
He even gave a shout-out to his first baseball coach, Mark McDaniel.
McDaniel has been following for years his former player's racing career - one that included four wins this season as a Team Penske driver.
The former little league coach still remembers a six-year-old Newgarden picking daisies in the outfield.
"Like every other kid, he'd kick his glove in the air and his mind would wander a bit," said McDaniel.
"But once you got his attention, he'd play as hard as anyone, and he'd play any position you asked him to. He was just a great kid from a great family."
Newgarden's parents Tina and Joey were on-hand for the ceremony as well, receiving congratulations and well wishes.
Although Joey Newgarden had the dream of his son one day pursuing a professional baseball career, Josef caught the racing bug early on - first competing in kart racing at the age of 13. By the time he was 15 he had committed to the sport full-time.
Newgarden, who attended Sumner Academy in Gallatin, also made a big impression for the one year he attended JPII High School in 2005 as a freshman.
"Everyone has fond memories of Josef," said Michelle Barber, dean of admissions and advancement at JPII.
Barber said then-headmaster Hans Broekman was very supportive of Newgarden following his dream of becoming a world-class race car driver while he attended the school.
"He was supportive of him following his dreams," she said. "We're so proud of him and proud of his affiliation with JPII."
Newgarden lived in Indianapolis for the last five years before recently moving to Charlotte.
He said he returns often to visit his parents and other family members in the area.
"I'm proud I come from this town," the race car driver added. "I had a wonderful childhood. I love coming back here."