For Power and Hunter-Reay, Indy win would give careers a greater boost

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They’re the two drivers who battled down to the wire for last year’s IZOD IndyCar Series championship. One’s come out firing to start 2013, and the other has been struck by bad luck in three of four races.

Yet going into tomorrow’s 97th running of the Indianapolis 500, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power (pictured) are almost entirely under-the-radar. Something about that is not quite right.

Hunter-Reay’s comeback to capture his first title a year ago didn’t generate near the buzz on the national level that it could have. Meanwhile Power, long regarded as IndyCar’s master of the road and street course domain, has had results this year that are hardly Penske material (only one top-15 finish in four races).

They start sixth and seventh – Power ahead of Hunter-Reay – and while neither is really a favorite, they are both due a good result at Indianapolis after struggling since both of their rookie years. They both know the magnitude of what a win tomorrow could do for either of their careers.

“You can’t put a price tag on it,” Hunter-Reay said during media day on Thursday. “You grow up watching and discover this is where heroes are made. The guy who wins might as well have a ‘Superman’ cape on.”

Power added about winning here, “I think it’ll always be big. I just think it becomes a tradition for people to come here. It’s more than about the race. People come here to have a good time.”

In Friday’s final practice, Hunter-Reay was third fastest and Power was 15th. Hunter-Reay has collaborated with the rest of the Andretti Autosport team to simulate race runs with all five of their cars. It sounds easy on paper, but actually pulling it off has been more challenging than expected.

“It sounds easy but getting five different programs together at once, at the same time, is so hard,” Hunter-Reay admitted. “Everyone always has different agendas, and people are all over the board. That has really helped us.”

Power feels confident in the grip levels on a cooler track for race day, as ambient temperatures are projected in the mid-to-high 60s. The last few years, the race has been in the 90s.

“You’re just adjusting to be as it was when it hot,” Power said. “You adjust to keep the consistent downforce level. The cooler it is, the thicker the air, the more it sucks to the ground and it gets more grip.”

Keys to success on Sunday include placing yourself in the right spot at the right time, and playing the tow effect to the maximum.

“There should be a massive tow, because these cars punch a huge hole in the air,” Hunter-Reay said. “Nobody can break away. I don’t foresee a guy taking off in the distance.”

Power, more succinctly, says at this stage of the month, you know what you have and have to take it from there.

“You know what you’ve got at this point for sure because you’ve been running all month,” he said. “I guess you base your confidence at this time on that.”

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
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More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”