Ten with Townsend: Toronto debrief

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With the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader in the books, we again had the chance to catch up with our NBC Sports Network IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell for his thoughts on the weekend. With a busy schedule that’s also included his racing three other types of cars just since the last NBCSN race at Milwaukee, we definitely thank him for his time. Without further adieu, the latest from Townsend (see all prior installment links here):

-Toronto had a crazy first race, little quieter second. Do you think doubleheader format worked well here or is this place crazy enough that they better to pack all the action into one race?

I thought it worked well although I don’t want doubleheaders to start reducing the overall number of events on the calendar.  Clearly with Jakes’ accident on Sunday we are finding the limits of driver fatigue in doing both races.  Electric power steering might be a good consideration going forward.  That’s the intelligent solution to the problem I think.

-Standing starts – pass or fail? 

Pass. But let’s not pretend we are trailblazing here.  Let’s adopt the FIA F1 process for standing starts, lock, stop, and barrel and just replicate everything.  From how to treat aborted starts to what the lights look like and where they are placed.  It works, fans understand it, and it frees the series up to put their talents into greater challenges.  I think standing starts should become the standard on road/street, rolling starts on ovals.

-How much of Scott Dixon’s incredible last eight days do you put down to him, and how much to the team and what they may have found both in new engine spec and from their test at Sebring?

You have to give Scott full credit here.  He is executing on another level than the rest right now.  No mistakes, no dramas, just cleaning up.  He has been capable of that since Indy Lights.

-Should Helio be shaking in his boots at Dixon’s form or do you think that will motivate him and the Penske team to fight back harder? 

He should be nervous.  Ganassi looked untouchable at Toronto in both races for pace and consistency and we have a stretch of road and street circuits coming up.  Helio should be proud where he performed relative to Will Power- the standard bearer for Penske.  I think that shows Helio has studied Will and raised his game.

-Do you expect RHR to bounce back from a tough weekend? We’ve seen him be resilient before.

He always does bounce back.  He didn’t like my assessment of the accident with Power on Sunday but I’m always impressed with how he bounces back from drama.  Regardless of blame.  He is a quarterback-pedigree guy now and will lead his team down the stretch.

-From what you know about Tom Brown and his experience level, how much has his presence helped Bourdais and the Dragon team? Impressed at how quickly they have gelled?

I would say it’s been everything to do with the results.  Tom is among the very best in the sport and it’s a powerful combination when you pair him with a championship caliber driver.  I think they’re just getting started.  Have to respect Jay Penske’s passion for being the best too.  He is driven by one thing: winning.  Actually two things:  winning and beating his Dad.

-Biggest surprise and disappointment from Toronto weekend.

Biggest surprise:  Carlos Munoz– zero experience in an IndyCar on a street circuit, zero time to prepare.  Mistake free run and a star of the future.  Credit to John Barnes for giving another Lights guy a chance.

Biggest Disappointment:  Probably Mike Conway in qualifying because we all were expecting and hoping for another miracle like Detroit.  He still did a very solid job given the circumstances.  Nobody pushes harder than that guy.

-With so little track time for IndyCar on these doubleheader weekends, what could be done to improve the amount of track time other than slashing number of series on track or dropping the second race? 

Don’t need it.  I only had 3 laps of practice in SST before our standing start.  And there were two new ramps that we had never even seen on course for the race!  Why should IndyCar drivers get it any easier??!

-You’ve driven a little bit of everything since we last chatted with GRC, ALMS Ferrari at Lime Rock and Stadium Super Trucks at Toronto. You’d been used to the Ferrari but what did you make of your GRC and SST opportunities, and their horsepower amounts?

Xgames Munich with GRC was awesome.  Cars are amazing.  Super fast.  I was so stoked to win the LCQ and finish 6th in the main in my first attempt, especially with new sponsor- Royal Purple- on board.  Great event all around.  Plus I get mad street cred for banging doors in the air with Ken Block.

SST in Toronto was simply insane.  Insanely fun.   Robby and PT were my IndyCar idols growing up for their brash and wild demeanor.  So to roll out for practice with both of them, with 600 hp trucks and steel ramps was the ultimate joy ride!  The crowd loved it and we had a blast.

I’ve been very lucky this year to get to do so many different cool things behind the wheel.   Indy, Ferrari ALMS, GRC, SST, even a 3 million dollar vintage Indycar at Milwaukee.  I feel like Jim Carey in “Yes Man”.  Let’s hope it continues.

-Lastly, what was working with Steve Matchett like on the IndyCar side? 

Very good.  I have worked with Steve in the past with F1 on SPEED Channel and we picked right up where we left off.   His natural technical curiosity serves the fan well I think as he is literally exploring under the hood right along with the viewer at home.  I think that makes for good TV.  Hope to work with him again.  Also thoroughly enjoyed scaring the $%#@ out of him in the pace car.   Does that mean I need therapy?

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.”