Raise your hand if you saw Lucas Luhr in a Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing IndyCar for Sonoma next month. Anyone? Bueller?
Of course you didn’t.
In what has to be one of the biggest surprises in IndyCar in years, the sports car veteran and all-time winningest driver in the American Le Mans Series (45 wins as of the last round at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park) will make his IndyCar debut at Sonoma on August 25. Luhr is a five-time ALMS champion and the only ALMS driver to win championships in three separate series classes – GT, LMP2 and LMP1.
Luhr, 34, of Koblenz, Germany, will drive the No. 97 Rotondo Weirich (RW)/SFHR Indy Dallara-Honda as a teammate to the full-season driver Josef Newgarden. Luhr will have his first running by participating in an open test at Sonoma on August 13.
“I am very excited about driving for RW/SFHR in Sonoma,” Luhr said. “I have wanted to drive an IndyCar for quite some time and when this opportunity came up I was very happy to say yes straight away. I would like to thank Steve Weirich, RW, Sarah (Fisher) and Mr. (Wink) Hartman, as well as Honda HPD for introducing us. I’d also like to give a very big thank you to my team owner Greg Pickett at Muscle Milk for allowing me to accept this challenge in the middle of the season.”
While the SFHR press release did indicate this is possible “with the combined efforts of Rotondo Weirich (RW) and Muscle Milk,” we have to stress this is not a Muscle Milk Pickett Racing entry. The ALMS team that competes in P1 with a Honda Performance Development HPD ARX-03c is based in nearby Benicia, Calif.
The possibility of a second car for Fisher has been in play since late June. The team issued a release then which listed Steve Weirich of RW, a construction business, as an owner of one of the team’s three cars. Weirich is the owner of RW and RW Motorsports.
“IndyCar is the epitome of racing,” Weirich said at the time. “It’s always been a dream of mine to build up to that level of racing and to do it with an all- American racing team. The whole alignment of IndyCar racing and the passion I see from SFHR is the same passion I hold, and it’s the perfect alignment of goals.”
As for this release, Weirich said, “”Lucas [Luhr] has great strengths as well and I am looking forward to bringing a driver of his caliber to the IZOD IndyCar Series. Sonoma is a great venue for us as well as IndyCar and we know the synergy of this entry will produce a great result.”
Read into this what you will for 2014, but the bottom line is for now, this is a joint SFHR/RW entry with the possibility of it being an exploratory opportunity for Muscle Milk and its brand in the future.
Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series
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.
“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].”
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.”
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.”