Andretti’s organization truly “gets it” with 2014 plans, expansions

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One of the partner representatives at Monday’s Andretti Autosport 2014 team reveal referred to the Andretti family as a brand, which is a good and accurate description. And just in the last five years, Michael Andretti’s own forging of his and his team’s stature has only enhanced the brand.

For a brief history lesson, the team was formerly known as Andretti Green Racing through 2009 but since the transition to its current iteration as Andretti Autosport in 2010, the team has, year-by-year, made methodical steps forward to emerge as one of the key players on the overall North American motorsports scene.

Of the three so-called “power teams” in IndyCar – Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport – only Andretti was committed enough to developing and nurturing future stars in all three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system. And the results are already evident with his 2014 driver lineup: the only drivers who didn’t race for an Andretti ladder team are Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe, and both of them have extensive ladder histories anyway before they moved into IndyCar.

But Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz (Indy Lights, now IndyCar), Matthew Brabham (Pro Mazda, now Indy Lights), Zach Veach (Pro Mazda and USF2000, now Indy Lights), Shelby Blackstock and Garett Grist (USF2000, now Pro Mazda) have all raced with Andretti’s teams in the past before advancing with the team to their current seats.

It’s with that information that unfortunately the team’s USF2000 program is the casualty of its expanding horizons as an overall company. But something had to go given the team’s 2014 aspirations and commitments.

The Andretti organization – through its Andretti Autosport team and Andretti Sports Marketing arms – is truly well-positioned in other forms of motorsport to weather whatever economic storm could hit and the key foresight to be able to explore what could be “the next big thing” in motorsports.

Andretti Sports Marketing (based in Indianapolis, with satellite offices in Toronto, New York, & Ft. Lauderdale) promotes one IndyCar race, the Milwaukee IndyFest, which now, thanks to that team’s efforts has an overflow of corporate partners. The result is a tongue-twister – the ABC Supply Co. Inc. Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers – but it now has date (August) and sponsor stability that other races on the IndyCar calendar could crave.

To replace the Baltimore race that was dropped mainly due to a date clash, the ASM team has expanded into FIA Formula E, both as a team and now race promoter of its Miami event, and just Monday officially into Global Rallycross with VW.

Andretti, in his new joint roles as CEO, team principal and race strategist remains humble in public comments and thankful for the opportunities, even though he’s been the driving force for both organizations’ forward momentum.

“My whole career, just driving, to be able to do it and be halfway successful, and now to come out and have such a great group around me, it’s really exciting,” he said at Monday’s 2014 team launch. “I’ve been with the sport I love my whole life; I’m very lucky.”

Some of the other team members of note include J-F Thormann and John Lopes, along with a seemingly ever-expanding PR/marketing, sales and operations staff that keep the forward momentum moving.

Andretti’s organization has not branched into NASCAR, where with time, it could achieve another round of successful results as the Penske and Ganassi organizations have there. Ganassi’s team had a stellar 2010 season with sweeps of the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 with Jamie McMurray. Meanwhile over the last five years, Penske’s operation has won several dozens of races between Cup and Nationwide. Brad Keselowski secured the 2010 Nationwide and 2012 Sprint Cup championships, and Penske also secured the the owner’s championship in Nationwide in 2013.

Back to Andretti’s group, though, the organization has sought to be the best in every open-wheel discipline it enters. Since 2010, Andretti’s team has improved its IndyCar win total each year (5 in 2013, 4 in 2012, 3 in 2011, 2 in 2010). Overall, it has four IndyCar championships and two Indianapolis 500 victories. It has two Indy Lights titles (2008 with Raphael Matos, 2009 with JR Hildebrand). It has a crushing Pro Mazda title-winner in Brabham (2013); it had a USF2000 champion in Sage Karam (2010), who is one of the few ladder series drivers who didn’t advance fully up the ladder with the team.

Given that pedigree, it’s hard not to consider it a contender in FE, even though as a new series there’s no clue yet as to how the races will play out. It’s also hard to not consider it a contender in GRC.

And the organization’s status as a major mover-and-shaker in the business of racing, largely with race promotion but also in other areas and services, is not going unnoticed.

Even yesterday’s live stream of its 2014 team launch was another clear sign how much this organization “gets it.” One of the few sticking points most raise about IndyCar is how little of its content is live streamed. So here’s the Andretti group, that has brought in a new, forward-thinking, Austin-based social media and technology company called Cinsay and streams it on a new site called AndrettiTV.com, which is designed to provide fans more access. Ironically, there were the occasional technical glitches, but don’t let that detract from the purpose of what the organization set out to do with the stream.

In an era where racing sponsorship is so hard to find, Andretti has managed to find not one but two new major primary sponsors to replace GoDaddy and the Venezuelan backing brought by E.J. Viso last year. The Cinsay and United Fiber & Data cars look great, too.

It’s the combination of all these things that sees Andretti Autosport and Andretti Sports Marketing ridiculously well-positioned in a notoriously tough business. If you haven’t been paying attention, now would be a good time to start.

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.”