Race control enhancements, standing starts announced at IndyCar media day

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Nineteen drivers and one key IndyCar Series official passed through the turnstiles at Tuesday’s IndyCar media day, held at Amway Center in Orlando. The quotes offered from the drivers can be fleshed out over the next couple weeks in the completion of winter testing and the run-up to the season opener in St. Petersburg.

What was the biggest news today though, came from IndyCar’s president of competition and operations, Derrick Walker. The Scot, an open-wheel veteran who begins his first full season on the job after taking over the post last June 1, announced plans to modernize and enhance IndyCar race control, which was occasionally in the cross hairs in 2013.

Walker hinted to MotorSportsTalk at the United States Grand Prix in Austin last November that changes would be coming to race control, although not personnel-related. He said in the races he saw from race control post-the Indianapolis 500, a couple things “seemed pretty obvious” in needing to be changed.

“We couldn’t always see what we needed to do for race control to be effective.  It looked pretty obvious we needed to upgrade our equipment and needed to have more eyes on the job,” Walker told assembled reporters Tuesday.

And then came the c-word – consistency. It was a subject that caused controversy last year in the back-to-back races at Sonoma and Baltimore eventual series champion Scott Dixon retired due to contact with Will Power.

“In addition to that we needed more procedures and probably guidelines is the best way to describe it so that we were as consistent as often as possible.  That was one of the shortcomings of race control,” said Walker.

“So for this year we’ve invested a tremendous amount in equipment so we have a lot more views and better-quality views, better replay, trying to capture all the views that are possible.”

This year will see equipment investment to better help race control see the race, and he also said he hopes by this time in 2015, a mobile race control unit will be established for transport to each race. Right now, INDYCAR is beholden to a certain location on each track where it sets up race control; it is not in one centralized unit.

Walker expanded on what equipment would be added for 2014.

“We’re talking a lot more flat screens, HD,” he said. “The reason for more of them is because we don’t always get all the views that the cameras around the track gets.  We haven’t always got that.  We’ve been caught out many times where we made a call and afterwards saw a different view that would make us think twice.”

Walker confirmed aero kits, the much-discussed, officially planned but not-yet-officially implemented add-ons made by manufacturers, are being worked on. But he didn’t anticipate seeing them until right before they’re officially launched.

Of this year’s Indianapolis 500 qualifying, the format and procedure is “very close” but not formal, yet.

He also took a subtle dig at NASCAR, when asked about giving Juan Pablo Montoya extra days of testing and if any NASCAR drivers (re: Kurt Busch) were going to be able to do an Indianapolis 500-Coca-Cola 600 Memorial Day double.

“We have to help those little taxicab boys come out and race real cars,” Walker deadpanned.

The other major bit of news announced was standing starts, confirmed for Long Beach (April 13, NBCSN) and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis (May 10). Long Beach was interested in one for 2013, but the technology hadn’t been proven yet. Successful standing starts were executed at Toronto’s second race, and Houston’s first race.

“Part of the problem with Long Beach, is getting the field coming round, getting all the field on the front straight, letting it loose,” Walker said. “It never works very well.  If you do a standing start, I think it will be a much better start.”

Added Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach: “This is fantastic news for our fans. They will love hearing the sounds of the IndyCar engines revving up and then the cars roaring down Shoreline Drive. Thanks to IndyCar and especially to Derrick Walker for granting our request. This is a great addition to all of the other activities we have planned as we celebrate 40 years of racing in the streets of Long Beach.”

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.”