MRTI: Brabham, Hargrove, Owen score Friday Indy wins

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Mixed track conditions made for a barnburner of an afternoon in three Mazda Road to Indy races at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. And for the most part, the drivers in the Cooper Tire-shod Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 series did a good job in their respective races on the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Two 2013 MRTI champions – Matthew Brabham (Pro Mazda 2013, Indy Lights 2014) and Scott Hargrove (USF2000 2013, Pro Mazda 2014) – took their first wins on the next rung of the ladder, while rookie Will Owen scored his first USF2000 win as well.

INDY LIGHTS

The 40-minute sprint race, the first of two for Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire, saw a wealth of passes and action as drivers fought for grip and traction on a drying track.

From his first career pole, Matthew Brabham finally secured his first Indy Lights win. The Andretti Autosport driver got a great start and headed off challenges from outside pole sitter Gabby Chaves and rookie Luiz Razia throughout the day to take home the triumph.

Behind him it seemed a bit of process of elimination. Chaves retired with an engine failure, points leader Zach Veach had a spin and finished ninth, and Jack Harvey ran off course early but then completed a sterling comeback to return to third.

After the podium finishers, Zack Meyer posted a career-best fourth finish with Alex Baron fifth.

PRO MAZDA

Several accidents peppered the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tire race, which saw Scott Hargrove (pictured) finally take his first win for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing.

With erstwhile series dominant force Spencer Pigot, 4-for-4 to open the season, involved in a first corner accident and Hargrove’s teammate, Neil Alberico, surviving a clash with Ryan Booth in a battle for the lead, Hargrove made it through to take top honors.

A late-race restart saw Shelby Blackstock shoot himself out of a cannon to nearly take the lead from Hargrove, but he was unable to complete the move and ended second. Alberico ended third.

USF2000

Pabst Racing called in rookie Will Owen to change from wet-weather tires onto dry weather slicks as the IMS road course dried out during the USF2000 race, and it paid major dividends.

Owen turned a major deficit into more than a 15-second victory as the only driver on the slicks, with Jake Eidson second and Aaron Telitz third.

Florian Latorre finished fourth and 14-year-old Colton Herta was fifth, in an impressive rebound from 22nd on the grid after his car had an infraction found during post-qualifying technical inspection.

All three series have their second races of the weekend on Saturday.

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.”