Eldora and Indy putting a lot on Tony Stewart’s plate

0 Comments

Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart is in the middle of a very busy week.

Last weekend, “Smoke” made a successful return to sprint car racing with a win and then a third-place finish in events at two Michigan dirt tracks.

But this Wednesday night, he’ll put on the track owner’s hat as his Eldora Speedway plays host to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in the dirt-track “Mudsummer Classic.”

And then come Friday morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he’ll begin his quest for a third Brickyard 400 victory that would also propel him into this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“It’s almost like two weeks in one for me,” Stewart said today in a NASCAR teleconference. “Eldora’s enough to cause you enough stress to last you for the rest of the year, and then going to the Brickyard, that’s a big race for me as well.”

While he helps with final preparations to get Eldora ready for the Trucks, he’s also looking ahead to returning to Indy, where he won in 2005 and again in 2007.

“When you grow up 45 minutes from Indy, there is nothing — that is sacred ground to me,” said Stewart, who ran a tire test there for Goodyear just a few weeks ago. “It always has been, always will be. I don’t care how many times you win there, it’s never enough.

“It’s nice to have won two races already there. That gives you confidence of knowing what you have to do to win. It’s just a matter of doing it.”

And doing it is what matters right now for Stewart, who is 17 points behind the 16th-place cutoff that’s currently occupied by Greg Biffle. With 11 drivers having won so far this year, five spots on the 16-driver Chase Grid remain open.

Stewart called the matter a “double-edged sword,” in that while a win would put him in the post-season, he’s still in contention to make the cut on points alone.

“Mindset-wise, there is nothing that is different other than we just need to — as much as the emphasis is on wins and not points racing, we’re kind of in a position where we’re close to being in that part of it as well where we could get in on points, but a win would solve that,” he said.

“Do you get yourself in a position where you go for the win and risk if you run second losing that opportunity? Or do you sit there and say, ‘Well, I need to have a solid point day because we have the opportunity on the other side of the coin.'”

But that’s for later in the week. Right now, his main focus on his track’s big race on Wednesday night and getting the chance to truly get a sense of the atmosphere around it.

Last year’s inaugural “Mudsummer Classic” was almost universally hailed as a triumph for everyone involved. But Stewart was so busy with preparations for the event that he says all he wanted to do every night was go to sleep.

He figures that the atmosphere will be very much different from a “normal” NASCAR weekend, but admitted that “it’s hard to describe.”

“I’ve been at Eldora so much but different divisions with Sprint cars and winged Sprint cars and late models, and modifieds – the show is different,” he explained.

“Even though it’s the same racetrack, it’s always different. It’s not going to be what you expect to see out on a Truck Series event. It’s kind of like taking Cup cars to a road course.

“The same series, the same drivers, the same vehicles, but it’s just a totally different racetrack. So I think that’s what makes it so much fun for everybody is that it’s outside the box and outside the norm.”

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
0 Comments

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.”