Scott Dixon, Bobby Unser two legends in different ways, now equal on wins

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One was – and still is – known for being one of the most candid, outspoken but iconic voices and drivers in North American open-wheel history.

The other is the “Iceman” – a guy who’s got it done, week-on-week, for 12 straight years, who’s a quiet, cerebral soul most of the time with a wicked and underrated sense of humor off-camera.

Now, they’re tied on career wins.

Sunday’s Sonoma triumph was Scott Dixon’s 35th of his career, dating to his first in the 2001 CART race at Nazareth. That ties him for fifth all-time with Bobby Unser, the three-time Indianapolis 500 champion and renowned commentator after his retirement from driving.

Unser, from his vacation home in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, had this to say about Dixon:

“Scott Dixon is a very, very good driver and records are made to be broken,” he said. “I’ve been watching Scott race for years. I’ve been watching Scott since he started racing Indy cars when he was real young and he was successful almost immediately. He’s truly a great driver and drives with a lot of vigor.

“I am happy for Scott and at his young age I am sure he’ll get another win or lots to pass our 35 Indy car wins we now share together. Scott’s a racer, he truly knows how to drive a car, for sure. I just wish Chip would give him a stock car, sprinter or midget to race in, I am sure he’d win in those too. I am betting he’d win in anything he runs, if given the chance.”

Dixon, who’s told me in the past he’d be interested to try something on dirt, took an opportunity to reflect on being in the company of open-wheel’s Mount Rushmore of families: Foyt, Andretti, Unser and Mears.

“You know, as I’ve said before, I think stats are something you look back on when you are maybe leaving the car,” he said during the post-race press conference. “As I’ve said, hopefully you’re happy with them. To me it’s very eye-opening, pretty crazy to think that we’re on the short list last year with Unser, Andretti and Foyt ahead of us.

“But a lot of credit goes to the team I’ve been with. I’ve been with Ganassi for 13 years. To get all those victories, all but one of them have been with that team. With the longevity that I’ve had, it’s going to amount to hopefully something. Obviously respect those drivers from the past.  It’s something that I think I’ll reflect on probably when I’ve retired.”

Dixon’s deflecting the accolades for now, but we’re watching an all-time great who still has at least another four or five years in his prime.

Consider Unser was 34 when he won his first Indianapolis 500 in 1968… and that’s Dixon’s age now.

The difference in eras is that Unser raced until he was 47; today’s stars rarely race much past 38 or 40.

But Dixon has a realistic shot to climb to at least third on the all-time win list, a mark currently held by Michael Andretti with 42 wins. Dixon needs seven wins to achieve that mark.

His next win will be his 36th, and move him into the middle of an Unser sandwich. Al Unser ranks fourth on the all-time wins list with 39, and a 40th win for Dixon would move him into fourth.

AJ Foyt’s 67 wins and Mario Andretti’s 52 are, very likely, out of reach.

The only question about seven is that the level of domination by any one driver in IndyCar has gone down in recent years.

No single driver has won more than four races this season since the introduction of the Dallara DW12 chassis in 2012; both times, that’s been the champion (Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012, Dixon last year).

So Dixon could well get those wins, but it may take him some time. Either way, it’s hard not to appreciate what we’re seeing.

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.”