What we’re thankful for in the motorsports world, 2014

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First off, a Happy Thanksgiving from us to you here at MotorSportsTalk.

We’re thankful, most of all, for your watching of the first season of NASCAR AMERICA on NBCSN, the home of open-wheel racing with Formula One and IndyCar on NBC, CNBC and NBCSN, and your readership and support of MST throughout our second season.

As to the rest of what we’re thankful for? See below.

NASCAR

  • We’re thankful for an entertaining, dramatic, at-times controversial but ultimately successful first year of NASCAR’s new Chase, where Kevin Harvick emerged as a long overdue, deserved first-time champion over Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano.
  • We’re thankful Logano blossomed into the potential megastar Mark Martin and others pegged him to be years ago, and for he and Brad Keselowski delivering Team Penske’s most successful season in terms of race wins.
  • We’re thankful for all the emotion that boiled over surrounding Keselowski this year. Did we know Matt Kenseth had that in him at Charlotte? Or that Brad and Jeff Gordon would be in a dust-up, semi-triggered by Harvick at Texas? No, but we were talking about it for days afterwards.
  • We’re thankful for Dale Earnhardt Jr., in so many ways. We’re thankful for his incredible excitement and emotion after he won the Daytona 500 and his first race ever at Martinsville. We’re thankful he and crew chief Steve Letarte had such a successful final season working together before Letarte joins NBC’s broadcast team. Most of all, we’re thankful Dale Jr. joined Twitter.
  • We’re thankful Gordon had one of his best seasons in years, with four wins and what, in any other year, could have been a championship-winning season. Such was the format structure that Gordon didn’t make it to Homestead with a shot, but at 43, he remained one of NASCAR’s best.
  • We’re thankful for the emerging glut of mega talented young stars, such as Sprint Cup rookie-of-the-year Kyle Larson, Nationwide champ Chase Elliott, Truck stars Ryan Blaney and Darrell Wallace Jr., and so many more who will feature prominently in NASCAR’s future.
  • And honestly, we’re thankful Jimmie Johnson didn’t win another title (how many more superlatives can we come up with for “six-time?”) and that Ryan Newman didn’t win the title without winning a race (NASCAR likely dodged a bullet there).
source: Getty Images
Hamilton and Rosberg staged a classic. Photo: Getty Images

Formula One

  • We’re thankful Mercedes AMG Petronas, on the strength of an all-conquering W05 chassis, allowed drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to race tooth-and-nail all year for the World Championship. Lewis prevailed, Nico was a close second, and both had everything to be proud of in a year where they delivered Mercedes’ first Constructor’s World Championship.
  • We’re thankful for the emergence of Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas.
  • We’re thankful for Williams’ resurgence in 2014.
  • We’re thankful for Fernando Alonso continuing to outperform his machinery (and Ferrari teammate), even if this year, that wasn’t as noticeable given the lack of wins or podiums.
  • We’re thankful Jenson Button has remained all class until the end, if this was in fact his final season in F1.
  • Most of all, we’re thankful we’re not writing about losing Michael Schumacher and/or Jules Bianchi after their respective devastating accidents in the last 12 months. We continue to wish the best for both the seven-time World Champ and the rising French star in their recoveries.
source: Getty Images
Power and Penske crew on top at last. Photo: Getty Images

IndyCar

ELSEWHERE

  • Although the tragedy involving Kevin Ward Jr.’s death after being struck by Tony Stewart’s car was the racing story of the year, there didn’t seem to be as high a volume and frequency of fatality stories this year compared to 2013, so we can be thankful for that.
  • We’re thankful for Erica Enders-Stevens’ emergence as Pro Stock champion in NHRA after a long career of trying.
  • We’re thankful to have witnessed Tom Kristensen’s racing career. “Mr. Le Mans” hangs up his helmet after nine 24 Hours of Le Mans wins, six 12 Hours of Sebring wins and the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship after this weekend’s season finale in Brazil.
  • We’re thankful that at long last, Indy Lights has a new car to look forward to. Interest is up and many seats remain to be filled as that series looks for a rebirth in 2015, but has more buzz entering the offseason for the first time in years.

IndyCar’s Scott Dixon staying fit with new training regimen during layoff

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During a regular racing schedule, five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing would spend much of his time between races at PitFit in Indianapolis.

The highly advanced workout facility on the northwest side of Indianapolis is run by noted sports trainer Jim Leo. His clientele includes IndyCar Series drivers and other athletes in the area.

In addition to the array of workout machines, Leo’s facility also has advanced equipment to test a driver’s reaction time. These range from a board with lights that rapidly flash, and a driver has to hit the board to turn them off. There are other tests drivers do to keep their skills sharp and reaction time focused.

Times have changed, though.

Indiana is under a statewide lockdown with the exception of essential services only. Instead of going to PitFit, Dixon is working out at his home on the north side of Indianapolis.

RELATED: How is Sabres’ star Jack Eichel staying fit?

His reaction time is being tested by his wife, Emma, throwing a tennis ball at him, changing the direction with each toss.

“I’ve gone back to old school, like tennis balls and Emma can drop them or throw them,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “As long as you keep up with basic cardio and lift weights and work on the neck muscles, that’s the harder part to get ready for.

“I had already stopped going into Pit Fit last week. We had not been doing that for a while. Haven’t left the house for 13 days, now. We went to the grocery store once. The rest of the stuff has been delivered.

“We’re locked down, man, trying to do our best for everyone else.”


Dixon’s home has an impressive array of workout equipment. That allows the 39-year-old racing legend to stay fit during this extended time off that won’t end until the last week of May at the earliest.

“I have most of the stuff I need at home,” Dixon explained. “Some of the reaction stuff, the D-2s and Synaptic machines plus some of the upper-body machines, are pretty unique machines. Those are the machines that Jim Leo has at PitFit.

“As far as cycling, running, general weights, skiers and rollers, I have that at home.”

It seems like a lifetime ago when the world was normal. That was before the dreaded novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic literally sent society underground and locked in while awaiting a solution to this fatal virus.

Photo by Chris Graythen, Getty Images

Before this unexpected shutdown, Dixon would go into PitFit to work on specialized equipment on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He would do the rest of his physical workout at home.

“I started skipping that when we got home before the lockdown,” Dixon said. “Before the lockdown, Jim could have stayed open because he never has more than 10 people at once.

“Typically, he would have the drivers spaced out where Tony Kanaan and I would go in at 8 in the morning, and Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe would go in at 9:30, and then Zach Veach and Spencer Pigot and Charlie Kimball would go in around 11. There were only about five of us going in at once.”

Two weeks ago, Leo dropped off some equipment at Dixon’s house along with more instructions to focus on his workouts during the layoff.

Sacrifices are being made all throughout the world, including racing.

“You can’t be selfish,” Dixon said. “It sucks for the drivers, but it sucks a lot worse for a lot of other people. Luckily, the school the girls go to has e-learning. It’s school as usual on the computer from 8:30 to 3 and that has been seamless on that front.

“On a personal note, it’s nice to be home with the baby and bonding as well, and that is great. But all of us wish everything was back to normal as soon as possible.”

RELATED: Vikings’ Kyle Rudolph adjusting to ‘new normal’ for training

Dixon is the father of three, including young daughters Poppy (10), Tilly (8) and infant son, Kit.

This is a time to keep his family safe.

“You hear mixed messages about who is more at risk,” Dixon said. “Obviously, older people with underlying conditions. We’re a fairly healthy family, but still it sounds like something can trigger a pretty bad situation. It’s better to be safe than sorry so we are limiting our contact as fast as possible. The quicker everybody locks down, the quicker we will get through the situation. If we stay home, we will see a decline and hopefully get back to normal pretty quickly.

“It’s a new thing for everybody.”


For now, Dixon works out at home, while the girls continue their classes on the computer. Emma spends time with her infant son, Kit, while taking care of the family.

These days of working out at home will be important because once racing is scheduled to return, tentatively set for May 30 at Detroit, it will be flat-out, racing nearly every weekend.

There won’t be time off inbetween races.

“No, but everybody is having plenty of rest right now,” Dixon quipped. “It’s not what anybody wants. We all keep hoping everybody remains safe and healthy. It’s a difficult time for a lot of people and we’ve been very lucky that we don’t know anybody that has had an issue so far. Hopefully, that remains the same.

“Everybody is ready to go. We were ready to go at St. Pete. This will be welcomed greatly.

“Nothing is normal these days. I think what IndyCar and IMS did was probably the best of the situations. You never want to move the dates of the 500, but you always want the people to be relaxed enough they are going to come to the race, too.

“The way they have done the schedule is pretty cool. It gives them enough wiggle room now with Detroit being the kickoff. What is also fun is the July 4 doubleheader weekend at Indianapolis and St. Pete finishing the season.”

Once life returns to normal, depending on what the new normal will look like, race drivers and athletes will once again be in an area they know.

The difficult part of this, however, is nobody knows when the COVID-19 outbreak will end.

“The hard part right now is there are so many unknowns,” Dixon said. “That is what people hate. They could wrap their hands around two weeks, but it could be another six weeks. People will go crazy.

“That is what we are going through right now. The unknown. Nobody knows what the next step is.”

That is why Dixon has a message for all race fans to take these orders seriously.

“Stay safe. Stay away from people. Lock down. Get this period done with,” Dixon said. “Once we do that, hopefully we can crack on like normal, and people can find fixes and therapies. As soon as everybody bunkers down, we will get through this sooner instead of later.

“Let’s get back to normal as quick as possible and get back to racing when we can.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500