Looking back on motorsports’ 2014 “Festivus” moments

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Today is December 23, which means only one thing: It’s Festivus.

The fictional holiday created by Jerry Stiller’s Frank Costanza in Seinfeld lives on more than 15 years after its debut. If by some chance you’ve never heard of it, here’s a link.

What does this have to do with motorsports, you ask? It represents a perfect time for MotorSportsTalk to outline its 2014 “feats of strength” and “airing of grievances.”

FEATS OF STRENGTH

These were occasions where people pinned others down, or emerged victorious from battle:

  • Mercedes winning 16 of 19 Formula 1 races and their two drivers essentially saving the season by racing between each other for the win, and championship.
  • Lewis Hamilton emerging ahead of Nico Rosberg after their titanic tussle in the Bahrain Grand Prix.
  • Daniel Ricciardo winning at Montreal, Budapest and Spa. The Budapest drive in particular, where Ricciardo passed a couple World Champions in the process, was incredible to watch.
  • Pirelli making tires all year that were durable, yet went off when they were supposed to, and not being a story after being a story for all the wrong reasons in 2013.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s emotions after winning the Daytona 500 and Martinsville. Few victory lane celebrations have looked so pure and raw.
  • A.J. Allmendinger beating Marcos Ambrose to the Watkins Glen win, in one of the best finishes to a race this season.
  • Ryan Newman punting Kyle Larson out of the way at Phoenix to make the Championship 4 finale at Homestead.
  • Kevin Harvick’s final stint at Homestead that saw him rise from 12th to win and score both the win and the championship.
  • Harvick’s win delivering on his “Closer” nickname, and saving NASCAR from a potential winless champion in Newman.
  • Ryan Hunter-Reay making both that move in Turn 3 and then, a couple laps later, another move in Turn 1 to edge Helio Castroneves for the Indianapolis 500 victory.
  • Will Power finally winning the Verizon IndyCar Series championship.
  • Mikhail Aleshin – and the structural safety cell of his Dallara DW12 chassis – surviving a vicious impact against the catch fencing at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
  • The Taylor brothers emerging victorious after a great, beat-and-bang last lap battle against the Action Express Corvette at the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship race in Detroit.

AIRING OF GRIEVANCES

These were cases I had a lot of problems with this year, where people got mad and it led to controversy, contact, drama, tragedy or all of the above:

  • Everything about the Tony Stewart-Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy in August. There were no winners and it led to so much angst, as the biggest racing story of the year.
  • Matt Kenseth vs. Brad Keselowski at Charlotte.
  • Jeff Gordon vs. Keselowski at Texas (captured so brilliantly here by NASCAR satirist @Nascarcasm).
  • Mercedes’ reaction to the Rosberg-Hamilton contact at Spa.
  • Everything about Ferrari this year. Three team principals, countless staff changes, and Fernando Alonso’s long, drawn out departure. How does Maranello find its way back?
  • McLaren’s delay in announcing its 2015 driver lineup.
  • Caterham and Marussia’s demise. I hated to see them fade away, even though they did so in different ways. Caterham’s situation could best be described as an ongoing cluster given their management and financial turmoil – I termed it “Clusterham” – while Marussia’s demise was quick, hasty and sad after the Suzuka accident.
  • The Long Beach crash where Hunter-Reay went for it and came up empty… oy vey.
  • The post-standing start crash for the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis… again, oy vey.
  • Power vs. rival Simon Pagenaud the first half of the season. It was good to have a rivalry but it seemed almost a bit overplayed by the time we got to Detroit. Although watch this space next year when the two are teammates.
  • Power vs. race control at Pocono, and then Power deciding to take his gripes out on NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell.
  • The opening two races of the new TUDOR Championship season, where officiating errors led to controversial results in the GT Daytona classes at both the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
  • Ongoing BoP and driver rating discussions in sports car racing. Sad that these are often bigger talking points than the racing itself, and that doesn’t seem like it will change anytime soon.

Any others to add in either instance? That’s what the comments section is for…

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.”