With one month-plus til St. Petersburg, still plenty on outside looking in

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The Verizon IndyCar Series silly season is down to, in all likelihood, four full-time remaining seats left to fill. Those four are the fourth car at Andretti Autosport, the second car at KV Racing Technology and the two cars at Dale Coyne Racing.

But there are still plenty of drivers on the outside looking in, or with their plans yet to be confirmed, for IndyCar and the rest of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder before the March 29 St. Petersburg opener. Here’s a look at who’s left standing, beyond what we wrote last winter:

  • Justin Wilson: Widely linked to Andretti’s fourth seat, but still in a waiting game on budget. The later the offseason gets, and the closer the St. Petersburg opener approaches, it becomes more dangerous as to whether the driver known as “Bad ass” will be back for a 12th season in IndyCar.
  • Ryan Briscoe: Unlikely to land a full-time opportunity, Briscoe’s best odds may be for an Indianapolis 500-only seat alongside his Corvette Racing commitments at Sebring and Le Mans.
  • Carlos Huertas, Sebastian Saavedra: The pair of Colombians finalized late deals last offseason, and would need to be in a position to do likewise if they are to return for their second and fourth full-time seasons, respectively.
  • Simona de Silvestro: Reportedly making waves about an IndyCar comeback, and has IndyCar photos linked to her social media pages, but thus far not publicly confirmed to one of the remaining seats.
  • Oriol Servia, JR Hildebrand: Two former teammates but not on the brink of anytime full-time. Outside of 2010, Servia’s been on an IndyCar grid every year since 2000. Hildebrand’s best shot was at CFH Racing, but that road/street course slot went to Luca Filippi.
  • Conor Daly, Alexander Rossi: Daly was the “people’s pick” for the SPM second car that has now gone to James Jakes, but now in an utter predicament, career-wise. Focused on IndyCar after parts of four years in Europe, but it might be too late on either side of the pond for anything decent full-time, now. Rossi is in a similar predicament; he was shown to have a seat fitting at Dale Coyne Racing toward the end of 2014, but hasn’t had additional news follow.
  • The rest of the testers: Right now Stefano Coletti, Davide Valsecchi, Rodolfo Gonzalez, Rocky Moran Jr. and Daniel Abt all have one thing in common: they’ve all tested at least once this offseason and could well be in the frame for the remaining seats. Coletti and Gonzalez appear closer to seats than the other three at the moment.
  • Zach Veach, A.N. Other: Veach is another of several linked to the vacant Andretti seat. Every year there always seems to be at least one surprise driver nominated who shows up late in the game, usually in the second Dale Coyne Racing car, so it would be weird to expect anything different this year.

Also of note, talented young drivers Sage Karam and Scott Hargrove are only confirmed for St. Petersburg in their respective No. 8 cars in both IndyCar and Indy Lights. Karam will make his Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar debut (second overall start), while Hargrove will be behind the wheel of 8Star Motorsports’ chassis for both the driver and team’s Indy Lights debut.

Talented prospect and past Pro Mazda/USF2000 champion Matthew Brabham, who raced in Indy Lights with Andretti Autosport last year, also is yet to have his program finalized for this season.

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.”