Hinchcliffe win poignant from Schmidt, local NOLA perspectives (VIDEO)

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AVONDALE, La. – His win in the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana came courtesy of a strategic masterstroke from engineer Allen McDonald, assistant engineer Will Anderson and strategist Robert Gue, but for James Hinchcliffe, it didn’t matter “how” the win happened so much as the fact that it happened.

Hinchcliffe has been something of a race ambassador since the Andretti Sports Marketing-promoted race was first announced last fall.

He’s been to the city for testing, for Mardi Gras in February, and now once more for the race weekend. He was also featured in NBCSN’s first episode of INDYCAR Chronicles, which premiered on Friday afternoon.

And now, he’s a race winner for the first time in nearly two years, and for the first time with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

“Yeah, I came down here last June for the announcement that we were going to be doing a race here, and seeing how far the track has come is incredible,” he said. “The entire crew here have done an excellent job. Kristin, Tim, all those guys deserve a huge amount of credit and IndyCar for pulling it off.

“When we got to come down for Mardi Gras, that was a pretty unique experience in and of itself. etting to see the local culture and getting to be a part of that, and at the same time seeing how everybody was looking forward to the race. Everybody heard of the track. Everybody heard that IndyCar was coming to town, and it wasn’t that a race was coming to town, they knew IndyCar was coming to town and that’s not something we see all the time.

“So to have them have that kind of enthusiasm and come out and sit through what was not exactly an ideal weekend weatherwise, it means a lot to us. So I hope they enjoyed it, and we can’t wait to come back next year and hopefully put on an even better show.”

The win was also poignant from a perspective of working with one previous team owner – Sam Schmidt, whom he drove for in the 2009 Indy Lights season – and also with Ric Peterson, who is the only Canadian team owner in the series.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s awesome driving for Sam and for Rick, being the Canadian team owner, and a team owner that I raced for in Indy Lights,” Hinchcliffe said. “He really helped bring me into this world and taught me about oval racing and the IndyCar world in general. So to have come full circle and get back to race with him was great.

“It’s funny, I never even actually won a race for Sam in Lights. All my wins came the following year. It’s definitely a lot better.

“I’d much rather do it at this level and give him one of these because he deserves it. All the guys deserve it. Allen and Robert and Will, and all the guys on the stand that made that call. That’s not an easy risk to take, but we did it, and it paid off. So they deserve this one, for sure.”

The call itself – Hinchcliffe won on a one-stop strategy after pitting on Lap 13 – was a go-for-broke call. Gue, who was interviewed during the NBCSN broadcast, said they had to go for it with the frequency of yellows that popped up in the second half of the race.

“The first stop was great, picked up a few more places there, and the crew made that decision on the yellow to stay out,” Hinchcliffe said. “Honestly, at first we did it for weather, but the weather held off.

“At the end of the day it was actually yellows that saved us. At first I was cursing the yellows that were coming out because we needed to green to get the gap to have a better shot at it when we did stop.

“But a one-stop strategy, who thought that was going to play out here today?”

There weren’t many, if any, who thought that would be the case. But it was, and “Hinch” and SPM made the most of the circumstances to score their first win together.

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.”