Young drivers star in mixed, primarily wet conditions at Watkins Glen

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One of the highlights of this past weekend’s IMSA event at Watkins Glen International, which featured the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen as the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship headliner but also additional races from four other championships, was seeing so many young drivers drive so well in arguably the toughest conditions a driver can face.

Both Saturday’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and Sunday’s TUDOR Championship races presented an opportunity for drivers to hang onto their cars on a dry track, drying track coming off rain, a wetter track where rain intensified, or a crazy heavy rain.

Here were the standout performers:

  • Cameron Lawrence, No. 93 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GT3-R, TUDOR. Lawrence, in only his third TUDOR start, ran smoothly while on slick tires as rain began to intensify from the fourth to fifth hours in the six-hour race. His final stint, taken after teammates Al Carter and Marc Goossens raced earlier in the event, helped place the car into position for Goossens to bring the car home to win. The under-the-radar 22-year-old should be on the radar for bigger teams, and in contention for a full-time ride in 2015.
  • Conor Daly, No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09, TUDOR. I’ve written at length about “CD” this year and it baffles me as to why the 23-year-old from Noblesville, Ind. doesn’t have a full-time ride (yeah, OK, it comes down to financial reasons, but that doesn’t make it right given his efforts this year). In the opening hour of the race, Daly put more than a minute on the rest of the PC class field, nearly lapping it before the first yellow of the race. Daly has proven multiple times this year, both in IndyCar and sports cars, he can star in wet conditions – and it’s because they’re one of his favorites. “The car was amazing on the stint. I love these conditions. Sadly we got the yellow when we did which ruined the strategy. I was happy with what I could do,” Daly told IMSA Radio’s Shea Adam after his stint, after yet another great drive following a last-minute call-up.
  • Daniel Burkett, No. 16 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09, TUDOR. If Daly’s call-up was last-minute, Burkett’s was last-second. The 20-year-old from Winnipeg has previously been known for his red hair and humorous, self-deprecating “trying to find sponsorship” videos, but had his first test in a PC car with BAR1 only last week. It was only as of Thursday Burkett even knew he had a ride with the team for the race; once in the car, it didn’t take long for the Pro Mazda rookie to get within half a second or less of the team’s more experienced lead pro, Martin Plowman, a past 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner. Burkett led during his sports car debut and certainly opened some eyes, as together with Plowman and 17-year-old Matt McMurry they finished third in the PC class.
  • Ashley Freiberg, No. 46 Fall-Line Motorsports BMW M3, CTSC. Freiberg and the Fall-Line team, together with co-driver and defending GS class champion Trent Hindman, have had a challenging year with the venerable BMW M3 down on power compared to other cars in class. With rain the great equalizer, Freiberg stormed up to second in her stint at a track she’s won at before in another category. Hindman didn’t get a chance to match or exceed it with heavy rain forcing the race to end under yellow, but Freiberg, 23, had done enough to put the car a season-best second.
  • Austin Cindric, No. 158 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Shelby GT350R-C, CTSC. Cindric, youngest of this group at just 16, drove far beyond his years in the mixed conditions to take the debuting car to the lead at one point in his stint. It’s shaping up as a banner year for the son of Team Penske president Tim Cindric, who’s raced Bathurst, won the opening two GRC Lites races in Red Bull Global Rallycross, and has this full-season effort with Multimatic and Ford.
  • Kenton Koch, No. 60 JDC Motorsports, IMSA Cooper Tires Prototype Lites. In both dry and wet conditions, the lanky, personable and down-to-earth 20-year-old won his fourth and fifth races in six races this season. Koch turns 21 next month, but has already been a rising star in sports car racing for the last three years; he’s well on his way to adding a Prototype Lites title to the Mazda MX-5 Cup crown he achieved last year.

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.”