Post-Iowa, how Sage Karam responds at Mid-Ohio will speak volumes about his versatility


Even more than race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, Sage Karam was the story in the Verizon IndyCar Series coming out of its most recent round at Iowa Speedway two weeks ago.

Yes, even more than that pesky new Rule 9.3.8 that entered the INDYCAR Rulebook last Tuesday.

Karam’s post-race dustup with Ed Carpenter dominated the headlines, then the two did a series of radio interviews, then Karam addressed a wide range of topics in a 45-plus-minute conference call with assembled reporters.

While my MotorSportsTalk colleague Daniel McFadin noted the maturation of Karam throughout this year – particularly in the last two months – I’ll be very interested to see Karam’s on-track encore post-Iowa at Mid-Ohio, because this is an important weekend for him.

Frankly, Karam and permanent road courses have not gelled well this year.

It all started with Karam’s testing accident at Barber Motorsports Park in the preseason. His wrist injury had two knock-on effects: it left him less than 100 percent for his first ever IndyCar road or street course start at St. Petersburg two weeks later, and, crucially, it cost him valuable testing time.

With so little time to test in modern-day IndyCar racing, losing the multiple days after the Barber crash was a rough setback for the driver of the No. 8 Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

“I was talking to Dario about this in Iowa. He was talking about when he drove he had so much testing as a rookie compared to me,” Karam told me during the conference call.

“He says he’s really impressed with how far I’ve come for the limited testing, especially in my case, crashing in Alabama, I missed the two- or three-day test there. I missed two days after that in NOLA. I missed four or five solid days of testing that everyone got over me. That hurt me so much. I only had I think about two or three, maybe four solid days of testing before St. Pete.

“At the beginning of the season, I don’t think people realize this was almost completely new to me. I was coming into a really great team at such a young age, with almost virtually no testing basically, and hurt.

“I think once we got past the injury, I got a little bit more seat time, thinking now the speed is starting to show, we’re showing that we can run up front.”

Karam has raced at Mid-Ohio before, most recently in 2013 when he qualified ninth and finished eighth in Indy Lights.

That wasn’t his best weekend in his championship-winning season, but Karam is optimistic he’ll do well this time around.

“At this point I’m just kind of taking it race by race because I still have things to prove, still my rookie season. I feel like every time I go out there I need to prove something,” Karam said. “I’m honestly just looking at Mid-Ohio. I haven’t had any discussions yet about 2016.

“Yeah, I raced there in Lights. I was fast. It’s a good track for me. I definitely like it. It’s a track that you have to take risks at. I guess from the past week, people think I take a lot of risks. Hopefully it plays out well.”

Karam will look to improve upon a rough couple opening road course races in his IndyCar career.

He spun twice at NOLA Motorsports Park, starting 19th and finishing 18th. His return to Barber after his testing crash didn’t go much better. He started 12th and ended 18th.

As he missed the Toronto race, it’s been a full two months since Karam last competed on a road or street course, when he raced the double in Detroit.

Karam impressed in qualifying at Detroit but had a ragged weekend in the races, particularly race two, where he received two drive-through penalties for avoidable contact.

From a versatility standpoint, the 20-year-old rookie who is a star in the making on ovals needs a clean, solid, respectable weekend on a road course.

Right now, it’s his last scheduled road race too, with Sebastian Saavedra set to take over the No. 8 car at Sonoma. So a good performance this weekend could help Karam, who currently sits 18th in points and 39 back of top rookie Gabby Chaves, finish the season himself.

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws

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.”