LEXINGTON, Ohio – There’s 12 races this weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, with 11 additional races between the Mazda Road to Indy and Pirelli World Challenge besides Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 (1:30 p.m. ET, CNBC) for the Verizon IndyCar Series.
The first two of those 12 – race one for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and the Pirelli World Challenge GTS class – occurred Friday late afternoon.
Points leader Nico Jamin of Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing delivered a dominant, flag-to-flag drive en route to his sixth win of the season, and seventh straight top-two finish in Round 12 of the 16-race season. Never challenged, Jamin won by 5.9558 seconds.
Meanwhile Australian rookie Anthony Martin equaled his season-best result of second, courtesy of a flying start where he made it up from fourth to second by Turn 4, which serves as the opening turn on the course. Aaron Telitz was third ahead of Jake Eidson and Parker Thompson.
The lone incident in the race occurred when Luke Gabin collected his Team Pelfrey teammate Garth Rickards at Turn 12, the carousel. Rickards was out on the spot while Gabin held onto seventh place for the remainder of the race, behind Yufeng Luo.
Jamin entered the race with a 17-point lead over Eidson and will only extend that margin with Eidson ending fourth. Races two and three of the weekend, Rounds 13 and 14, both occur on Saturday.
Michael Cooper led flag-to-flag in the first of two GTS races of the weekend in the No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R, but the win wasn’t as easy as he made it seem.
Jack Baldwin, who first raced at Mid-Ohio in 1973, started on pole in the newly adorned Umphrey’s McGee No. 73 GTSport Racing Porsche Cayman S. But before he even had the chance to get going, his car seized up from the standing start, and his run of four consecutive podiums going into the weekend came to an end. The team got the car back running halfway into the 50-minute race.
Meanwhile the pair of Camaro Z/28.Rs emerged first and second, with Cooper leading Best IT Racing’s Andy Lee in a dogfight for nearly the rest of the race.
Mark Wilkins in a Kia Optima led Dean Martin’s Ford Mustang, Kris Wilson’s Aston Martin and Andrew Aquilante’s Ford in a four-way fight for third. A brief slip-up by Wilkins allowed Martin and Wilson through, and they easily pulled away.
Wilson made it past Martin for third and what would have been the final podium position, and immediately closed on Lee for second.
The reason for the “what would have been” line was contact between Wilson and Lee battling for second into Turn 4, which knocked them both back. Wilson spun out as Lee was on the inside.
With Lee and Wilson’s contact, up front, Cooper held on second win of the year (Round 2 at Circuit of the Americas).
Lee’s first podium and top-five finish of the year eluded him once again, as Martin leapt to second, with Andrew Aquilante third.
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.
“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].”
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.”
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.”