Dates for 2016 IndyCar schedule starting to come together

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It hasn’t come out yet, but with some tracks already announcing their dates or them being reported in the news, puzzle pieces of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule are coming together.

Multiple draft versions of the schedule are being circulated at the present time.

WHAT WE KNOW

St. Petersburg, the season opener this year, is the latest race to have its date revealed, with Tampa Bay Times report confirming a Trackside Online report that the race date will move forward two weeks to March 11-13, 2016.

Here’s the other dates we know for sure:

TORONTO’S DATE COULD SHIFT THINGS AROUND, AGAIN

Although not officially announced, it was revealed in contract writing last year that after its one-year switch to June, Toronto would move back to July 14-17 next year.

So for the second straight year, it appears the Toronto race date could be the single domino that puts all the other race dates in motion for the rest of the schedule.

A Toronto move back to July would have a knock-on effect of forcing Iowa Speedway to move forward a week, into what is Milwaukee’s 2015 date (July 12), or perhaps moving back one week to the end of July. The problem with a move back of one week is it would put it up against the track’s NASCAR Xfinity Series date. Either way, the track is working with INDYCAR on a return.

The Wisconsin situation remains fluid as ever. Multiple sources have confirmed to MotorSportsTalk that a deal is close, if not completely done, to bring IndyCar back to Road America – and the weekend most likely mentioned is with the Pirelli World Challenge weekend, which ran as a standalone feature weekend at the end of June this year.

That end of June slot was also the place for Auto Club Speedway’s Fontana race this year; a low on-site crowd number was unfortunate considering it was one of the best races in recent memory for IndyCar, and it also prompted Robin Miller’s rant against the race date to Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles. Miller’s current schedule projection piece for RACER.com is linked here.

If you slot Road America end of June, that frees up Fontana to move to mid-to-late September, after Boston, and be the season finale.

But back to Wisconsin. An Iowa move against Milwaukee puts Milwaukee’s race, again, in jeopardy.

Signs were mixed after the race this year, with Kevin Healy positive and Michael Andretti not-so-much about the race’s future.

Things have evolved since then, with multiple sources indicating internal issues and layoffs occurring within Andretti Sports Marketing, the race promoters. ASM has stepped up to promote multiple IndyCar races over the last few years – Milwaukee was saved, Baltimore helped and NOLA promoted this year – but things have since taken a turn for the worse.

So figure Milwaukee’s chances, like the Brewers’ playoff hopes this season, aren’t high for a return.

RACES SET FOR RETURN WITHOUT A DATE ANNOUNCED

So long as Honda is part of the series – and while an extension with INDYCAR hasn’t been formalized yet, comments from Honda Peformance Development president Art St. Cyr at Mid-Ohio indicated positive developments – Barber Motorsports Park and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course will be on the schedule.

Texas and Sonoma figure to be back as well.

SPORTS CAR KEY DATES

Note these dates for three races (and a test day) that traditionally draw IndyCar driver interest:

  • January 30-31, Rolex 24 at Daytona
  • March 19, Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring
  • June 5, 24 Hours of Le Mans test day
  • June 18-19, 24 Hours of Le Mans

If INDYCAR has a race on the June 18-19 weekend, it would prevent drivers from doing the Le Mans race itself. Test day participation on June 5 – which clashes with Detroit – is mandatory for new drivers (barring rare occasional exemptions, as occurred for Platinum-rated driver Kevin Estre this year) but might not prevent a driver such as a Sebastien Bourdais or Simon Pagenaud – Le Mans veterans – from competing.

WILD CARDS AND POTENTIAL NEW, OLD VENUES

The wild card on the current schedule is Pocono, which is in the last year of its original three-year deal right now.

NOLA, as mentioned above, appears to be one-and-done.

Homestead and Phoenix have also been mentioned for potential returns, and this is where things could sync up nicely for them and for crews from a logistical standpoint.

With St. Pete on March 11-13 and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring confirmed for a week later (March 19), which would allow  sports car teams that use IndyCar drivers as third drivers to continue to do so, a perfect landing spot for Homestead would be the last weekend in March, in what was traditionally its slot before it moved to the end of season.

Then throw Phoenix a week before Long Beach, and suddenly you’d open up the perfect possibility of back-to-back Florida races, with a week off before a back-to-back west coast jaunt.

Barber for its traditional end-of-April slot would follow nicely after Long Beach and lead in perfectly into the month of May, and the rest of the schedule would sort itself out from there.

It will be interesting to see whether the actual 2016 schedule matches the potential best-case scenario – it usually doesn’t in IndyCar – but there seem to be enough positive possibilities that exist to make it a needed improvement over 2015’s.

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.”