Carlin’s Max Chilton hitting his stride in Indy Lights with three straight podiums

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Given his pace and pedigree, it only seemed a matter of time before Max Chilton truly got on a roll in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series.

The 24-year-old Englishman certainly has been of late with Carlin, as the hottest driver in the series scoring podiums left and right while the championship battle rages between his teammate Ed Jones, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Jack Harvey and Juncos Racing’s Spencer Pigot.

It took Chilton five races before he scored his first podium finish at Barber Motorsports Park in April.

But in his last seven race starts, he has five podium finishes.

Chilton missed three races, with a fuel leak costing him a chance to start the Freedom 100, and then missing the Toronto doubleheader weekend due to his Nissan LMP1 commitments at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Even so, Chilton sits fifth in the points standings – ahead of six other drivers who have started each of the 14 races.

While Chilton’s first career win from his first career pole at Iowa Speedway was all about emotion, won less than 24 hours after the loss of his Marussia Formula 1 teammate Jules Bianchi, his double podium at Mid-Ohio two weeks ago was a more straightforward affair.

It came after a test at the end of June produced limited dry running and left him with almost no preparation heading into the race weekend.

“It’s a very unique track,” Chilton said during the post-race press conference at Mid-Ohio. “We came and test about four weeks ago and we had three dry laps in the morning and it was literally like we were on ice, it was so low grip and then it rained.

“So we haven’t done any testing really and it is an awesome track. The problem is it’s shiny surface, so at times it rubs in hugely, but in other areas, there’s just no grip.”

Chilton emerged second in the first race of the weekend after starting sixth, surviving a chaotic race when all three title contenders had issues.

“It was one of those races where everything went as planned… I did a couple of good overtakes and a couple of people came off in front of me. It was a pretty good race,” Chilton said.

“We were slightly at the back when we qualified. I gave the best lap of the year and we were only P6. We decided not to change anything for the race because we didn’t have much rubber in and it actually worked really well.”

On Sunday, Chilton was second again, this time behind Sean Rayhall instead of RC Enerson, again seizing his opportunities when he had the chance.

“I had really good fun out there today. I was trying to be easy on my race car today because I knew we had two championship contenders at the front, so I knew someone was going to kick off and usually if it doesn’t kickoff, they tend to stay on track,” he said.

“So then I thought I’ll keep my boost and… at one point I had 41 or 42 seconds of boost saved up, but they both went off and so I just had 10 or 15 laps at the end to keep using boost every lap. That’s when I started to close in a bit.”

The momentum, as mentioned, is evident – and Chilton should be able to continue it at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, a track he has past experience at.

A then 16-year-old Chilton showed up at the track in 2007 to race in the American Le Mans Series race, but wound up being told he was too young, so he instead raced in Star Mazda.

“Momentum doesn’t hurt anyone, so it’s good for the team…to get the win there (at Iowa), we’ve come from that straight ahead, never having been here (Mid-Ohio) before, but I love this track,” Chilton said of the Mid-Ohio weekend.

“It reminds me of where I started off on the British circuit…a crescent line where you can’t see much, you can’t go off because it’s just grass and gravel.”

Chilton’s been a welcome addition to the Indy Lights field this season. At our last “let’s discuss next year” chat, he told me in Le Mans he wasn’t sure where things stood for next year as he’s balanced the Nissan and Carlin commitments.

However, with Nissan having announced it will focus on testing its LMP1 GT-R LM NISMO for an extended time period and with no race return set, it would be great to see Chilton and Carlin continue their American efforts for another season.

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.”