Indy Lights set for dramatic title showdown at Mazda Raceway

Harvey, Jones, Pigot at St. Petersburg. Photos @ Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The fascinating climax to the 2015 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season occurs this weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, with three realistic title contenders and a fourth driver eligible who could possibly play spoiler.

They will all be competing for the $1 million Mazda scholarship, which will reward the champion with a three-race IndyCar package for 2016, including the 100th Indianapolis 500.

Just 18 points separate Jack Harvey, Spencer Pigot and Ed Jones heading into the two-race weekend, while RC Enerson is also mathematically alive at 36 points back (a win nets 30 points, with one bonus point available for pole, most laps led and fastest lap… 12th place nets 9 points, so the maximum single-race swing is 24 points).

Somewhat strangely, none of the top three in points has won in at least three months, since Pigot swept the doubleheader weekend at Toronto in June. It’s been since the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis in May for Harvey, and since Long Beach, in April, for Jones.

Harvey enters as the favorite, the experienced Indy Lights shoe who has at least been in this position before. The 22-year-old driver from Lincoln, England, who now lives in Indianapolis, lost on a tiebreaker to Gabby Chaves last year. He’s keen to atone this weekend.

“This year in many ways there’s nothing particularly new,” Harvey said in a teleconference last month. “I think what you take from the experience is the highs and the lows and just keep continuing to work on them. We obviously saw Mid-Ohio was a tough weekend, but we still came out leading. Those are the main points.

“Looking in that regard, the team has won multiple championships, they’ve been battling to win the championship since Indy Lights started. I feel like there’s a lot of knowledge and experience for me to bring to the table, but also they’re bringing to the table themselves. I think not panicking, staying focused and relaxed.”

Harvey drives the No. 42 Racing Steps Foundation entry for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. More info via the Mazda Road to Indy’s “Meet the Contenders” series is linked here.

Pigot, who turns 22 later this month, enters just six points back in the No. 12 Mazda/Doug Mockett & Co./Rising Star Racing entry for Juncos Racing. The young American from Orlando has been the Mazda Road to Indy poster child, having won three Mazda scholarships in his career to date. He narrowly missed out on a USF2000 title in 2012 but looks to add an Indy Lights crown to his Pro Mazda one achieved last year.

“Every season’s different. You’re racing against different guys. The tracks are different, the cars are different. It’s hard to really compare two seasons to each other,” Pigot said in the same teleconference.

“In this situation I know to just stay calm and focus on the job at hand, not really worry about anyone else, but the team and I are going to go into the weekend focusing on us and how we can get the most out of the car and the most out of my driving. We’ll just let the results kind of go from there.”

Pigot’s “Meet the Contenders” profile is linked here.

Jones, driver of Carlin’s No. 11 Toys for Boys Miami/United Rivers entry, is the youngest of the bunch at 20. The Dubai-based Englishman is also newest of the group to North America; he emerged on the scene from the outset at St. Petersburg with a weekend sweep, leading Trevor Carlin’s championship quest in the team’s first season in North America.

“It would be an amazing achievement, to come to America and win in my first year,” Jones said. “That’s always the aim, but to make it a reality is another thing. My goal and my dream is to race in the Verizon IndyCar Series, and winning the championship would allow me to do that.

His “Meet the Contenders” profile is linked here.

At various points, there’s been drama between these three this year, most notably between Jones and Harvey at Mid-Ohio last race weekend, when they collided battling over the lead in race two. Tempers were also hot between the two at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend back in May.

Pigot’s been unlucky at times this year, notably on the short ovals where his pace went unrewarded, while his contact with Harvey at Mid-Ohio was costly for both drivers.

Enerson, the New Port Richey, Fla. native, is 18 and has exceeded all expectations in his rookie season in the championship. He survived a vicious accident at Toronto to then race again not even 24 hours later, thanks to a heroic rebuild by his Schmidt Peterson crew of the No. 7 Lucas Oil entry. He finally won his first race at Mid-Ohio, which was no less than what he and the team deserved.

While he’s unlikely to leapfrog that trio ahead of him, the fact he’s even in this position speaks volumes about the season he’s had, and speaks highly of his career trajectory for the future. His “Meet the Contenders” profile is linked here.

This is the 30th year of Indy Lights, and these four have put on an incredible battle throughout the year to determine the championship, in the first year with the new Dallara IL-15 Mazdas. It’s almost a shame only one of them can be crowned champion.

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.”