PWC schedule release offers more IndyCar 2016 hints


A number of weeks ago, we attempted to put together some of the pieces of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule based on dates which were already announced by the tracks themselves.

Then last night, Pirelli World Challenge released its 2016 schedule, which confirms three more IndyCar dates:

  • Barber, April 22-24
  • Mid-Ohio, July 29-30
  • Sonoma, Sept. 16-18

So figure that confirms 10 races right there, and it also confirms Pirelli World Challenge will be racing with IndyCar on six weekends (St. Petersburg, Long Beach, Barber, Road America, Mid-Ohio and Sonoma) in 2016. That’s one more than this year, as what had been a conflict weekend at the tail end of June between World Challenge (Road America) and IndyCar (Auto Club Speedway) has now been alleviated with IndyCar taking up that weekend and joining the PWC dance card.

Sonoma, now looks officially set to continue as IndyCar’s season finale, which is a good thing. It’s a decent venue for the event – it’s great for corporate – and it has had relative date stability in late August since joining the calendar in 2005. It also is a race that comprises so many of the things that make IndyCar great, as a road course that forces drivers to do their best and strategists to make all the right calls.

What of the others? If you pencil in Texas and Iowa, that makes three ovals. Iowa’s date, as ever, could be in flux. It was in July this year and in 2014, and it had been in June every year before that from 2007 through 2013. Texas has consistently been in June, and would stand to be the Saturday night after Detroit as things stand.

Phoenix, provided it gets added, would come after St. Petersburg on the April 2-3 weekend. Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles more or less unofficially confirmed its return during the INDYCAR Championship Celebration in San Francisco, when he said “we will see new and returning venues that we know our fans love, I think, like Phoenix, Elkhart Lake and Boston.”

The questionable ovals are of course, Milwaukee and Pocono. A report out last week from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s Dave Kallmann said Milwaukee appears open to a date, and Road America officials visited the track for further discussions. Rule out August 4-14 for dates at the track, as State Fair Park executive director Rick Frenette told Kallmann said the race cannot occur during the State Fair.

Toronto appears all but certain move back to July 15-17 and the question may become which if either oval – Milwaukee or Iowa – comes either side of that weekend. If Road America is to be involved in any Milwaukee promotion, as Road America track president George Bruggenthies hinted was possible during the track announcement return, figure Milwaukee would need to come earlier rather than later in the calendar. Road America has its own slate of 2016 events to promote – IndyCar’s and World Challenge’s among them – and also will be busy in the lead-up to August with the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race set to occur on August 7.

The wild card race is Mexico City, which hasn’t really been written about too much but seems closer to happening than not per some key industry insiders. That event would be poised to kick off the season in February, although Miles didn’t mention it by name during the championship celebration. In 2014, he had said “get your passports ready” regarding proposed international races… which as it turned out didn’t come to fruition.

All told, there’s more puzzle pieces in place for IndyCar’s 2016 campaign now than there were 24 hours ago, with further ones to come depending on when final details get hammered and ironed out. While the goal is the end of this month to have it released, don’t be surprised if it comes a little later.

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.”