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IndyCar’s Mark Miles: Honda will get new aero kits; Boston race concerns

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In a Wednesday morning media teleconference, Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman Motorsports, parent company of IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, expressed confidence in both Honda’s application for a new aero kit package for 2016, as well as that lingering logistical issues for next September’s inaugural street race in Boston will be worked out.

Honda has requested an alteration of its aero package for 2016, citing Rule 9.3 in the Verizon IndyCar Series rule book.

“(Rule 9.3) is in the rule book and has been in the rule book,” Miles said. “It anticipated the possibility that one manufacturer would outperform the other to the extent that there was a competitive disadvantage and that that could result in a situation that’s detrimental to the series.

“So the rule has this two-part test. It says, in the event that an aero kit is not competitive to such an extent that it would be detrimental to the series, then IndyCar may permit a manufacturer to make modifications in its kit related to what they ran in the various configurations in 2015.

“IndyCar has notified both Chevy and Honda that our conclusions from that testing and our subsequent thinking about whether the situation is detrimental to the series was that, in part, we are going to allow Honda to make adjustments or changes, or to propose making specific changes under Rule 9.3. In short track, street and road courses, the Honda was not competitive. However, on superspeedways, that was not the case, Honda was competitive. This is designed to give them an opportunity to catch up, but not exceed (Chevrolet).”

IndyCar made its determination using a variety of statistics culled from the entire season, including qualifying, laps led, races won and the overall results in the championship.

Honda has already proffered the parts it would like to include in the 2016 aero kits.

“Honda has provided us with parts we are to consider approving,” Miles said. “We will be going back into the wind tunnel this weekend with the parts and we’ll examine how we will reply.

“We are following the letter of our rule. We’re walking the line to follow our rule.”

Miles added that Honda has willingly agreed to follow all of IndyCar’s guidelines in proposing changes to the aero kits.

“We never felt like there was a gun placed to our head by Honda,” Miles said. “They never said to us, ‘You’ve got to deliver this result in terms of an opportunity for us to change our aero kits and accept these changes or we’re not staying in the game.’

“I think they’re committed to IndyCar. It’s probably worth noting for the skeptics that they still don’t know, we still don’t know, we still haven’t determined what changes they’ll be able to make.

“We determined they’re not making changes to the 2015 superspeedway kit, full stop. But with respect to what they may or may not be able to do for the other configurations, those are still decisions to be made and will only be made after we get back in the (wind) tunnel and have the next round of work there.”

Not completely unexpected, Chevrolet officials disagree with IndyCar’s decision.

“All manufacturers received the same set of aero regulations and subsequent updates,” Jim Campbell, U.S. Vice President, Chevrolet Performance Vehicles and Motorsports said in a statement. “I am proud of how our Chevrolet engineering team and partners worked continuously for nearly four years to prepare our kit for the optimal combination of downforce, drag and engine performance to give our teams the best opportunity to win poles, races and championships.

“The existing rules already allow each manufacturer the opportunity to improve on the performance of their aero kit and engine for 2016. So, we are disappointed in the decision to invoke Rule 9.3. Chevrolet remains 100 percent focused on preparing for 2016 competition to again give our teams the best opportunity to win.”

Miles also addressed Honda’s return as an engine supplier is getting closer to fruition.

“The answer to the question is that it’s all systems go,” Miles said. “This week we expect to receive a mark-up of the agreement that Honda will be ready to sign and we’ll be reviewing that and hoping we can get it done in the next several days.”

As for next September’s inaugural Grand Prix of Boston, Miles remains upbeat that remaining issues will soon be resolved.

Promoters of the Boston race have already reached agreement with city officials on the race, but have lagged in reaching consensus agreement with several state agencies upon whose property is part of the proposed two-mile-plus street course.

“(Boston officials) want this race to happen,” Miles said. “I think they’re making it clear that they expect everybody to fall in and get these agreements done to eliminate any uncertainties about it happening. … Our expectation is that everything will be worked out and the race will happen and delight IndyCar fans.”

Miles also discussed concern about possible opposition to the race from local community and civic groups.

“We and all concerned understand that threading the needles and getting the approvals to have a street race in a major metropolitan area is difficult, difficult to sustain even after you have it,” Miles said. “We’re aware of the challenges but think that the risk/reward to have the opportunity to do something great in Boston is there.

“… It’s complicated and difficult. We’re not doing this in a pasture. We’re doing it in the Seaport District of Boston. But I believe that the will of the elected leaders, the mayor in particular, and the resources and commitment of our promoter are all focused on getting this done. I thought it was important that the promoter publicly made it clear that they understand that they will not be receiving public funds from any of these public agencies or the taxpayers, if you will, and that they’re prepared to meet all their obligations to successfully stage the race under those circumstances.”

If the Boston race ultimately falls through, leaving the circuit with 15 instead of the scheduled 16 races for 2016, Miles said the sanctioning body is working on a potential contingency plan to replace Boston with another venue.

“It would be imprudent of us not to consider a fallback position for us, alternative plans, in the event we’re not successful in Boston,” Miles said. “I don’t want to elaborate. I think there’s at least a few scenarios that could be possible. I don’t think we have to have a replacement if that was the case, but it’s certainly something that we’re thinking about.”

As for other topics Miles addressed:

* IndyCar will host a safety test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on April 6.

“Honda and Chevy can supply 2016 superspeedway aero kits to the teams, they will be run on the track,” Miles said. “We want to do it early enough that if there’s anything to be learned about the 2016 superspeedway kits, there is time to make any adjustments so that we have the best possible 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 imaginable. This is, I think, an important addition.”

* On the search for a replacement for Derrick Walker, former IndyCar President of Operations and Competition: “We’re close,” Miles said. “I’d say in the next couple weeks; could conceivably be next week. I don’t expect it to be later than the week after. … The person won’t be an unknown quantity or stranger to the sport.

* Last weekend’s very successful Formula One race in Mexico City may be a precursor to IndyCar racing there in the near future: “It’s a great facility. It’s a big event, right? It has a big impact in Mexico City. That’s a huge market. I hope their success simply further enhances their appetite for open-wheel racing, and IndyCar in particular. They showed they can pull it off. We look forward to continuing conversation with them.”

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3-time NHRA champ Larry Dixon gives back to save lives on the streets

Photo courtesy Larry Dixon Racing
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Three-time NHRA Top Fuel champ Larry Dixon is a man on a new mission: to save lives on the streets and highways as perhaps the fastest driving instructor in the world.

Because he’s not currently hurtling down a dragstrip at 330 mph on the NHRA national tour, Dixon is at a point where it was time for him to give back and help youngsters the way so many individuals helped him in his own life and career.

Much like when he became the protege of mentor Don “Snake” Prudhomme – first as a crew member and then as Prudhomme’s hand-picked choice to replace him when he retired as a driver – Dixon is now imparting some of his vast knowledge behind the wheel upon thousands of impressionable teens and young adults around the country.

Dixon recently signed on as an instructor with fellow former Top Fuel champ Doug Herbert’s nationally renowned B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe) driver safety training program. Since Herbert formed the free, non-profit program in 2008 to honor the memory of sons Jon and James, who were both killed in a tragic car crash, B.R.A.K.E.S. has trained over 35,000 students across the U.S. and five countries to be better and safer drivers.

MORE: Drag racer Doug Herbert turns son’s deaths into program that has helped over 35,000 teens

After putting two of his own teen children through Herbert’s program (with a third child to go through the program soon), Dixon was so impressed with the training that his kids received that he told his old buddy he wanted to become involved with B.R.A.K.E.S.

“I’ve known Doug since we were in high school,” Dixon told NBC Sports. “We both worked at a chain of speed shops in Southern California, Doug at one in Orange County and me at one in the San Fernando Valley in Van Nuys. We came up together racing Alcohol cars and Top Fuel cars kind of along the same lines. That’s how long I’ve known Doug.

Photo: Larry Dixon Racing

“I ran my son through the course a couple years ago when it came through Indianapolis (where Dixon and his family now live), and then my daughter signed up for a class a couple months ago, and that kind of got the talk going because I’m not on the (NHRA national event) tour now and I’ve got more time and the conversation just snowballed and here I am.

“I obviously believe in the deal if I ran my own kids through the system. The program is very methodical but still personal. When you put the kids in the car, you’ve got one instructor and three students, so they’re getting taught one-on-one almost.”

Even though he’s been driving for nearly 40 years, Dixon, 52, readily admits with a chuckle, “I’ve even learned things from the program already, which shows you’re never too old to learn.”

In a more serious vein, Dixon said from his perspective as both an instructor and a parent of two of the program’s graduates is how parents are so vital to the program’s impact.

“It’s mandatory that when you’re running a student through the program that at least one parent or guardian is also there, so the message you’re teaching the teens, you have to rely on the parent to not only be on the same page as what we’re teaching, but to also drive that message home for the rest of their lives.”

Dixon isn’t teaching students to drive 330 mph or to become aspiring drag racers. On the contrary. Dixon is right at home giving instructions on how students can avoid incidents or accidents on streets and highways at speeds typically between 30 and 50 mph.

“It’s more impactful as far as your legacy,” Dixon said of his motivation to teach. “Obviously, I’ve won a lot of races, but what I have to show for those wins are trophies but they’re in the basement, and if you don’t dust them, they get dusty.

“What I’m doing with B.R.A.K.E.S., you’re making a difference for people hopefully for the rest of their lives, and that’s bigger. I remember when I first got my own racing license. The first day I had my license, I was a race car driver but I wasn’t a great race car driver right away, I just had a license. It took a lot of years and a lot of runs and laps down the racetrack to be able to be good.

“It’s the same thing with a driver’s license. You go through the driver’s education course and such and they hand you your license, but that doesn’t make you a great driver. It takes a lot of road time to be able to get that experience. And the great thing about this course is you’re trying to ramp up that experience and put the teens in situations ahead of time so that when they’re in the real world, they’ll know how to react to them.

Larry Dixon is interviewed recently during his debut as a driving instructor for B.R.A.K.E.S. Photo courtesy B.R.A.K.E.S.

“These cars nowadays have so many safety features on them, but they don’t get taught. When you go through a basic driver’s education course, they don’t teach you that you can slam on the brakes and if you have an ABS (anti-lock) brake system, let alone how to use it, so that’s part of what we’re running the kids through. It lets them speed up and then slam on the brakes and feeling what ABS does and that a car isn’t going to spin out or flip over like you might see in a ‘Fast and Furious’ movie. Most people don’t know what you can do with a car and how great cars will take care of you as long as they use the tools you’re supplied with.”

Dixon has already taught three different classes in the last month, with five more sessions scheduled primarily in the Midwest in the coming months. You can immediately hear the passion and self-satisfaction he’s getting from being a teacher.

“I really do enjoy it,” Dixon said. “You get to see the difference you can make in someone’s lives. When you get them on a skid course and they’re learning how to get out of a spin or slide, they’re having fun but also learning a valuable lesson.

“After they’ve taken the course, they have a bounce in their step and know and understand cars better and have a good time doing it. That’s what Doug has done, out of his tragedy, he’s really making a difference in other people’s lives. We’re not trying to turn the kids into Mario Andretti or anything like that … just to be better and safer drivers.”

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