IndyCar Media Day Roundup: Ed Carpenter

(AP Photo)
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Ed Carpenter says the story behind the changing of Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing’s name to simply Ed Carpenter Racing isn’t as big deal as one’s imagination would lead them to believe.

“Seems like big changes, but organizationally not huge internally,” Carpenter said during his availability at the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Media Day on Tuesday. “Seems dramatic, like there’s a whole lot going on.

“We changed names, but everything going on in the race shop, employees, preparation, plan, it’s been ongoing. Changing logos around. Key positions, management, structure, for the most part it’s the same.”

Those plans include running Josef Newgarden full-time in the No. 21 and Carpenter entering his fifth season serving in an owner-driver capacity in the No. 20 when the series competes on ovals. The 2013 and 2014 Indianapolis 500 pole winner said they want to run the No. 20 full-time, but that the team is “not there yet.”

When Carpenter wasn’t in the No. 20 on road courses and street courses in 2015, the job fell to Luca Filippi. The Italian driver’s best result was second at Toronto.

“We’re looking at all scenarios,” Carpenter said. “I talk to Luca and his management team frequently. I wouldn’t say that’s off the table. It’s trying to find the right deal and a deal that we all feel comfortable with.”

Carpenter also made note of JR Hildebrand, who competed for Carpenter in both Indianapolis races in 2015.

“Obviously, I talk to Hildebrand a lot and would like to get him more ingrained in our team,” Carpenter said. “Until things happen, we’re focused on what we’re going to be doing, which is running Josef for the full championship and running the 20 car on ovals.”

ECR will look to capitalize on Newgarden’s breakthrough season in 2015 as the 25-year old driver won his first two career races, at Birmingham and Toronto.

“As the season went on, he came into his own and was more consistent whether we were at a short oval, Speedway, road course, street court,” Carpenter said. “He had speed and raced well everywhere. At the end of the season at Sonoma, he was one of seven guys that were still eligible for the title.”

Newgarden finished the Grand Prix of Sonoma in 21st and ended the season seventh in points, just ahead of Tony Kanaan. His previous best result was 13th in 2014.

“That was really, I think, important for him to know that he can be in that discussion, be a part of that championship mix,” Carpenter said. “He is one of the few guys in the series that has the versatility as a driver and the pace on all circuits to be able to contend for a championship.”

Newgarden earned four podiums last season, with two of them coming on ovals at Iowa Speedway and Pocono Raceway in runner-up finishes. In his previous three seasons he only earned two podiums.

While Newgarden will start the season with the rest of his competitors on March 13 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, his teammate and now sole boss in Carpenter will make his first start not in the Indianapolis 500, but at Phoenix International Raceway on April 2.

PIR is a track Carpenter spent a lot of time at growing up and first competed there in 1999.

“I was there for the last IndyCar race in 2005,” Carpenter said. “I have a lot of fond memories.

“I haven’t been back since they made some changes. We’ll be there testing on Monday. I’m excited to get reacclimated with the track.”

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.”