St. Petersburg weekend, Thursday notes

Photo: Tony DiZinno
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – A few updates from the day at St. Petersburg, where a mix of pre-event items took place and on-track running occurred in the afternoon:

INDYCAR

  • Spoke with both Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud today of Team Penske. Montoya discussed the caliber of competition and noting how much tougher it is to win now versus the last time he won a championship in 1999 (had seven wins, and won on a tiebreaker). “If you’ve got four great drivers at Team Penske and 15, 16 races, there’s a reduction right there,” he said, among other notes as he and Pagenaud prepare for the season.
  • Also caught up with Alexander Rossi of Andretti-Herta Autosport. More will follow from him tomorrow, but the American is prepared and focused on IndyCar ahead of his series debut this weekend.
  • Both Conor Daly and Luca Filippi are optimistic Dale Coyne Racing and Honda have made gains after a successful Sebring test.
  • KVSH Racing confirmed GEICO will continue with the team for a ninth consecutive season, extending a partnership that dates to 2008.
  • The silver Verizon Team Penske liveries for Montoya and Will Power look even better in person.
  • INDYCAR announced additional programming details for 2016; more should follow with regards to our NBCSN coverage in a separate post.
  • From a track walk today, there doesn’t appear to be any major changes to the surface or any of the curbs. We’ll know for sure how the drivers react tomorrow after first practice.

MRTI

  • ArmsUp Motorsports announced its Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda plans, with Victor Franzoni and Max Hanratty anticipated for full season efforts and with Danny Weyls and Dale VandenBush set to run in the National Class at the Indianapolis Grand Prix weekend and Road America. Zachary Claman DeMelo also tested one of ArmsUp’s USF2000 cars – formerly James Dayson’s – during today’s test.
  • Anthony Martin topped the lone practice session, which like others on Thursday was truncated due to lunch time activities delay (cut from 30 minutes to 20 minutes).
  • Had some positive chats with Scott Hargrove (Team Pelfrey) and Zach Veach (Belardi Auto Racing) in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires paddock. Neither driver is yet officially confirmed for the full season, though the intention and goals for both are to do just that. Veach won here in 2014, for his first career Indy Lights win.
  • Also met the quartet of Team Pelfrey’s USF2000 crew – it will be fascinating to watch the growth and development of Robert Megennis, Jordan Cane, TJ Fischer and James Munro. Pabst Racing’s Jordan Lloyd is also excited to be back after his extended hiatus last year.

PWC

  • Patrick Long’s EFFORT Racing is team is working tirelessly to repair its Porsche 911 GT3 R, damaged last weekend at Circuit of The Americas. Long tested in teammate Michael Lewis’ Porsche on Thursday but is not expected to have his car back until mid-day at the earliest.
  • Austin Cindric of K-PAX Racing returns to St. Petersburg for the first time since 2014. Cindric, 17, is keen to break a drought of tough races regardless of series (PWC, Bathurst 12 Hour, NASCAR Camping World Trucks and Red Bull Global Rallycross Lites division) since last September. He’s raced twice at St. Petersburg in USF2000 (2013 and 2014).
  • All PWC sessions were delayed and truncated today due to the lunchtime delays. As last year, it’s the GT/GTA/GT Cup and GTS classes on hand here this weekend.

SOCIAL

Rising Star Racing’s trio of Josef Newgarden, Spencer Pigot and Neil Alberico assisted Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Louis Murphy in changing tires on the two-seater IndyCar.

Chicanery and pranks are already underway between a couple teams. Andretti Autosport exercised this one on Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, with James Hinchcliffe’s bike being moved to a pedestrian bridge.

Here’s what the USF2000 cars looked like rolling out…

… and here’s what Parker Thompson’s car (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) looks like after a rare accident during the session.

More to come tomorrow from St. Petersburg.

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.”