Newgarden, Bourdais, Rahal all make Fast 6 for first time in 2016

Newgarden starts P3. Photo: Ed Carpenter Racing

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Three drivers from single-car teams enjoyed their best qualifying runs of the season and first Firestone Fast 6 appearances in some time Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park.

Josef Newgarden (No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet), Sebastien Bourdais (No. 11 Europa Chevrolet) and Graham Rahal (No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda) will line up from third, fifth and sixth, respectively.

Their best starts this year were sixth (Rahal) and seventh (Newgarden and Bourdais). Rahal equaled his best, although he qualified seventh at St. Petersburg and moved up one after Will Power was unable to start.

Newgarden, the defending race winner after starting fifth and leading 46 of 90 laps, and in his final race in the special Fuzzy’s Vodka commemorative livery, exceeded his own expectations.

I didn’t think we were going to be that high up,” he admitted. “I have a lot of confidence in what we’re doing, it was just kind of hard to put everything together this weekend. We were just floating inside that top 10, and I never felt like we could get up to the top three, top five as easily as we wanted to.

“We made a really good change going into qualifying. I think it’s something we were probably missing, so luckily we hit it at the right point, and that really helped us in qualifying to get where we were.”

Bourdais has been on it all weekend with KVSH and was unlucky to only end fifth; he set the track record in Q2 at 1:06.6001.

He was also on it last week at Long Beach, gaining five positions during the race from 14th to ninth.

“It’s always screwed up when it goes like that, right?” he said. “You set the track record and then you get disappointed when you finish fifth. You know, it’s a shame. The guys did a great job. We unloaded off the truck real strong, and that HYDROXYCUT machine was really dialed in.

“Just couldn’t quite make it happen on the rerun on the tires, just picked up a bit too much understeer and just couldn’t get back on power on these long, long, long turns. Only the juice of the new tires could have allowed me to put it together, and it was a really clean lap, and it’s so funny when the car is like that, everything seems easy, and it was one of the very enjoyable moments of the week for sure.”

Rahal, who finished second to Newgarden last year, upheld Honda’s honor in sixth.

“The car was good on reds,” he said. “We snuck through that first group, and then didn’t quite hit it on the first round, didn’t get the reds to match their capability, and then finally second round we did. That was about as good of a lap I think as — there was definitely nowhere else for me to find time. So I knew in round three we were going to have to put some magic together to be up front.

“These guys are all great competitors up front. We’re top Honda. Obviously we’d like to be the top of everything, but we’re going to keep working hard and try to harass these boys tomorrow in the race.”

Of course with Newgarden and Rahal having ended 1-2 ahead of Scott Dixon last year, there’s evidence that the smaller teams can take it to the Penskes and Ganassis of the world at this track.

It will be fascinating to see if any or all these three can do it again this weekend.

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.”