Chris Griffis Memorial Test returns to IMS in October 2016

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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After a year away owing to track construction ahead of the 100th Indianapolis 500, the Chris Griffis Memorial Open Test for the full complement of Mazda Road to Indy series will be back at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Oct. 8-9, instead of at Circuit of The Americas as it was last November.

The test is always a good “first look” at who will be in next year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series, and the USF2000 component this test will be extra intriguing as the new Tatuus USF-17 car will be run by several teams in earnest.

The series release with more information is below:

All three levels of the acclaimed Mazda Road to Indy – Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – will converge on Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 8/9 for the sixth annual Chris Griffis Memorial Open Test. The test is named in honor of Chris Griffis, a longtime member of the motorsports community who led the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports w/Curb-Agajanian Indy Lights organization before passing unexpectedly in September of 2011.

In addition to providing opportunities to “audition” new talent, gain a headstart on 2017 campaigns and earn valuable testing time on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course at the iconic Brickyard, the outing will be of special significance as teams will turn their first laps with the new Mazda-powered Tatuus USF-17.

A highly successful prototype testing program concluded July 1 with rave reviews by development drivers Joel Miller (Mazda sports car talent and USF2000 driver coach) and Matthew Brabham (a graduate of all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy and USF2000/Pro Mazda champion who made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut in May). With a rolling chassis priced at $51,800, the Tatuus USF-17 will serve as the base car for the PM-18 to help control operational costs.

To date, 28 of the initial 30 chassis ordered have been purchased with additional orders pending. The first shipment of 15 cars will be delivered to teams in September. A list of current USF-17 teams can be found at http://usf2000.com/teams-drivers/usf-17-teams.

In addition to the USF-17, the test will be open to current USF2000 Championship and National Class entries.

“We are thrilled to be able to return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for our sixth Chris Griffis test,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “This is a key round in our regular season schedules and the perfect venue to see our USF-17 make its debut in the hands of our teams. The test is one of my favorite events as we watch our graduates take the next step on the ladder and welcome new talent to experience the Mazda Road to Indy.”

The Chris Griffis Memorial Open Test will also serve as a “rewards” program in USF2000 for two finalists in the Mazda Road to Indy and MAXSpeed Group Driver Advancement Program. Entering its third year, the partnership provides the opportunity for karters to sample the next step in their career. In addition, an alliance with the Australian Formula Ford Series established in 2014 will see its champion participate in the two-day test.

Registration information for the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Open Test will be available on the respective series’ websites in the coming weeks as well as a detailed schedule. Live Timing and Scoring will be available throughout the test.

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.”