Photo: IndyCar

Pagenaud leads Power by 43 points headed to Sonoma

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – The stage is set for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ championship finale in two weeks at Sonoma Raceway, and it will be a battle between Team Penske teammates Simon Pagenaud and Will Power in the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

In Sunday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen presented by Hitachi, Pagenaud finished seventh, while Power crashed out. It means Pagenaud’s lead grew from 28 to 43 points in one race.

All others will be mathematically eliminated once the green flag flies at Sonoma on Sept. 18, and either Pagenaud will win his first series title or Power will win his second.

The last four races have provided four key plot twists as it’s shaped up as a two-way title fight. Here’s the quick synopsis:

  • Pagenaud beat Power to the win at Mid-Ohio with a dynamic pass. That move was a 20-point swing, and extended his title lead from a potential of 38 points to 58 leaving.
  • At Pocono, Power won his fourth race of the season – matching Pagenaud’s total – while Pagenaud made his only major mistake of the year with a crash. That knocked the lead down to 20.
  • In Texas, Pagenaud was in the midst of a four-wide battle but smartly backed out, and ended four spots clear of Power. Pagenaud was fourth, Power eighth, and the lead went to 28.

And then there was today. Pagenaud started and finished seventh, but in-between shot up to third on the first corner of the first lap. He then got caught out on a yellow, losing spots, but recovered as the race went on.

Power, by contrast, saw his title hopes take a hit when Charlie Kimball got a run on him coming up the Esses. Contact between the two – it did not appear as though Power saw him coming – occurred when Power clipped Kimball’s right front wing and then shot across into the outside retaining wall.

Power was checked and released from the infield care center, but per INDYCAR, has not been cleared to drive owing to concussion-like symptoms.

For Pagenaud, he acknowledged he had nothing for Scott Dixon, who dominated the weekend from start to finish.

“I had nothing for Scott this weekend,” he said post-race. “In my opinion, we were fighting for podium results. We ended up where we ended up. It was more strategy than skills.”

But Pagenaud also reflected on how he drove from a championship perspective, thinking bigger picture perhaps more than the outright huge result at play.

There will undoubtedly be more to follow from him, but he was in a good state of mind leaving the Glen.

Here’s the points following Watkins Glen.

WGIpoints

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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