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Kimball: “None of us in IndyCar want to see anyone get hurt”

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Charlie Kimball has had, by any objective analysis, his most complete season yet in his sixth full-time Verizon IndyCar Series campaign from a pure qualifying and results standpoint in 2016.

He’s finished between fifth and 12th in 13 of the 15 races, and he’s on pace to have his best qualifying average (10.8 through 15 races) by a country mile (his first five years: 18.0, 17.4, 12.8, 16.3, 13.3).

So the driver of the No. 83 Tresiba Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing, who currently sits ninth in points and could match or exceed his career-best finish in the championship (ninth in 2013) with a strong run at the Sonoma Raceway season finale is qualifying and racing higher up the field than he’s used to.

But hearing some of the comments from his competitors on-track, you’d think as though Kimball was this evil competitor who races dirty, drives people off the track and doesn’t have proper race craft. Reading Will Power and Rick Mears’ respective comments after Kimball’s eventful day Sunday at Watkins Glen International made it seem as though Kimball was out for blood on track. When instead, Kimball is actually one of the nicest people in the paddock and has thoroughly improved – and impressed – this season.

Here’s the thing – while both Power and Graham Rahal were understandably aggrieved in the heat of the moment after crashing out on Sunday, in both incidents where Kimball was involved, it was hard to call them anything other than racing incidents.

Looking at the Power collision first, it was really hard to think that Power saw Kimball, who got a monster run up the hill through the Esses, before it was too late when Power transitioned back to the natural racing line, then cutting across Kimball’s bow and crashing into the Armco barrier.

Could Kimball have perhaps transitioned from his run to the inside of the track rather than outside? Sure, but in a split-second decision like that, the momentum was carrying him more around the outside and a rapid dart back to the inside could have also had consequences. Remember, it’s not like Kimball was trying to take himself out of the race when he got the run on Power.

“From my side, knowing the result, if I knew going into that lap that it would cause an accident I wouldn’t make the move,” Kimball explained to NBC Sports. “Once he had no idea I was there or wouldn’t give me the room, it was too late to avoid the incident.”

With the Rahal incident earlier in the race, Kimball left Rahal enough room to the inside and was wide on corner exit of Turn 1. Rahal and Kimball collided and Rahal went into the inside tire barriers after the contact.

“With Graham, I was on the curb,” Kimball explained. “His comment was, he said he had the pass completed, but if there was any contact at all, it was tire to rear, so he was established alongside, and I left him a lane, which I did. It looked like he was going for the overtake button. I don’t know what I should do there, other than give up.”

But Kimball expressed the far more important point that Rahal was fine and Power was cleared to drive earlier this week, to race at Sonoma.

“There’s been a lot of vitriol, and follow-up comments. And frankly, the single most important thing is that Will’s cleared to drive tomorrow and race next weekend,” Kimball said.

“None of the drivers – none of us – wants to see any of us got hurt. We are a family. If a driver can’t compete because of concussion-like symptoms, injuries, we as the IndyCar family aren’t complete. That’s the most important thing.

“There’s always different perspectives of racing incidents. Monday morning quarterbacking is the easiest thing to do in sport! There’s so many people that give highlight reels, question coaches calls, and players’ calls, for weeks.”

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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