Kaiser dominates; Jones grabs Indy Lights points lead at Monterey

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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MONTEREY, Calif. – Kyle Kaiser dominated the first of two Mazda Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Presented by Cooper Tires en route to his second win of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season, and second on the West Coast.

The Californian broke through for the first time at the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway oval back in April, and today added a road course win at his home track of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, not far from his hometown of Santa Clara, Calif. It’s also Juncos Racing’s third straight win in Monterey, Spencer Pigot having won both races here last year

Kaiser led 29 of 30 laps – he was not listed for leading the waved off initial start – and beat new points leader Ed Jones to the flag by a final margin of victory of 7.9169 seconds.

Behind him in second, meanwhile, Jones took the first step of the weekend en route to potentially securing the Indy Lights title and the $1 million Mazda advancement scholarship that comes with it, and a three-race guaranteed program in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Santiago Urrutia led Jones by only one point going into Saturday’s first of two races this weekend, 319-318.

But following today’s result when Jones finished second and Urrutia fifth, Jones now holds a seven-point edge – 343 to 336 – heading into tomorrow’s season finale. The four other drivers eligible for the championship – Kaiser, Dean Stoneman, Felix Serralles and Zach Veach – were all mathematically eliminated from contention today.

Kaiser took the lead into the opening turns in his No. 18 Juncos Racing Dallara IL-15 Mazda following an initially waved off start, and the got better as the race went on.

Jones, meanwhile, started second in his No. 11 Carlin car and defended against the advances of Zach Veach, who got a solid start up to third in the No. 5 Belardi Auto Racing entry.

Another driver who made a strong start was Sean Rayhall, in his first start of the year upon returning to Indy Lights, moving from sixth to fourth in the No. 2 car for Team Pelfrey.

The young American drove a calculated race ahead of Urrutia, the points leader in the No. 55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian car going into the race.

Urrutia ran about a second or so behind Rayhall but never was able to catch him up. Instead, the Uruguayan was squeezed in-between the teammates from the team he won his championship in Pro Mazda last year, Team Pelfrey, with Rayhall in fourth and Garett Grist poised for an Indy Lights-best sixth.

But Grist’s would-be best finish went south in the final two laps as his engine sounded horribly off song – perhaps down a cylinder – and he fell back to an unrepresentative 11th place.

Neil Alberico then swept up to sixth ahead of Dalton Kellett, Serralles, Andre Negrao and Shelby Blackstock. Negrao lost two spots to Kellett and Serralles in the final couple laps.

Serralles and Stoneman had contact at one point with race officials reviewing that incident after the race. Stoneman was, however, assessed a drive-through penalty for contact with Zachary Claman De Melo, and that dropped him back as low as 14th before recovering one position past series debutante Davey Hamilton Jr.

Heamin Choi spun on the opening green flag lap at Turn 2 but resumed after a near full lap delay; the race stayed green.

Tomorrow’s second race to decide the championship goes green just after 1 p.m. PDT.

Indy Lights coverage from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca airs Sept. 23 on NBCSN, with coverage starting at 1:30 pm EDT.

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.”