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Full focus on IndyCar for Rossi he confirms no F1 for 2017

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The dogged pursuit of Formula 1 was something that drove Alexander Rossi for years in his quest to make it as an American driver in the series, and he achieved it in five Grands Prix in 2015 with Manor.

However when the path changed and the focus shifted to the Verizon IndyCar Series with Andretti-Herta Autosport this season, Rossi has now embarked back on a career in his home country.

And today he confirmed officially that after being in a reserve role for MRT this season, although only attending a handful of Grands Prix on site, he won’t be involved in any F1 capacity in 2017.

“I won’t be continuing in F1 as any type of reserve driver in 2017,” Rossi confirmed Monday during a teleconference, following official confirmation that he’d back with Andretti-Herta Autosport for at least next season. He didn’t specify contract terms but did say that this was one-year with options.

“When Rio Haryanto lost his seat, I was offered to take his place… and I turned it down because I didn’t think it was appropriate to do for Andretti Autosport and the Verizon IndyCar Series. I made that call back then in August. I’ve come to terms with it,” he added.

Rossi learned a lot about himself and even more about the high level of competition in IndyCar. For a driver so driven by the desire to win every time out, ending with only that Indianapolis 500 triumph and a handful of other top-10 finishes made it a frustrating first campaign.

“What made me realize it the most was how competitive it was,” he explained. “I had a point to prove in the championship, and I want to stay to prove how capable I am.

“The desire for me is to win races. If I’m not, then I want to keep coming back until that’s been accomplished.

“I started out here with an unknown… the first thing that stuck out was the competitiveness, and how diverse you have to be to win this championship. You have to be good at so many different things. I’ve enjoyed being a part of it.”

This may end the F1 dream for Rossi, for now, as he will attend at least three more Grands Prix this year – Austin on Oct. 23, Mexico a week later and Abu Dhabi in late November are expected – but it also provides a firm commitment to IndyCar and a desire to be significantly better with his team in 2017.

“One of my huge things when I was growing up and wanting to race in Formula 1 was the desire I wanted to represent the U.S. and be an American driver,” he said.

“Even though the Verizon IndyCar Series is an American championship, there’s been a lot of longing for American talent. It’s really strong at the moment. There’s the names representing it in a positive way.

“The whole organization and championship welcomed me with open arms. The community of teams and drivers supports each other in a way I wasn’t used to in Europe.

“That’s definitely something when I took everything into consideration the last couple months.”

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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