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Cindric keeps door open to Indy, sports cars for JPM – if he wants it

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The natural question with today’s official confirmation that Josef Newgarden will be in Team Penske’s fourth full-season entry in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2017 was what comes next for Juan Pablo Montoya.

And while Montoya is testing the waters from a full-time IndyCar perspective – he has been linked to a couple different possible teams and scenarios, including replacing Newgarden at Ed Carpenter Racing – Team Penske president Tim Cindric said the door remains open to him at Penske if he wants it.

Cindric publicly acknowledged that Montoya could be run in a fifth IndyCar at the Indianapolis 500 or, more crucially, in a potential Team Penske sports car program.

New prototype regulations are on the horizon in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with the Daytona Prototype international platform entering in 2017 – teams will run one of the four homologated LMP2 chassis with manufacturer branded body styling. Meanwhile, the FIA World Endurance Championship remains a tantalizing prospect in LMP1 as well, although the hybrid class there is subscribed only by full factories.

“When we sat down with Juan at Toronto, we weren’t prepared to do what we did until the end of the season,” Cindric told reporters in a media teleconference. “We were up front with him about the whole situation.

“We’d like him to be part of the team… it just doesn’t mean the 2 car full-time. We have a seat for Indy if he wants one. If we do a sports car program, we want him to be involved.

“But he wants to drive another season in IndyCar. He said, ‘This year, I feel I have some unfinished business.’ So he’s exploring different options… he’s trying to find out if there’s a full-season ride available.

“We’d love for him to continue with our team… but do we position ourselves for another year with him and miss the opportunity to have Josef for us? Juan has been a big part of our success. He’s been a great guy to work with.

“The ball is in his court. It’s not the first choice for him… but we’d like to continue if it makes sense for him.”

The greater sports car component comes after Penske himself touched on the possibility at the Sonoma season finale, while also tiptoeing around the driver situation.

“I’ll say what Tim has said, we’ve wanted to run sports cars for a number of years when we were in with Porsche,” Penske said.

“Hopefully there’s an opportunity. We’ve had a chance to talk to two or three different manufacturers. That has some bearing on what we might do, vis-a-vis with the IndyCar also.”

It’s very interesting that Montoya, 41, and Newgarden, 25, will be linked in IndyCar history because of this decision.

Montoya is one of the drivers of his generation, having won in F1, IndyCar and NASCAR with two Indianapolis 500s and the 1999 CART title among his many racing accolades.

Newgarden is the prime up-and-comer in the championship, having won three races with Ed Carpenter Racing between 2015 and 2016.

This year, the two raced head-to-head on a number of occasions, notably at Road America battling over seventh, and then with Montoya hopeful he could have been in Newgarden’s zip code at Iowa before a mechanical issue.

“I felt we’d be really strong. But I don’t know if we had a car for Josef,” Montoya told NBC Sports at the time. “I would have liked to find out. We race each other clean. We have a lot of respect for each other.”

Cindric, too, is wary of the prospect of needing to beat Montoya if he finds another full-time seat.

“Replacing Juan Montoya with anyone is a difficult call. If he doesn’t end up racing for us… he still may beat us,” Cindric said.

“He’s not done. But we have to do what’s best for us, short- and long-term. This is where we are.”

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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