MRTI: Dickerson primed for success with rare 2-year deal in place at NWR

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Two-year deals in open-wheel junior series racing are about as frequent as 30-degree weather in San Diego. They occasionally happen, but it’s usually once in a blue moon, at best.

Luckily for San Diego native Dakota Dickerson, he got that “30-degree weather day” equivalent to kick off this month, with confirmation of a two-year deal coming with Newman Wachs Racing.

Newman Wachs Racing starred during its four-year run in the Champ Car Atlantic Championship from 2006 through 2009, with drivers such as John Edwards, JR Hildebrand, Simona de Silvestro, Jonathan Summerton and Markus Niemela among those who raced for them. Edwards won the 2009 title in the last year of Champ Car Atlantic, before the series came back to life under a new promoter several years later.

NWR however dipped off the radar in the years since. Team co-owner Paul Newman died in fall of 2008 and Eddie Wachs only carried on as a team owner into the following year. But the opportunity to come back arose following the USF2000’s launch of the new Tatuus USF-17 chassis, and NWR is one of the marquee teams entering the championship as a result.

In Dickerson, a past Team USA Scholarship winner and Mazda scholarship recipient who made big strides over the course of his first USF2000 campaign this year with Afterburner Autosport, the team has found a driver they can grow with who already has experience.

And Dickerson has the peace of mind knowing he’ll be set for two years, with USF2000 this year and Pro Mazda set for 2018, in the new Tatuus PM-18.

“Yeah, I know, it’s awesome. Especially this early in my career. It’s really nice,” Dickerson told NBC Sports. “The credit goes to the team for believing in me and wanting to put something together like this. A large portion of it, too, is the fact the USF 2000 Pro Mazda chassis going to be the same, so if we’re putting all our time and resources into developing the USF car, it just makes sense to go up and do the Pro Mazda car together, as well.”

Dickerson met team manager Brian Halahan in August when the team announced its return plans. He visited the shop following the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test, met Wachs, and clicked rather instantly. He was signed following a successful private test.

While Dickerson, who turned 20 on December 2, was in his early teen years when NWR was racing in Atlantics, he paid attention to their pedigree.

“When they were in Atlantics, I was running go-karts and one of their Atlantic drivers, Markus Niemela was a good friend,” Dickerson said. “So it was kind of weird to hear their name when I was 12-years-old and now getting to run with them.

“And everybody in the series, since Newman Wachs is running in the Atlantics, they told me a bit about their background and it all kind of clicked and made sense.”

Dickerson’s first season in USF2000 turned a corner starting at Lucas Oil Raceway end of May. He had an eighth place on debut in a crash-marred season opener in St. Petersburg but only finished better than 13th once in the next five races. From Lucas Oil through the end of the year, Dickerson was 12th or better in 10 straight races, with a best stretch of fourth in Toronto race two, then two fifths and a sixth at Mid-Ohio. He ended ninth in points.

“A lot of it was a learning process. I didn’t get to spend as much time with the Afterburner team as I would have liked to in the offseason,” Dickerson explained.

“So we were learning a lot together throughout the season and a lot of it clicked, a lot of things started to come together. We brought on a driver coach, Barry Waddell, and he was real helpful at Mid-Ohio and kind of just getting me used to running with this team. A lot of it just came together in the last half and I think a lot of our success was due to that.”

The new, wider Cooper Tires on the new USF-17 car will require a bit of adapting but Dickerson seems to have a good handle on it.

“The tires are a lot wider, a lot more mechanical grip,” he said. “It seemed like it was hard to tell between whether it was the brakes that were more efficient or the tires in general. But overall, just so much more grip overall with the new tires, the bigger tires. I don’t know what’s different with the compound, but just a lot more grip.”

Dickerson should be the team leader as Newman Wachs plans to run at least three cars, engineered by Alan O’Leary, look set to tackle the series next year.

“We can get after it now. We’ve taken care of the logistics for the next two years and it’s just nice to focus on the driving aspect for as much as we can and I’m really excited to get preseason testing going.”