Hull: 50th Ganassi sports car win a ‘terrific, major win’

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Golf has four official majors. Racing has several unofficial majors.

Chip Ganassi Racing has now won the last two of those unofficial majors, having delivered back-to-back wins in the 24-hour races at Le Mans in June and Daytona in January, respectively, in the team’s first and second year with the new Ford GT.

The Daytona win was a milestone for Ganassi’s sports car program overall. The Ganassi sports car program launched at the 2004 Rolex 24 at Daytona, nearly 15 years after the CGR IndyCar program began in 1990.

And the Daytona win was the team’s 50th in North American sports car racing, combining the records from both the GRAND-AM Rolex Series and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The team had 46 wins in the Daytona Prototype era before scoring its first three in IMSA with the Ford GT last season, and Daytona marked the 50th, courtesy of the effort from Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais in the team’s No. 66 Ford GT.

This does not factor in the wins achieved by Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK in the FIA World Endurance Championship, nor does it include the Ganassi win at Le Mans last year, as that was achieved by the U.S. team in the WEC race (also Hand, Mueller and Bourdais driving).

Mueller, Hand, Bourdais and race grand marshal Dario Franchitti. Photo courtesy of IMSA
Mueller, Hand, Bourdais and race grand marshal Dario Franchitti. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Alas, official statistics aside, Ganassi managing director Mike Hull spoke to the value of winning these “majors” like Le Mans, Daytona and Sebring. A Sebring win this weekend for the Ford GTs would match the feat achieved by Corvette Racing in holding all three titles at once, last achieved in 2015 and into 2016 (Corvette won Daytona and Sebring in both 2015 and 2016 and Le Mans in 2015, before Ford and Ganassi’s win last year).

“It was a significant win,” Hull told NBC Sports, before going into the golfing analogy.

“I love golf and I watch a lot of it. I was reading up when Tiger Woods was in a press conference, either in L.A. or San Diego several years ago. He’d won the event. They asked, ‘Tiger, what does it mean to win this tournament, given you’ve grown up here, have your friends and family, etc.?’

“He said, ‘Listen, one of my goals is to win more golf tournaments than everyone else, but you have to understand that people probably won’t remember I won this event. They’ll remember I won majors. Obviously my goal is to be better than Jack Nicklaus if I can be, because he set the bar. It’s nothing in deference to this tournament or the PGA Tour, but I’ll be remembered for majors.’

“So when I think about winning a race like the Rolex 24 at Daytona, this race team, all of us will be remembered for winning majors. Championships are one things, but major events are bigger. This being the 50th win is terrific. If you win others, they might say it for a day or so, but they don’t say it the rest of year or life.”

The win was Ganassi’s first GT Le Mans class win at Daytona after winning six times overall from 2006 through 2015 (2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2013, 2015).

Hull reflected on how far out of sorts the team was at its first Rolex 24 in 2004, because they were all collectively new to endurance racing.

“The winning process defines our culture at Chip Ganassi Racing,” Hull said. “Culturally, the people who moved in 2004 had come from the culture of winning. But none of us knew anything about sports car racing!

“We had a miserable first Daytona 24, and we came away with it and had a roundtable conference discussion… by the end of it, we had a list of 570 items to improve for next 24 of Daytona! We were miserable at endurance racing. We knew how to sprint race. We won that year’s title by sprint racing and learning where we needed to improve from there.”

The task was made a little easier at this year’s Rolex 24 by the fact both arms of the Ganassi, Ford and Multimatic sports car program – both the U.S. and U.K. teams – were all housed in Ganassi’s Woodland Dr. Indianapolis shop prior to the race. It also was easier running four of the same models, rather than split between two DPs in their final run and two GTs in their race debut as occurred last year.

“I don’t think it was as insurmountable as people thought from the outside!” Hull said. “Corporations pay large amounts of money for team-building exercises. In our case, the WEC team came to Indy for a week! We had a whole week of team building and it was fantastic!”

Ford, Ferrari, Porsche, Corvette. Photo courtesy of IMSA
Ford, Ferrari, Porsche, Corvette. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Making the win all the more special was that it came after an intense bout with three of the other four manufacturers in class, Ferrari, Corvette and Porsche. Hull said the nerves persisted through the miserable overnight conditions, as rain consistently fell at the Daytona International Speedway.

“We were all engaged 24 hours. It was intense,” Hull said. “The rain started 7 p.m. at night and never stopped. That defined the category and quality of not just Chip Ganassi Racing, but all the people in the race in class. Everyone hung in there. Everyone raced hard, clean, and worked hard all night. It was a testament to the strength of the GTLM category, and strength of the IMSA series.”

Hull also continued to note his respect for the Corvette Racing team, which has long set the bar within the GT ranks and which Ford Chip Ganassi Racing is trying to match up with and beat on a regular basis.

“When you look at things, analysis creates paralysis sometimes. But I still consider the Corvette team, with its lineage and success, the best,” Hull said. “In various categories where we’ve raced, if you can race on the same day with the same people, wheel to wheel, you’re achieving a lot with your program. That’s the only measure you have.

“Tom Brady has five Super Bowls. With young high school quarterbacks, who are they using as the mark? Tom Brady. They want to win six.

“It’s no different in racing. You look at the best in the category, over time, and you want to race with those guys and get past them. That’s how we look at Corvette. They’ve set the mark on and off track. They race so full of integrity. You want to race like they do.”

Ganassi’s team last won at Sebring in 2014, when Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and Marino Franchitti won overall. The team will look for its third straight endurance race “major” – as will the Hand/Mueller/Bourdais trio – ahead of this weekend’s race.

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.”