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Conor Daly leads; JR Hildebrand crashes in first Gateway session

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A Chevrolet topped the timesheets on the Verizon IndyCar Series’ first of two three-hour test sessions at Gateway Motorsports Park, but it might not be the one you’d guess at first.

Conor Daly posted a best time of 25.9046 seconds, or 173.714 mph, around the 1.25-mile oval in the No. 4 ABC Supply Co. Chevrolet for AJ Foyt Racing that was quickest among 21 drivers that set representative lap times in 20 cars.

Speeds mean little in a test like this but for Daly, who ran well at Phoenix on Saturday night before a gearbox issue cost him 70-plus laps in the pits and left him 14th, gaining information on short ovals is important. The Foyt team had not finalized its deal with Chevrolet the last time teams tested here in October, marking this both Daly’s and the team’s first running here.

“Our car was good in qualifying as we had the same mechanical balance. We just didn’t know how much to trim,” Daly told NBC Sports about his Phoenix race this weekend. “I was flat immediately. Maybe should have taken 1,000 or 1,500 pounds (of downforce out). It’s about gathering information. Carlos goes a little more trim and gets a little further. We’re taking these steps and we’re learning.”

“I really like Phoenix and these short ovals. Man, they’re physical though!”

Behind Daly, all five Team Penske Chevrolets were fixing to be second through sixth, but that was interrupted in the final few minutes of the session.

Josef Newgarden was second at 172.341 in the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, with month of May fifth driver Juan Pablo Montoya marking his second test of the year third in the newly liveried No. 22 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Chevrolet.

Phoenix winner Simon Pagenaud and Phoenix polesitter Helio Castroneves were next, followed by the first Honda of Scott Dixon, who ran only in the final five minutes of the session.

Ed Carpenter was seventh ahead of Will Power, with Sebastien Bourdais and Carlos Munoz completing the top 10.

Bourdais and Ed Jones are sharing Jones’ No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda this test as Bourdais’ car sustained damage to all four corners and both sides of his No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Honda in the first lap accident at Phoenix.

Team owner Dale Coyne told NBC Sports while Bourdais’ car wasn’t tubbed (written off entirely), it was very close.

“It’s not tubbed, but it’s everything but the tub. We broke all four corners and both undertrays. It’s pretty bad,” Coyne said at Phoenix.

Photo: IndyCar

One car that did crash today was Phoenix third place man JR Hildebrand, who had his second accident of the season in testing. He’d also had one in the Phoenix test in February.

The driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet made contact with the SAFER barrier in Turn 2 and was done for the session.

“It’s windy out there and we were working our way through Turns 1 and 2,” Hildebrand said. “I thought there would be more grip rolling a little higher through the corner and there wasn’t. Collected the outside wall in (Turn 2). I thought I was out of (the throttle) forever. I tried to regain some grip going up the hill and it just didn’t grip. I’m frustrated for the team. An unnecessary thing to happen. Hopefully, we can get back out later today.”

Several yellow flags flew for track inspection and course repairs, which extended the three-hour session past its intended end time of 3 p.m. CT and local. A second three-hour session runs later today from 4 to 7 p.m., which will closer simulate race conditions for the evening race, the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline, set for August 26.

Beyond the 21 drivers that tested – Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing did not appear – one other driver tested this morning.

Photo: IndyCar

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports third driver Jay Howard had his first run in an IndyCar since Las Vegas, 2011, which was canceled after 12 laps. Howard has had several false starts since but the Englishman took over James Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda for his refresher running this morning. Howard will drive the No. 77 Team ONE Cure Honda with SPM, supported by the Tony Stewart Foundation, at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Times from this first test session are below.

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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