MADISON, Ill. – Conor Daly put on perhaps the best drive he’s had in his Verizon IndyCar Series career to finish fifth in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline.
Starting 11th, Daly was running strong early before he slid through his pit stall during a sequence of pit stops, which saw his No. 4 ABC Supply Co. Chevrolet plummet down the running order.
From there, the A.J. Foyt Enterprises driver needed to pull off some aggressive moves to work his way back forward, and he did exactly that, especially on the restarts, when he frequently used the outside line to make passes.
“I loved the high lane. I learned from Tomas Scheckter back in the day: Always go high on the restarts. That’s what I went for and it worked on all the restarts,” Daly quipped regarding his restarts.
Daly added that he accepted full responsibility for slipping through his pit stall, highlighting that the slick pit lane simply caught him out.
“I did it to myself. We had a good start, a good first few stints and then I just slid through the box. Really slick pit lane and it was just something that I didn’t catch. But then after that I was determined to get to the front, because I knew the car was good.”
Further, he also had to survive a fierce battle with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Charlie Kimball when battling over sixth place, which actually saw the two make contact as they jockeyed for track position.
Daly, as he detailed, was none too happy about how Kimball was defending – or in his view, blocking.
“(Charlie) hit me like twice. It was unbelievable. And he hit (my teammate Carlos Munoz) too – he knocked Carlos nearly into the wall, and he drove into my wing as I was coming underneath him. It was just a shame to see that. Normally I race together quite well with him, but yeah that was just kind of silly,” Daly expressed.
Kimball, for his part, labeled it hard racing, explaining that the contact between the two resulted from them simply fighting over the same real estate.
“I think he was trying to beat me to the bottom. But, just with the draft and the way the Chevy is, he ran into the back of me,” Kimball told NBC Sports of the incident.
Kimball added the nature of the track and the importance of track position, along with Honda’s aero disadvantage on the straightaways, forced drivers to defend aggressively.
“The way we were down the straights and the way the racing was here, you had to do everything you could to keep track position.”
Kimball finished seventh, which was his best oval result of the year, and second best overall (sixth at Road America).
Tony DiZinno contributed to this report from Gateway Motorsports Park
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.
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.
“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.
“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.”