Will Power eyeing season championship after Indy 500 victory

Getty Images

DETROIT (AP) — Will Power spoke calmly and nonchalantly. It was hard to tell if he was trying to keep an even keel or if he was just exhausted.

“You have to just try to keep the emotion as low as possible because you use so much when you are racing, so trying to keep these next two days as low as I can,” Power said. “I’m not a hyper type of person.”

As low key as Power can be, his victory at the Indianapolis 500 last weekend certainly brought out the exuberant side of his personality when he kept screaming during the celebration after the race. It was a different Power who was on hand Thursday for a media luncheon prior to this weekend’s twin IndyCar races on Detroit’s Belle Isle.

Power is now trying to shift his attention away from the Indy triumph. He has other, season-long goals in mind.

“Still focused on winning the whole season championship,” he said.

The last time the Indy 500 winner went on to win the IndyCar points title was in 2010, when Dario Franchitti did it. Juan Pablo Montoya nearly pulled it off in 2015 but lost the season title on a tiebreaker to Scott Dixon.

Power tops the standings entering this weekend’s races, but only by two points over Alexander Rossi. Power won the series title in 2014. Last weekend was his first Indy 500 victory.

“He’s now an Indy 500 champion, and you can’t take that away from him,” team owner Roger Penske said. “To be a champion and be on that Borg-Warner trophy is certainly something real special.”

Power finished second at Indy in 2015. His victory this year made him the race’s first Australian winner.

“It’s actually an honor to be the first Australian to win the Indy 500. And first Australian to win an IndyCar championship,” he said. “Growing up, it’s basically a childhood dream.”

Power said last weekend was the most excited he’s ever been about winning a race. No surprise there – and he said he became emotional when he saw footage of his wife, Liz, from the final moments.

“Just shows what it meant to us as a family,” he said. “It brought tears to my eyes to watch that, because I know how much it means to her, but it means that much to her because she knows what it means to me and how hard I’ve worked for that.”

The days after an Indy 500 victory can be a whirlwind. Power has been to New York and Texas, and now he has to race in Michigan both Saturday and Sunday.

“Not much sleep,” he said. “Busy, but well worth it.”

Since 2012, the Belle Isle race has occupied the spot on the IndyCar schedule immediately after the Indy 500. In that span, nobody has won in Detroit after winning at Indy. Franchitti finished second on Belle Isle in 2012 and Takuma Sato had a fourth-place showing last season.

The 2.3-mile street course along the Detroit River presents different challenges than Indy, but Power has long preferred road courses to ovals (at least until this year). He won at Belle Isle in 2014 and 2016, so this is an opportunity for him to take another step forward in his pursuit of a series championship.

No matter where he finishes this weekend, he sounds eager to return to a more normal routine after the post-Indy hoopla.

“Kind of look forward to just getting in the car and focusing forward,” Power said. “Sitting down with my engineer … and talking about the approach this weekend.”

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws

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.”