Already a star in his native New Zealand, Dixon’s legend would only grow if he takes fifth IndyCar title

Photo: IndyCar

Scott Dixon has finally started to receive recognition in the United States, after climbing to third on the all-time IndyCar wins list and putting himself in position to possibly win a fifth Verizon IndyCar IndyCar Series title.

However, in his native New Zealand, Dixon has been a long-time star and one of its great sporting heroes.

Case and point, the New Zealand Herald has spotlighted Dixon in post-race features after every Verizon indyCar Series event this year, meaning Dixon is very much a focal point of their racing coverage. (An archive of the New Zealand Herald’s coverage of Dixon can be viewed here).

Last year, the New Zealand outlet Driven published a story examining how Dixon might be one of, if not the most, underappreciated drivers ever.

“I think he’s extremely underappreciated,” said Ryan Hunter-Reay in that piece. “I think he’s a legend for what he’s accomplished. I don’t want to say that too much because I’m racing against him every weekend.”

He added, “It’s been amazing what he’s been able to do. And through the eras of IndyCar racing, this is the tightest it’s ever been. The data shows that. From P1 to P-last, whatever that may be, this is the tightest Indycar has ever been. To be consistent nowadays, it seems to be even harder.”

The extensive coverage Dixon has received also extends into Australia, where he spent his formative years as a racing driver. Speedcafe, one of Australia’s leading motorsports news outlets, has been analyzing Dixon’s place among the greats for years now – going back to 2015, they posted a story on Dixon passing Bobby Unser on the all-time list. (This came after his win in that year’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach).

Speedcafe took their honoring of Dixon further with a look back to his days racing in Australia, highlighting a specific race of his at Sandowne Racecourse in 1998, when he was competing in Formula Holdens.

You get the idea. When you go to New Zealand, or even Australia, Dixon’s star power is immense. Of course, his popularity is expected to grow even more with Born Racer, the documentary profiling Dixon, set to the released this month.

Dixon is already well placed among the legends to come out of New Zealand’s motorsports scene. Such names include Denny Hulme, former Formula 1 world champion, and Bruce McLaren, himself a race-winning Formula 1 driver before founding the McLaren racing team.

Other New Zealand racing heroes include current stars like Earl Bamber (former overall winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and current factory sports car driver with Porsche), and Brendon Hartley (also a former Le Mans winner, and current Formula 1 driver with Toro Rosso), along with pioneers like Chris Amon (widely regarded as one of the best drivers to never win an F1 race).

In some ways, Dixon may have passed several people on that list, at least in terms of racing accomplishments. In addition to his IndyCar championships, he has an Indianapolis 500 triumph, and a pair of overall wins in the Rolex 24 at Daytona (and a GTLM class win in that event as well).

And another IndyCar championship would only add to his legendary status, and make him even more popular in his home country.


With throaty roar, NASCAR Next Gen Camaro is taking Le Mans by storm on global stage

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

LE MANS, France — The V8 engine of the NASCAR Chevrolet Camaro has a distinct growl that cannot go unnoticed even among the most elite sports cars in the world at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

When the Hendrick Motorsports crew fired up the car inside Garage 56, NASCAR chairman Jim France broke into a huge grin and gave a thumbs up.

“The only guy who didn’t cover his ears,” laughed seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

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France has been waiting since 1962 – the year his father, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., brought him to his first 24 Hours of Le Mans – to hear the roar of a stock car at the most prestigious endurance race in the world.

A path finally opened when NASCAR developed its Next Gen car, which debuted last year. France worked out a deal to enter a car in a specialized “Innovative Car” class designed to showcase technology and development. The effort would be part of NASCAR’s 75th celebration and it comes as Le Mans marks its 100th.

Once he had the approval, France persuaded Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear – NASCAR’s winningest team, manufacturer and tire supplier – to build a car capable of running the twice-around-the-clock race.

The race doesn’t start until Saturday, but NASCAR’s arrival has already been wildly embraced and France could not be more thrilled.

“Dad’s vision, to be able to follow it, it took awhile to follow it up, and my goal was to outdo what he accomplished,” France told The Associated Press. “I just hope we don’t fall on our ass.”

The car is in a class of its own and not racing anyone else in the 62-car field. But the lineup of 2010 Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller, 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button and Johnson has been fast enough; Rockenfeller put down a qualifying lap that was faster than every car in the GTE AM class by a full three seconds.

The Hendrick Motorsports crew won its class in the pit stop competition and finished fifth overall as the only team using a manual jack against teams exclusively using air jacks. Rick Hendrick said he could not be prouder of the showing his organization has made even before race day.

“When we said we’re gonna do it, I said, ‘Look, we can’t do this half-assed. I want to be as sharp as anybody out there,” Hendrick told AP. “I don’t want to be any less than any other team here. And just to see the reaction from the crowd, people are so excited about this car. My granddaughter has been sending me all these TikTok things that fans are making about NASCAR being at Le Mans.”

This isn’t NASCAR’s first attempt to run Le Mans. The late France Sr. brokered a deal in 1976, as America celebrated its bicentennial, to bring two cars to compete in the Grand International class and NASCAR selected the teams. Herschel McGriff and his son, Doug, drove a Wedge-powered, Olympia Beer-sponsored Dodge Charger, and Junie Donlavey piloted a Ford Torino shared by Richard Brooks and Dick Hutcherson.

Neither car came close to finishing the race. McGriff, now 95 and inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame in January, is in Le Mans as France’s guest, clad head-to-toe in the noticeable Garage 56 uniforms.

“I threw a lot of hints that I would like to come. And I’ve been treated as royalty,” McGriff said. “This is unbelievable to me. I recognize nothing but I’m anxious to see everything. I’ve been watching and seeing pictures and I can certainly see the fans love their NASCAR.”

The goal is to finish the full race Sunday and, just maybe, beat cars from other classes. Should they pull off the feat, the driver trio wants its own podium celebration.

“I think people will talk about this car for a long, long time,” said Rockenfeller, who along with sports car driver Jordan Taylor did much of the development alongside crew chief Chad Knaus and Greg Ives, a former crew chief who stepped into a projects role at Hendrick this year.

“When we started with the Cup car, we felt already there was so much potential,” Rockenfeller said. “And then we tweaked it. And we go faster, and faster, at Le Mans on the SIM. But you never know until you hit the real track, and to be actually faster than the SIM. Everybody in the paddock, all the drivers, they come up and they are, ‘Wow, this is so cool,’ and they were impressed by the pit stops. We’ve overachieved, almost, and now of course the goal is to run for 24 hours.”

The car completed a full 24-hour test at Sebring, Florida, earlier this year, Knaus said, and is capable of finishing the race. Button believes NASCAR will leave a lasting impression no matter what happens.

“If you haven’t seen this car live yet, it’s an absolute beast,” Button said. “When you see and hear it go by, it just puts a massive smile on your face.”

For Hendrick, the effort is the first in his newfound embrace of racing outside NASCAR, the stock car series founded long ago in the American South. Aside from the Le Mans project, he will own the Indy car that Kyle Larson drives for Arrow McLaren in next year’s Indianapolis 500 and it will be sponsored by his automotive company.

“If you’d have told me I’d be racing at Le Mans and Indianapolis within the same year, I’d never have believed you,” Hendrick told AP. “But we’re doing both and we’re going to do it right.”

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Fans gather around the NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that is the Garage 56 entry for the 100th 24 Hours of Le Mans at the Circuit de la Sarthe (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

General Motors is celebrating the achievement with a 2024 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Garage 56 Edition and only 56 will be available to collectors later this year.

“Even though Chevrolet has been racing since its inception in 1911, we’ve never done anything quite like Garage 56,” said GM President Mark Reuss. “A NASCAR stock car running at Le Mans is something fans doubted they would see again.”

The race hasn’t even started yet, but Hendrick has enjoyed it so much that he doesn’t want the project to end.

“It’s like a shame to go through all this and do all this, and then Sunday it’s done,” Hendrick said. “It’s just really special to be here.”