Ganassi keeps IndyCar championship in perspective: It’s just another race

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SONOMA, California – You don’t win 11 IndyCar championships without learning a few lessons along the way.

At 60 years old, Chip Ganassi has not only learned a lot in more than 40 years in motorsports, he’s also taught quite a few lessons to others, as well.

Like winning tons of races and championships across multiple racing series.

But perhaps the biggest lesson of all that the 60-year-old Pittsburgh native has learned over the years is don’t get flustered, don’t get riled and control only what you can control.

To use a well-worn baseball cliché, Ganassi believes in taking things one game at a time – or in his case, one race at a time.

That’s why, while so many reporters and fans are talking so much about all the pressure his driver, Scott Dixon, is under, Ganassi is completely relaxed heading into Sunday’s season-ending Grand Prix of Sonoma, the final IndyCar race for the foreseeable future at Sonoma Raceway.

Dixon is going for his fifth career IndyCar championship. He enters Sunday’s race with a decent – but far from a comfortable – 29-point lead over Alexander Rossi.

MORE: Will good fortune shine upon Scott Dixon once again to earn 5th IndyCar title?

But Dixon is just like his boss. They both are ignoring the pressure of what Sunday holds. To them, it truly is just another race.

As long as they continue to maintain that attitude from green flag to checkered flag, Dixon and Ganassi will emerge if not victorious in the race, but potentially with a grasp on the bigger picture: winning Dixon’s fifth and Ganassi’s 12th respective IndyCar championships.

“Never, never,” Ganassi replied when asked by MotorSportsTalk if winning races and championships ever gets old for him. “I don’t look at it in terms of going for the championship.

“(Chip Ganassi Racing team manager) Mike Hull says it best: ‘We show up every week, we just want to win the race, and that’s what we try to do every week.’

“Some day, we’ll sit around and talk about those kind of things, but right now, I’m just focused on Sunday. I’ll focus on Monday on Monday, focus on Tuesday on Tuesday and so on.”

Growing up in and having spent his entire life in his native Steel City, Ganassi was surrounded by the likes of Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Mean Joe Greene and Terry Bradshaw of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But while Ganassi certainly liked those teams and their players and sports as a kid, it was an experience when he was just out of his toddler years that would shape him for the rest of his life.

Simply, if it had a motor and wheels, Ganassi was right there through all stages of his existence, graduating from one motorized toy of sorts to the next.

“I got my first motorsports experience when I was three or four years old,” Ganassi said. “A kid across the street from me had a go-kart.

“We had driveways that lined up straight across the street. I’d stand in the street and watch for cars and he’d go back and forth. That was in the early 60s.

“And then there was the birth of the muscle car in the mid-to-late 60s, a lot of the kids in the neighborhood had Camaro’s and Chevelle’s.

“I got started there then started fooling around with ATVs, dirt bikes and snowmobiles.”

Ganassi then laughed when he tried to capsulize his youth and early adulthood.

“I was lucky, I had a fossil fuel-fired youth,” he chuckled. “I don’t know how popular that would be today among the electric crowd, but in the 60s and 70s, all I was worried about was where I was going to get the next tank of gas for my dirt bike.”

While he enjoyed a somewhat privileged childhood, Ganassi has never forgotten the town that he came from. That’s why he has long been involved in countless charitable activities and groups in his hometown.

Seeing the less fortunate side of the world was another element that helped shape Ganassi’s life and helped make him the competitive racer and then team owner he has been for nearly five decades.

“I’m the luckiest guy in the world in some sense,” he said. “I grew up in a steel town. I guess I had it a little bit better off growing up as a kid, but I saw a lot of things in my life, a lot of change, a lot of people with a lot of challenges.

“I had dreams when I was a kid just like any other kid. But I’ve never stopped dreaming and have never stopped wanting to do well in this business. All I want to do is just win and be at the front.”

One of Ganassi’s favorite axioms is that he would never have become the success he has been if it were not for the people that work for him.

Ganassi commands loyalty and respect within his entire motorsports organization, which has tentacles in IndyCar, IMSA, NASCAR and other series. That’s why so many of his employees have been with him for 15, 20, 25 or more years.

“For me, it’s being around a great team of people, really smart people, people with new ideas and are breaking new ground in some area every single week,” Ganassi said. “That’s what’s exciting to me. These are people who have opportunities to work at Apple or Google or Uber, and they want to work on racing cars instead.

“I guess it’s that weekly scorecard you get on Sunday afternoon. You get your scorecard every week in this business.”

One example of loyalty is Hull, who has been with Chip Ganassi Racing for nearly 27 years.

Another example of loyalty to Ganassi is Dixon, the man the entire IndyCar world will be focused upon Sunday as he tries to hold off Rossi, Will Power and Josef Newgarden for the championship.

“We’ve been together, what, 16, 17 years?” Ganassi said. “We’ve been together a lot.

“I don’t know what the dynamic is, but it works, it works. I wish I knew. I wish I had more of it. I wish I had 10 more like him, but unfortunately they don’t make ‘em every day like that.”

That’s so true.

If Dixon is IndyCar’s “Ice Man” for being so cool, calm and collected, Ganassi is “Mr. Freeze,” because he’s not going to let any pressure of Sunday’s race invade his space or get in his head.

To him, Ganassi says, “It’s Sunday, just another race in Sonoma. We just have to execute what we do week-in and week-out and we’ll be fine.”

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Dean Wilson’s life as a privateer reconnects the rider to his roots

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One of the added benefits of subscribing to NBC Sports Gold is the in-depth interviews from each Saturday’s action. Last week between the first and second rounds of qualification for the Glendale Supercross race, a relaxed and confident Dean Wilson joined Race Day Live’s Daniel Blair and Jim Holley to review his fourth-place finish in the season opener and his mindset moving forward.

Losing factory support from Rockstar / Husqvarna at the end of 2018 was not exactly what Wilson had in mind, but after getting off to a great start in the first two races this season, it may well have been a blessing in disguise.

The life of a privateer is not exactly relaxed, but it affords a rider the opportunity to call his own shots. For Wilson, it is also a way to reconnect with the grassroots feel that attracted him to Supercross in the first place.

“I think that’s what I like,” Wilson said on Race Day Live. “I think that’s the environment and atmosphere I like – it’s just more low key. At Anaheim I, you would think I was local racing at Glen Helen. I had a Sprinter and I had another trailer just to chill in, do my spins. It was so cold I had a little propane heater to warm me up. But I like that. That’s what works for me.”

MORE: Dean Wilson’s Cinderella story at Anaheim 

The program Wilson was able to put together during the offseason produced back-to back top 10s – a much better start to the 2019 season than he experienced last year.

In 2018, Wilson did not score a top 10 until his fourth feature at San Diego. His first top five would not come until late March in Indianapolis.

This year Wilson got the hole shot and led 14 laps at Anaheim in the opener before finishing fourth. Last week in Glendale, he finished eighth.

“What was going through my head was ‘it’s about time; it’s about five years too late to lead some laps here,’ ” Wilson described his emotion as he led at Anaheim. “It was nice because I did a lot of work in the off-season and my starts were really good. The thing is I haven’t over-analyzed my starts and practice.”

At Anaheim I, Wilson struggled with visibility as his goggles began to get fouled by mud. A once comfortable lead was eroded by Justin Barcia. With pressure from behind, Wilson made a minor mistake that was then compounded by lapped traffic.

“I was leading my laps; I was just trying to hit my marks. I was doing really well until I made a couple of mistakes. I couldn’t hit that middle double, double … the rut was getting real chewed out, but I was already on the right side where you couldn’t double the middle part so you had to go roll, roll, roll – and Barcia was already on me.”

Wilson’s pair of top 10s was enough to keep him fifth in the standings, three points behind Glendale’s winner Blake Baggett.

For more, watch the video above.

Next Race: Anaheim II Jan. 19, 11 p.m., NBCSN

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