Dixon may not consider himself one of the best ever, but IndyCar world certainly does

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SONOMA, California — When you talk about the best drivers in Indy car racing history, by winning his fifth career Indy car championship Sunday, Scott Dixon indisputably and unequivocally is now in the same rare Indy car fraternity as legendary A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti.

Consider:

* Dixon is now only the second driver ever in Indy car racing to win five championships – and the first to do it in 51 years! That’s more than a half-century. The other driver to ever reach five wins is Foyt, who ultimately would go on to win seven titles in his illustrious career.

* With Sunday’s crown, Dixon passed Andretti, who earned four Indy car titles in his own illustrious career.

* With three race wins in 2018 en route to the championship, Dixon is now up to 44 wins in his Indy car career. That leaves him only eight away from tying Andretti for No. 2 on the sport’s all-time wins list.

* Given that since 2013, Dixon has earned 15 wins and three of his five career Indy car championships, one must wonder how much more prolific he’ll continue to be in 2019, 2020, 2021 and beyond. At the rate he’s going, Dixon potentially could tie and even break Andretti’s 52 wins within the next 3-4 seasons.

* Foyt’s 67 career wins may be a bit too far for Dixon to achieve. But looking at it from a glass half-full, half-empty perspective, if anyone can top Foyt, Dixon may be the only driver that ever could. It may take him another decade – along with the potential of winning another 2 or 3 or more championships in the process – but don’t completely rule out Dixon catching Foyt.

* And if that were to happen, Dixon would truly, positively be the absolute best there ever has been in Indy car racing.

Photo: IndyCar

Now, enough with the statistics. Let’s talk about Scott Dixon the man.

One of the definitions of the word “humility” is this: “a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness.”

Humility could very easily be Dixon’s middle name. He doesn’t toot his own horn or say how great he is, even though with his kind of career numbers, he certainly could.

When asked after Sunday’s race whether he considers himself among the best Indy car drivers ever, the 38-year-old New Zealand native immediately demurred.

“I don’t see myself that way at all,” he said, almost blushing. “I feel lucky, am very blessed in many ways. … I feel lucky I get to do what I love to do, get to work with the best in the business.”

But one of the best ever? Nope.

“I guess I just don’t see it that way,” Dixon reiterated.

No one could have imagined how Dixon would fare when he joined Chip Ganassi Racing just three races into the 2002 season when his team, Pac West Racing, folded.

Not team owner Chip Ganassi, not chief strategist Mike Hull, not even Dixon himself.

But there was something about Dixon that Ganassi just knew that he had to sign him and field a race car for him. He knew he had talent, having earned a win and two podium finishes in his rookie CART season with Pac West the year before in 2001.

Yet there was more to Dixon than just having a heavy foot and sharp reflexes to muscle a car through one turn after another.

Ganassi liked the way Dixon carried himself both inside and outside of a race car. He had a confident but quiet and modest air.

Team owner Chip Ganassi went crowd surfing to celebrate Scott Dixon’s 5th IndyCar championship — and Ganassi’s 12th as a team owner. Photo: IndyCar

Perhaps more than anything, it was the humility that Dixon displayed back then – the same kind of humility he still displays today – that sold Ganassi on the young Kiwi.

And continues to be sold on more than 16 years later into their relationship.

Dixon is the consummate professional both as a driver and a human being. He’s a dedicated family man, has never been involved in any type of scandal, never has been arrested nor had his name splashed across the front page of a newspaper for anything else other than being the great driver he is.

Another illustration of Dixon’s humility was seen as soon as he climbed out of his race car in victory lane. Instead of stopping to be interviewed on TV, he first made a beeline to his crew members, to thank each of them personally.

Then, when he finally did turn around to face the camera, the first thing Dixon said wasn’t about how happy he was to win the championship, but rather how appreciative he was to his wife and for the guys that made it happen, his team.

“I can’t thank everyone enough, my wife Emma, the team, my teammate (Ed Jones), everybody involved,” Dixon humbly said. “This doesn’t come without a lot of hard work.”

Then, when he walked into the media center to be grilled by reporters, one of the first things out of Dixon’s mouth was:

“Got to give huge credit to the team. They kind of just went on a wholesale change, everything worked out perfectly, the car had some great speed.”

Dixon shares a special moment with one of his daughters after winning the IndyCar championship.

He also exalted that his daughters, Poppy and Tilly, were in attendance to see Dad win it all.

“So cool to have Poppy and Tilly here,” Dixon beamed with pride. “It’s their first championship. They’ve been to a couple race wins, but it was really cool to have them here today.”

Obviously, racing is a sport where fans cheer for their favorites and boo those they don’t like. But admit it, when was the last time you ever heard Dixon get booed?

Virtually every fan at Sonoma Raceway applauded Dixon after he crossed the finish line for a job well done in winning the championship and doing what he needed to do to beat chief challenger Alexander Rossi.

Then there were the countless fellow drivers, owners and crew members from other teams that came up to congratulate Dixon on No. 5.

Not only is it rare to hear Dixon being booed, when was the last time a fellow driver criticized or outright blasted Dixon?

You might be able to count the number of times that’s happened in his career on one hand – and have a few fingers still left over.

Dixon truly is humility personified in a sport where being humble isn’t the easiest way to be. Some might even view humility as some sort of weakness.

But if there ever was a dictionary written about Dixon, alongside the words “humility” and “respect” would be his photo.

Even though Dixon “doesn’t see it that way,” there’s no disputing that the IndyCar world DOES see it that way.

“I’ve said it a thousand times, he’s the guy on the track, off the track,” Ganassi said of Dixon. “If you take a piece of stone, inject some brains into it, chisel it out, it’s Scott Dixon. He’s just the man.”

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Tony Kanaan’s “New Reality” in IndyCar

Photo by Stephen King, INDYCAR
Stephen King, INDYCAR
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AUSTIN, Texas – Tony Kanaan is one of the most popular drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series from the fans who love his aggressive racing style and his fearless attitude. His team owner is the most popular man in the history of Indianapolis 500 – the legendary AJ Foyt, the first driver to win the famed race four times in his career.

In 2019, this combination would rather win races than popularity contests.

Kanaan has won 17 races in his career but hasn’t been to Victory Lane since a win at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California when he was driving for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2014. He left Ganassi’s team following the 2017 and joined Foyt’s operation last season.

Foyt always admired Kanaan’s attitude and racing style because it reminded him of his own attitude behind the wheel of a race car. But in 2018, the combination struggled. Kanaan led just 20 laps for the season and finished 16thin the IndyCar Series points race.

“A lot of work has been done because obviously, we struggled quite a bit last year,” Kanaan admitted. “That was the challenge when I signed with AJ was to try to make this team better. It is not an easy task, especially with the competition nowadays.

“It’s a lot slower process than I thought it would be.”

Kanaan believes the biggest keys for him is to “keep digging and be patient.” But he’s also in a results-driven business.

The driver called it a long winter, but he has helped lure some of his racing friends to the team to help improve the two-car operation that also includes young Brazilian Matheus Leist.

At 84, Foyt still has control over the operation, but has turned the day-to-day duties over to his son, Larry. Just last week, the team hired Scott Harner as the team’s vice president of operations. Harner was in charge of Kanaan’s car when both were at Chip Ganassi Racing.

“The second year, we are trying to be better,” Kanaan said. “It’s not an excuse, it’s the reality we have. There are a lot of new teams coming along so we have to step up. Otherwise, we aren’t fighting the Big 3 teams, we are fighting everybody.

“We are working on it. I like the way we are heading. AJ has been extremely open to my ideas.”

Kanaan has moved his family from Miami to Indianapolis to be near the race team’s shop. The team also has another race shop in Waller, Texas and that is where Leist’s car is prepared.

Although Kanaan doesn’t believe it’s ideal to have two different racing facilities, he believes being closer to his team will help build a more cohesive unit for this season.

At one time, Kanaan would show up at the track with a car that could win the race. No longer in that situation, he has had to readjust his goals.

“The biggest challenge is to accept that and understand your limits on equipment and on the people that you have,” Kanaan said. “Being on some of the teams that I’ve been on in the past, with four-car teams and engineers and all the resources you can get and the budget; then to come to a team with limited resources, I have to self-check all the time. With that, comes a lot of pressure as well and block out people’s opinions like, ‘Oh, he’s old or he’s washed up or the team is not good.’

“You need to shield that from your guys, because psychologically, that gets to you. You need people to work well, even if you have a car that is going to finish 15th.

“What is our reality? Racing can be lucky, but we try to make goals. We are greedy, we try to improve, but we are trying to be realistic. I have to re-set and understand this is my reality now, and I have to accept it.”

At 44, Kanaan is the oldest driver in the IndyCar. The 2004 IndyCar Series champion won the Indianapolis 500 in 2013 and if his career ended this year, it would be one of the greatest of his era.

But Kanaan isn’t ready to call it an “era.” He has more he wants to accomplish.

“The mistake I have made in my career is counting your days,” Kanaan said. “The best line I ever heard is when I signed with AJ, he told me he drove until he was 58, so why am I talking about getting old?

“In his mind, I still have 14 years to go.”

There remains one race, more than any other, that Kanaan’s boss wants to win. It’s the one that made Foyt famous.

“For my boss, winning the Indianapolis 500 is all he cares,” Kanaan said. “I could not finish a single race this year and if I win the Indy 500, that would be enough for him.

“We are not in a position to win a championship and I accept that. So, we focus on the Indianapolis 500. We had an awesome car last year and were the fastest on the second day.”

Foyt and Kanaan believe success at Indy may be in the numbers.

“AJ is all about numbers and his number was 14,” Kanaan said. “He found out Dallara was making chassis No. 14 at the end of the year. AJ bought that chassis and said that is the one we are going to race at the Indy 500. I’m not allowed to drive that car until Opening Day at the Indianapolis 500.

“That’s how big the boss is about the Indy 500.”