IndyCar: ‘Born Racer’ documentary on Scott Dixon is a big winner

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INDIANAPOLIS – Monday night’s debut of “Born Racer,” the documentary about Scott Dixon, his life and his 2017 IndyCar season, can best be described in one word:

Outstanding.

The nearly 90-minute biopic was so well done that it will likely raise the bar even higher on sports documentaries, and give future documentaries an even higher ladder to climb when it comes to accessibility, story telling and excellent editing.

“Born Racer” covered Dixon’s evolution as a race car driver, starting back when he was a young lad racing go-karts in his native New Zealand, to where he is today: the new 2018 IndyCar champion and only the second driver in Indy car history to earn five Indy car championships in a career (A.J. Foyt is the other, with seven titles).

Produced by fellow New Zealander Matthew Metcalfe, who also brought to the screen “McLaren,” the story of another New Zealander, Bruce McLaren, and his legendary racing teams, “Born Racer” does great justice to Dixon on so many levels.

MORE: ‘Born Racer’: The compelling and inspirational story of Scott Dixon to be released Oct. 2

The film’s cameras are brought into some of the most private parts of Dixon’s life, from his marriage to wife Emma, his devotion to daughters Poppy and Tilly, his quiet determination and confidence behind the wheel, how he tunes out the rest of the world and displays steel-edged focus in the hours before a race, how Chip Ganassi Racing is Dixon’s extended family and so much more.

Dixon stands in front of an impressive trophy cabinet detailing his racing career. Photo: Jerry Bonkowski

There are so many cross-sections that intersect throughout the movie. Some will make you smile if not outright laugh. But there are also parts where you’ll likely tear up, like the recollection of the death of Dan Wheldon during a race at Las Vegas on Oct. 16, 2011.

Dixon, his wife, and team owner Chip Ganassi gave extraordinary access to Metcalfe and director Bryn Evans, as well as countless cameras that dutifully recorded so much behind the scenes action, truly giving race fans one of the most personal and in-depth looks at what goes on in the IndyCar paddock, on pit road and of course the race track – not to mention their home and motor coach, their home away from home on race weekends.

The timing and pace/flow of the film was also spot-on. For example, shortly after segments about the start of the 2017 season and flashbacks to Dixon’s racing days as a youth, the movie trumpeted Dixon winning the pole for the 2017 Indianapolis 500 (his only pole of the season).

While there were plenty of smiles and jubilation after earning the pole and then starting the actual race a week later, suddenly and without warning, cameras rolled at countless angles capturing when Dixon – with nowhere to go at 230-plus mph – crashed into the car of Jay Howard late in the 500, prompting Dixon’s to fly several feet into the air, hit the SAFER Barrier head-on and disintegrated around him (including the engine block being sheared completely in half).

And yet Dixon was able to exit the wreckage under his own power, was checked out and cleared at the track medical center (although he did suffer a broken left tibia that left him in a walking boot and on crutches for the following few weeks), and continued his season the following week at Belle Isle.

Let’s face it, motor racing – particularly IndyCar – is a very proprietary sport. Teams don’t want other teams to know what they’re doing or what their secrets are.

Yet Metcalfe’s and Evans’ cameras were seemingly ever-present when they needed to be at the most significant times, catching not only the public, but also the private and even a few secrets.

Going along with motorsports being a proprietary thing, it’s unlikely many – if any – team owners other than Ganassi would have allowed such unprecedented access to a film crew that didn’t hesitate to show the bad along with the good, the tears along with the laughter.

Speaking of Ganassi, a side of him is also conveyed that isn’t as readily seen at the racetrack. He not only is the team’s leader and owner, he also is a fountain of inspiration, has a no-nonsense way of conveying his message of winning each and every race, and also displays an inspirational tone of a deep-thinking and motivation where he comes off as kind of the Vince Lombardi of IndyCar, where winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.

The movie ended with two bits of irony:

1) Emma Dixon conceded that although her 38-year-old husband gave it all he could, Josef Newgarden was not to be denied the 2017 championship. Scott Dixon would finish third, 21 points back.

2) But, that being said, comes the other irony: Emma Dixon also believed that for as good as her husband did in 2017, she had a “very good feeling that 2018 was going to be something really special.”

And how prophetic Emma Dixon, herself a world-class athlete (running), proved to be.

While the movie culminated with scenes of the 2017 championship at Sonoma Raceway, a last-minute scene was added to the conclusion, proudly stating that Dixon did go on to have “something really special” in 2018 by winning the championship over Alexander Rossi, Newgarden and Will Power.

“Born Racer” will go on sale on DVD and digital download on October 2nd. If you’re an IndyCar fan or a motorsports fan in general – even if you root for a driver other than Dixon – his story is definitely something that should be in your collection.

It’s one of the most defining pieces ever about what IndyCar is, what it’s made up of, as well as the people like Scott Dixon that make it up.

To pay homage to the late, great Roger Ebert, “Born Racer” is definitely a two thumbs up story.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

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.”