In racing, there’s an old saying: “It takes a racer to know a racer.”
That definitely applies to 2018 IndyCar champion – and five-time overall champ – Scott Dixon, as well as a saying that is unique to him and wife Emma Davies Dixon: “It takes a racer to love a racer.”
While so much has been said of the Chip Ganassi Racing team that has propelled him to 44 wins and 5 titles in 16 seasons, the real chief engineer of Dixon’s life is his beloved Emma.
That’s where the racer loves a racer part comes in: While Scott has excelled on four wheels, Emma in her earlier life was a two-legged champion. It’s her own success as an athlete that gives her incredible insight into what her husband thinks and goes through, helping keep Scott balanced both inside and outside of a race car.
Emma is a former Welsh and British 800 meter running champion whose success stretched from her native United Kingdom to around the world. But she ultimately put her running career on hold due to two reasons: the death of her father and primary coach, and meeting and beginning a relationship with Scott.
She has been with Dixon for 12 ½ years, nearly the last 11 as his wife, and has played an integral part of support and being a sounding board for Scott for four of his five IndyCar championships (2008, 2013, 2015 and 2018).
“Scott and I had dinner recently and he said with this fifth championship, it does feel like we did it together,” Emma Dixon said in an exclusive interview recently with NBC Sports’ MotorSportsTalk. “I think it’s knowing the dedication going into the sport.
“As much as we live as husband and wife, I feel like we also live as training partners. My dreams were the same as his. From the moment I fell in love with him, my dream was he was to make history in this sport. I had been around top athletes my whole life, whether it’s football or athletics. I dated Olympic medalists. I knew what it was like when I saw a huge talent, and that’s what it was like with Scott.
“I had such a strong a feeling in my gut that he was something very special and he was here to do something very special. When we went to dinner, he said, ‘We’re so lucky. It’s like a dream team. You understand what I’m doing and you push me so hard and sometimes, I may have been satisfied just to win three championships.’
“But my gut feeling was that he wasn’t there just to win two or three championships, he was there to really put his stamp in motorsports and really live a legacy.”
From the moment I fell in love with him, my dream was he was to make history in this sport. … I had such a strong a feeling in my gut that he was something very special and he was here to do something very special. … My gut feeling was that he wasn’t there just to win two or three championships, he was there to really put his stamp in motorsports and really live a legacy.
Emma’s influence on and impact upon Scott’s life and career has been immeasurable. She’s seen the highest of highs, including four of his five championships, as well as his 2008 Indianapolis 500 win.
She’s also seen the lowest of lows, including Scott’s frightening crash in the 2017 Indy 500.
“There’s so many sides of it,” Emma said when asked what it’s like to be Scott’s wife. “I really feel like I’m living the dream, that I’m incredibly blessed.
“Scott and I are both sports-mad. We’re very competitive and very driven, so I feel like we really compliment each other. He’s an amazing father and an amazing husband. I feel like I got super lucky and he’s an all-around awesome person.”
SCOTT’S NOT THE ONLY WORLD-CLASS ATHLETE IN THE DIXON HOUSEHOLD
Emma Dixon began her own racing career at an early age and achieved significant success.
“I started (actively competing) when I was like 12 years old, but my parents had been approached by a coach when I was nine to coach me,” Emma Dixon said. “They felt I was too young, so it was kind of put aside.
“Then, I went to an area championship where a lot of girls turned up in their spikes and running gear and belonged to a local club. I had a really great race and my dad said, ‘I think it’s time.’
“That race (the area championship) qualified me for the national championships. We did two weeks of training and I actually won that national championship. Then by the end of the season, I got my first English Fest at a junior level to compete in the English championships.
“I had other coaches like Peter Elliott, who was the world indoor 800 meter record holder and was top-3 in the Olympics. I had other coaches looking after me, but because they’d be traveling around the world with other athletes, my dad would be the guy with the whistle and the stopwatch, coaching me. Our bond was very strong from a young age.”
It was during the middle part of the first decade of the new century that saw Emma’s life change dramatically.
“In 2004, I got glandular fever (similar to mononucleosis),” Emma Dixon said. “I was out for about six months and we did a small amount of training and everything was looking really good.
“Up to that point, I had been making the marks, had full sponsorship and was on Elite Support, where they see athletes they feel will make the Olympics, then they’ll support them financially. I had done all the Commonwealth and European Championships, had been the top girl in Great Britain for a number of years, so it was all going super well.”
Then tragedy struck.
“I was just coming out of the Junior rankings and doing well in the Seniors and then my dad got diagnosed with cancer in 2005 and we lost him in September,” Emma Dixon said. “It spun me out because I always had known him at the track with me. My mom told me to take a break because each time I went training, I would get upset, it was such a painful time.”
FROM HEARTBREAK TO THE LOVE OF HER LIFE
After her father’s death, Emma returned to training, but his absence wore upon her. Without him, it was almost as if she was just going through the motions.
But just six months after her father passed, Emma met Scott.
“It was such an instant thing,” she said. “Scott was in London on business and didn’t really know anybody. Our mutual friend said, ‘My mate is in town and it’s like his third night in a row with room service.’
“I was like, ‘The poor guy. Does he want to join me and my girlfriends? We’re having sushi tonight. He’s very welcome to join us.’ It was so bizarre. It was an immediate situation for us. He was so different, so incredibly humble, incredibly shy, very modest, sincere, witty and just genuine.
“I was going through a rough time at that time. I had just lost my dad and my career was down. I was desperately devastated, really.
“And then this amazing guy walked into my life, someone really positive and very driven. It was very much immediate for Scott and I.”
Although their forms of racing are diametrically opposite, that didn’t prevent Scott from convincing Emma to come to the U.S. so they could train together.
“He was like, ‘Would you like to help me? I know your career has taken a bit of a turn at the moment. Would you like to come to America and let’s train together and see what happens.’
“I didn’t really know what was going on this side of the pond, so I said to myself, why don’t I take a risk and do something I’ve never done before? We got engaged six months later.”
Emma’s whirlwind relationship with Scott helped her move on from her father’s death, but it also made her realize that it was time to put her running career on hold.
“So I came to the U.S. with Scott and we started training together,” Emma said. “I tried one or two races that did well, but the feeling wasn’t the same with my dad not with me. It was quite hard and that’s grief.
“My only regret in life, if I’m honest, was that I gave up my sport. But on the other side, I got to support Scott and I really feel we’re a winning team together. And sometimes, when he wins, it felt the same as when I crossed the line and I won. So I was getting the same feeling and in the end, I was like maybe this is my journey now, to support Scott, the guy I was in love with.”
Scott and Emma married in February 2008 and have been more than just husband and wife. They’re teammates on and off the racetrack, they pick each other up when the other is down, and most importantly, they celebrate their success together, from the birth of their two daughters to Scott’s championships.
It’s truly a team effort.
“When we got married in 2008, it was such an intense season with the Indy 500 win and the championship, Scott said ‘let’s go look for a coach and get you back going.’ I said, ‘Yes, let’s do that’ and then I became pregnant,” Emma said with a laugh.
SCOTT’S SECRET WEAPON: EMMA’S COACHING
While Emma is a wife and mother, she’s also a coach of sorts to her husband. Her past training as an athlete puts her in a unique position to be able to not only cheer Scott on, but also to motivate and direct Scott, giving him inspiration and also wise and sage advise.
“I know his preparations and I know what he’s put in to build up to a race weekend,” Emma said of her husband. “Sometimes, he gets obsessed with certain boxed sets of (TV) shows.
“And it’ll be late and I’ll say, ‘My God, let’s go to bed, you’re racing this weekend.’ And he’s just like ‘No, one more, just one more.’ And I say no and I turn the TV off.
“Then sometimes I’ll say, ‘Ok, you can do it,’ and then I’ll notice in the race the next day or that weekend that he’s fatigued.
“I’ve literally had to give him THAT look that it’s all about preparation. That’s annoying for him, but I think it’s worked really well because sometimes when he is mentally fatigued and hasn’t wanted to go training, I’ve been the person that’s like, ‘Babe, this is how champions are made. When every one else is tired, you get up. Come on, let’s eat right. We have six more weeks of the season. Let’s just keep pushing, push, push, push.’
“I do like to think we have that little edge because I understand what it takes to be a champion.”
2018: THE YEAR OF THE DIXON’S
Emma has had almost as much attention and notoriety in 2018 as her husband. She and the couple’s daughters – nine-year-old Poppy and seven-year-old Tilly – were there when Scott won title No. 5.
And then, nearly three weeks later, Emma’s star shined with the debut of “Born Racer,” the documentary about Scott’s 2017 season.
Emma beamed on the red carpet for “Born Racer” in Indianapolis and arguably had as many photos taken of her as were taken of Scott.
Scott has a great line in “Born Racer” where he says: “We live to race. There is nothing else.”
To which Emma has an equally prophetic line herself in the movie that perfectly capsulizes her husband and his drive – both literally and figuratively:
“Unless he’s going really fast, he doesn’t feel alive.”
The Dixons really have formed a partnership that has not only tightened their bond, they also have become arguably the most powerful couple in IndyCar today.
“Scott really juggles all aspects of it,” she said. “Both of us as athletes know it’s a real balancing act, so that if one of the tables is off, it can affect the whole platter.
“For us, it’s really keeping an even balance, whether to make sure our children aren’t suffering because we travel and commitments to Scott’s career take up a lot of time, and make sure they’re happy, make sure the training is going well, lack of injuries, just making sure we’re staying on top of all aspects.
“To be honest, what is my life like? I feel incredibly lucky. I’m scared something is going to change because it’s that good. I wake up excited because we really are living the dream at the moment.”
Like a good wife and training partner, Emma believes Scott can easily continue racing well into his 40s.
“I really think Scott’s got a chance at the seven championships and eight would be a dream,” she said. “I do believe he’s with the team to do it. He’s motivated enough.
“He’s not veering away from IndyCar, he’s very much focused on it. He feels he’s in the best shape of his life, he feels he’s driving the best he’s ever driven.”
A RUNNING COMEBACK ON EMMA’S HORIZON?
While Scott prepares for a sixth IndyCar championship in 2019, at 38 Emma may be making a comeback of her own.
“I’m back training now,” she said. “Our lives are super busy, but I really miss competing, so I’m definitely toying with the idea of coming back to competition again.”
Scott regularly goes running with Emma in and around their Indianapolis-area home. While he may be the fastest on four wheels, Emma can whip his butt in the battle of two legs.
“If we go for a steady eight miles on a Sunday, it’s really enjoyable and I let him take the pace,” Emma said. “But if we do four or five miles, then it’s so hard because I’m so used with my discipline, I naturally speed up.
“Sometimes I can’t help that. When we have one or two miles to go, it’s very much of a sprint. And he doesn’t like that.”
Emma is running five days a week, about eight miles a day, mainly for her health and enjoyment.
“Running is really my happy place, even just power walking, putting on some good music, just being in nature, all of that good stuff,” she said.
But if she goes forward with the comeback, she’ll pick up her training regimen to running twice a day and as much as 80 miles per week.
“We’re going to meet with some coaches and really decide if this is possible with his career, as well, and make sure it’s not going to impede on that,” Emma said. “At the same time, he’s really supportive and says, ‘I’m ready to support you as well. It’s your time.’”