Hunter-Reay hopes to turn season around at Iowa Speedway

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NEWTON, Iowa – It’s not that Ryan Hunter-Reay is having a bad season, it’s that it has so far been “under the radar.”

The popular driver from Florida is usually involved in some fierce battles at the front of the NTT IndyCar Series. After his 16th-place finish in Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto, he is seventh in the standings, 149 points behind the leader, Josef Newgarden with only six races remaining.

Luckily for Hunter-Reay, one of those contests is on one of his better race tracks – the .875-of-a-mile Iowa Speedway short oval.

Watch the Iowa 300 live on NBCSN on Saturday at 7 p.m. Eastern Time.

Hunter-Reay has three wins and five podiums (top-three) in 11 starts. He drove to victory in 2012, 2014 and 2015 and was third in 2017. He started third at Iowa last year but finished 19th, dropping out with suspension failure after 283 laps in the 300-lap contest.

“We’ve got three wins there; hoping to make it four,” Hunter-Reay told NBC Sports.com. “I love that track. We’ve had a difficult time there lately. Hopefully, this team as a whole can get back to our winning ways there.

“Short oval racing is always very difficult, especially with the bumps at Iowa. It’s difficult to get the setup right and the teams have a lot of respect for that because of that reason.”

Iowa is the middle race of a very important three-straight weekends of racing in the NTT IndyCar Series. It began with last Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto and concludes with the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on July 28 before taking another break.

“Three-in-a-row, mid-season, can definitely turn the whole season around,” Hunter-Reay said. “We’re all thinking wins right now. Newgarden has the most wins right now, and we all have to fight that gap, plus the lead two drivers have to trip up as well.

“You have to come into the season ready to go and be ready week-in and week-out.”

Newgarden has a four-point lead over Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.

While those drivers are leading the battle, the other contenders in the championship such as Indy 500, INDYCAR GP and Toronto winner Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon and Will Power have to “win or else.”

To some race fans who say, “Isn’t that the point of racing – to win?” When an IndyCar driver says that, it means racing with bolder moves and strategy.

It means playing offense more than defense.

“We are taking more risks,” Hunter-Reay explained. “At this point, you are gambling more on strategy, you are taking moves you otherwise wouldn’t do if you were points racing.

“For us, we are focusing on winning. We had two wins in 2018. Our last win was 10 races ago, so we need to get back to it.”

Hunter-Reay continues to fight back from a season-opening 23rdat St. Petersburg when he dropped out of the race with mechanical issues. He also finished 17thin the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Other than that, his season has been solid with a third-place finish at Circuit of the Americas in March as his best finish of the season.

In June, Hunter-Reay had reasonable month including a fifth-place and fourth-place in the two races that make up the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, a fifth at Texas Motor Speedway and an 11that Road America.

But this is Ryan Hunter-Reay, the man called “Captain America” of IndyCar at one point because he was the first driver from the United States to win the IndyCar title in 2012 since Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2006. When he won the Indianapolis 500 in 2014, he was the first driver from the USA to claim that since Hornish, also in 2006.

Since his Indy 500 win in 2014, some top drivers from America are challenging him for that title including 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Hendersonville, Tennessee and the spectacular emergence of 100thIndianapolis 500 winning driver and weekly thrill-show star Alexander Rossi of Nevada City, California.

“We’ve been in the top-five quite a bit this year, we just have to break through,” Hunter-Reay said. “At Road America, we had a fast car all weekend, but qualifying went pear-shaped. We started 15th, fell back to 18th, then had to fight our way to try to get into the top-10.

“We have to start up front and finish up front.

“I need to get the job done behind the wheel.”

 

IndyCar’s Scott Dixon staying fit with new training regimen during layoff

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During a regular racing schedule, five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing would spend much of his time between races at PitFit in Indianapolis.

The highly advanced workout facility on the northwest side of Indianapolis is run by noted sports trainer Jim Leo. His clientele includes IndyCar Series drivers and other athletes in the area.

In addition to the array of workout machines, Leo’s facility also has advanced equipment to test a driver’s reaction time. These range from a board with lights that rapidly flash, and a driver has to hit the board to turn them off. There are other tests drivers do to keep their skills sharp and reaction time focused.

Times have changed, though.

Indiana is under a statewide lockdown with the exception of essential services only. Instead of going to PitFit, Dixon is working out at his home on the north side of Indianapolis.

RELATED: How is Sabres’ star Jack Eichel staying fit?

His reaction time is being tested by his wife, Emma, throwing a tennis ball at him, changing the direction with each toss.

“I’ve gone back to old school, like tennis balls and Emma can drop them or throw them,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “As long as you keep up with basic cardio and lift weights and work on the neck muscles, that’s the harder part to get ready for.

“I had already stopped going into Pit Fit last week. We had not been doing that for a while. Haven’t left the house for 13 days, now. We went to the grocery store once. The rest of the stuff has been delivered.

“We’re locked down, man, trying to do our best for everyone else.”


Dixon’s home has an impressive array of workout equipment. That allows the 39-year-old racing legend to stay fit during this extended time off that won’t end until the last week of May at the earliest.

“I have most of the stuff I need at home,” Dixon explained. “Some of the reaction stuff, the D-2s and Synaptic machines plus some of the upper-body machines, are pretty unique machines. Those are the machines that Jim Leo has at PitFit.

“As far as cycling, running, general weights, skiers and rollers, I have that at home.”

It seems like a lifetime ago when the world was normal. That was before the dreaded novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic literally sent society underground and locked in while awaiting a solution to this fatal virus.

Photo by Chris Graythen, Getty Images

Before this unexpected shutdown, Dixon would go into PitFit to work on specialized equipment on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He would do the rest of his physical workout at home.

“I started skipping that when we got home before the lockdown,” Dixon said. “Before the lockdown, Jim could have stayed open because he never has more than 10 people at once.

“Typically, he would have the drivers spaced out where Tony Kanaan and I would go in at 8 in the morning, and Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe would go in at 9:30, and then Zach Veach and Spencer Pigot and Charlie Kimball would go in around 11. There were only about five of us going in at once.”

Two weeks ago, Leo dropped off some equipment at Dixon’s house along with more instructions to focus on his workouts during the layoff.

Sacrifices are being made all throughout the world, including racing.

“You can’t be selfish,” Dixon said. “It sucks for the drivers, but it sucks a lot worse for a lot of other people. Luckily, the school the girls go to has e-learning. It’s school as usual on the computer from 8:30 to 3 and that has been seamless on that front.

“On a personal note, it’s nice to be home with the baby and bonding as well, and that is great. But all of us wish everything was back to normal as soon as possible.”

RELATED: Vikings’ Kyle Rudolph adjusting to ‘new normal’ for training

Dixon is the father of three, including young daughters Poppy (10), Tilly (8) and infant son, Kit.

This is a time to keep his family safe.

“You hear mixed messages about who is more at risk,” Dixon said. “Obviously, older people with underlying conditions. We’re a fairly healthy family, but still it sounds like something can trigger a pretty bad situation. It’s better to be safe than sorry so we are limiting our contact as fast as possible. The quicker everybody locks down, the quicker we will get through the situation. If we stay home, we will see a decline and hopefully get back to normal pretty quickly.

“It’s a new thing for everybody.”


For now, Dixon works out at home, while the girls continue their classes on the computer. Emma spends time with her infant son, Kit, while taking care of the family.

These days of working out at home will be important because once racing is scheduled to return, tentatively set for May 30 at Detroit, it will be flat-out, racing nearly every weekend.

There won’t be time off inbetween races.

“No, but everybody is having plenty of rest right now,” Dixon quipped. “It’s not what anybody wants. We all keep hoping everybody remains safe and healthy. It’s a difficult time for a lot of people and we’ve been very lucky that we don’t know anybody that has had an issue so far. Hopefully, that remains the same.

“Everybody is ready to go. We were ready to go at St. Pete. This will be welcomed greatly.

“Nothing is normal these days. I think what IndyCar and IMS did was probably the best of the situations. You never want to move the dates of the 500, but you always want the people to be relaxed enough they are going to come to the race, too.

“The way they have done the schedule is pretty cool. It gives them enough wiggle room now with Detroit being the kickoff. What is also fun is the July 4 doubleheader weekend at Indianapolis and St. Pete finishing the season.”

Once life returns to normal, depending on what the new normal will look like, race drivers and athletes will once again be in an area they know.

The difficult part of this, however, is nobody knows when the COVID-19 outbreak will end.

“The hard part right now is there are so many unknowns,” Dixon said. “That is what people hate. They could wrap their hands around two weeks, but it could be another six weeks. People will go crazy.

“That is what we are going through right now. The unknown. Nobody knows what the next step is.”

That is why Dixon has a message for all race fans to take these orders seriously.

“Stay safe. Stay away from people. Lock down. Get this period done with,” Dixon said. “Once we do that, hopefully we can crack on like normal, and people can find fixes and therapies. As soon as everybody bunkers down, we will get through this sooner instead of later.

“Let’s get back to normal as quick as possible and get back to racing when we can.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500