INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski

INDYCAR CEO Miles ‘delighted’ but not ‘surprised’ by McLaren’s decision

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INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles told NBC Sports.com he has known about the McLaren deal with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for several weeks and is “delighted” it is now official.

McLaren announced on Friday it would join forces with the current NTT IndyCar Series team to create Arrow McLaren Racing SP as a Chevrolet-powered team in 2020.

“We’re delighted,” Miles told NBC Sports.com from France, where he was spending last week with Indy 500 winning driver Simon Pagenaud on a victory tour. “It’s great. It’s important. I have thought for some time this day would come. It was more of a matter of ‘when,’ then ‘ever.’

“It’s just great to have this done, but it doesn’t come as a surprise. It’s something Zak Brown (McLaren CEO) has been working on for a very long time, including this relationship. He and I were talking about this back in May, at least. It has been a long time coming, but that has been quite deliberate. I think they are committed to this strategy.”

Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports had one more year left on its contract with Honda, but it is breaking that agreement in order to strike a deal with McLaren.

That was one of the many twists and turns it took for McLaren, before getting to this point.

“I’ve known they were working on this approach for several months,” Miles admitted. “It’s not something they came to in the last week or so. My reaction is if it is good for Schmidt and Peterson and McLaren and it’s a strong foothold for McLaren to start in the series, then it is a good result.

“McLaren is a great brand in the automotive industry with a great following. They are rich in racing history. Zak Brown, who is leading the charge at the moment, appreciates IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“He is a great promoter in whatever he is involved with. I think it will help bring attention and another level of competitiveness with the Schmidt team. I can’t wait to see them out on the track.”

McLaren was once part of IndyCar’s legacy in the 1970s, when founder Bruce McLaren of New Zealand brought a team to the Indianapolis 500 beginning in 1970. McLaren was killed in a Can Am crash at Goodwood Circuit, Goodwood, England on June 2, 1970, but the automotive company remained deeply rooted in racing, including Formula One.

Mark Donohue gave McLaren its first victory in the 1972 Indianapolis 500 when Penske Racing used the McLaren chassis for the first of the Team Penske’s record 18 Indy 500 wins.

The McLaren team won the Indy 500 for the first time with Johnny Rutherford in 1974 and again in 1976. McLaren left IndyCar racing after the 1978 season before returning to the Indianapolis 500 with two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso of Spain in 2017. That team was in partnership with Andretti Autosport because both the McLaren F1 and Andretti Autosport teams were powered by Honda.

After an acrimonious split with Honda in Formula One at the end of the 2017 season, Honda officials in Japan would not allow American Honda and Honda Performance Development to be partners with a McLaren IndyCar effort.

McLaren returned to the Indy 500 this past May as a Chevrolet-powered team with an engineering alliance with Carlin Racing, but the McLaren effort was so disorganized not even Alonso could get the car into the 33-car starting lineup.

Team owner Michael Andretti told NBC Sports.com that he seriously considered switching to Chevrolet in order to join forces with Honda, but ultimately changed his mind and signed a contract extension to remain with Honda. That was a key decision in helping him re-sign NTT IndyCar Series star driver Alexander Rossi.

Brown and McLaren found its partner in Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, although leaving Honda with one year left on an existing contract has created some controversy.

Honda now has two less cars in the lineup and Chevrolet gains two cars, creating a closer balance in car count in the series.

“I think there is great balance with Chevrolet and Honda in every way between teams and the drivers they each have and great strength,” Miles said. “The McLaren guys compete in Formula One, so they are used to big budgets and doing everything right and I think that is good for the series.”

Does this create the fourth major team in the NTT IndyCar Series?

“I think so,” Miles said. “Everybody can score the teams the way they want. I’ve thought Arrow Schmidt Peterson were in the top four all along. This adds strength to them. This makes it more apparent. It’s just terrific.

“It’s such a well-known brand. It’s a prestigious brand. They do everything in a first-class way. I’m in France now and have been here close to a week with Simon Pagenaud promoting his victory in the Indianapolis 500 in IndyCar. That was big news, and this is big news for our series.”

3-time NHRA champ Larry Dixon gives back to save lives on the streets

Photo courtesy Larry Dixon Racing
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Three-time NHRA Top Fuel champ Larry Dixon is a man on a new mission: to save lives on the streets and highways as perhaps the fastest driving instructor in the world.

Because he’s not currently hurtling down a dragstrip at 330 mph on the NHRA national tour, Dixon is at a point where it was time for him to give back and help youngsters the way so many individuals helped him in his own life and career.

Much like when he became the protege of mentor Don “Snake” Prudhomme – first as a crew member and then as Prudhomme’s hand-picked choice to replace him when he retired as a driver – Dixon is now imparting some of his vast knowledge behind the wheel upon thousands of impressionable teens and young adults around the country.

Dixon recently signed on as an instructor with fellow former Top Fuel champ Doug Herbert’s nationally renowned B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe) driver safety training program. Since Herbert formed the free, non-profit program in 2008 to honor the memory of sons Jon and James, who were both killed in a tragic car crash, B.R.A.K.E.S. has trained over 35,000 students across the U.S. and five countries to be better and safer drivers.

MORE: Drag racer Doug Herbert turns son’s deaths into program that has helped over 35,000 teens

After putting two of his own teen children through Herbert’s program (with a third child to go through the program soon), Dixon was so impressed with the training that his kids received that he told his old buddy he wanted to become involved with B.R.A.K.E.S.

“I’ve known Doug since we were in high school,” Dixon told NBC Sports. “We both worked at a chain of speed shops in Southern California, Doug at one in Orange County and me at one in the San Fernando Valley in Van Nuys. We came up together racing Alcohol cars and Top Fuel cars kind of along the same lines. That’s how long I’ve known Doug.

Photo: Larry Dixon Racing

“I ran my son through the course a couple years ago when it came through Indianapolis (where Dixon and his family now live), and then my daughter signed up for a class a couple months ago, and that kind of got the talk going because I’m not on the (NHRA national event) tour now and I’ve got more time and the conversation just snowballed and here I am.

“I obviously believe in the deal if I ran my own kids through the system. The program is very methodical but still personal. When you put the kids in the car, you’ve got one instructor and three students, so they’re getting taught one-on-one almost.”

Even though he’s been driving for nearly 40 years, Dixon, 52, readily admits with a chuckle, “I’ve even learned things from the program already, which shows you’re never too old to learn.”

In a more serious vein, Dixon said from his perspective as both an instructor and a parent of two of the program’s graduates is how parents are so vital to the program’s impact.

“It’s mandatory that when you’re running a student through the program that at least one parent or guardian is also there, so the message you’re teaching the teens, you have to rely on the parent to not only be on the same page as what we’re teaching, but to also drive that message home for the rest of their lives.”

Dixon isn’t teaching students to drive 330 mph or to become aspiring drag racers. On the contrary. Dixon is right at home giving instructions on how students can avoid incidents or accidents on streets and highways at speeds typically between 30 and 50 mph.

“It’s more impactful as far as your legacy,” Dixon said of his motivation to teach. “Obviously, I’ve won a lot of races, but what I have to show for those wins are trophies but they’re in the basement, and if you don’t dust them, they get dusty.

“What I’m doing with B.R.A.K.E.S., you’re making a difference for people hopefully for the rest of their lives, and that’s bigger. I remember when I first got my own racing license. The first day I had my license, I was a race car driver but I wasn’t a great race car driver right away, I just had a license. It took a lot of years and a lot of runs and laps down the racetrack to be able to be good.

“It’s the same thing with a driver’s license. You go through the driver’s education course and such and they hand you your license, but that doesn’t make you a great driver. It takes a lot of road time to be able to get that experience. And the great thing about this course is you’re trying to ramp up that experience and put the teens in situations ahead of time so that when they’re in the real world, they’ll know how to react to them.

Larry Dixon is interviewed recently during his debut as a driving instructor for B.R.A.K.E.S. Photo courtesy B.R.A.K.E.S.

“These cars nowadays have so many safety features on them, but they don’t get taught. When you go through a basic driver’s education course, they don’t teach you that you can slam on the brakes and if you have an ABS (anti-lock) brake system, let alone how to use it, so that’s part of what we’re running the kids through. It lets them speed up and then slam on the brakes and feeling what ABS does and that a car isn’t going to spin out or flip over like you might see in a ‘Fast and Furious’ movie. Most people don’t know what you can do with a car and how great cars will take care of you as long as they use the tools you’re supplied with.”

Dixon has already taught three different classes in the last month, with five more sessions scheduled primarily in the Midwest in the coming months. You can immediately hear the passion and self-satisfaction he’s getting from being a teacher.

“I really do enjoy it,” Dixon said. “You get to see the difference you can make in someone’s lives. When you get them on a skid course and they’re learning how to get out of a spin or slide, they’re having fun but also learning a valuable lesson.

“After they’ve taken the course, they have a bounce in their step and know and understand cars better and have a good time doing it. That’s what Doug has done, out of his tragedy, he’s really making a difference in other people’s lives. We’re not trying to turn the kids into Mario Andretti or anything like that … just to be better and safer drivers.”

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