Mind of a Motorhead: Scott Dixon uses thrill-seeking personality to be calm in chaos


(Editor’s note: Mind of a Motorhead is a new series in which motorsports athletes from various disciplines (such as IndyCar’s Scott Dixon) will be analyzed according to surveys of their personalities. Series host Dr. Ken Carter, the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Psychology at Oxford College of Emory University, writes below on what he learned about Dixon in the inaugural episode.)

Scott Dixon is a six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion and 2008 winner of the legendary Indy 500, a race in which he drives his race car more than 220 mph in a field of 33 drivers, a race in which the cost of an accident can be disastrous.

Certainly athletes such as Dixon train for years for these events. But many of these elite athletes possess something else that helps them succeed during these high-stakes events: Their personality.

As the inaugural guest on NBC Sports’ Mind of a Motorhead series (watch the video above), Dixon spoke with me about his personality both on and off the track.

Dixon, who won last Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway and has the IndyCar points lead through four races, has a personality trait that helps him to focus in highly chaotic environments just like the ones you’ll see on the track.

It’s called a high sensation-seeking personality, and it’s a trait with which I long have been fascinated by as a psychologist. What’s amazing is that some high sensation-seeking individuals experience less stress and are fearless and calm in the face of danger.

This explains why driving 220 mph or bungee jumping “feels nice” to him rather than terrifying. Dixon told me about a time when he went bungee jumping. “Trust me” he said. “When you do a bungee jump, the hardest thing is actually stepping off. Then it actually feels nice when it works out.”

Dixon and other high sensation seekers know that being calm and focused in chaotic experiences is helpful on the track because it’s not just about being fast.

Scott Dixon celebrates after winning the Genesys 300 IndyCar race last Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway (Joe Skibinski/IndyCar).

“You’re never going to win a championship by crashing your way there, or being the fastest car on the track every weekend,” Dixon said. “A lot of it is about planning and then putting in the hard work and really understanding what you’re getting yourself into. It’s not just who’s the craziest. It’s a little bit of crazy and then working through the process. So, yeah, it’s a fun combo.”

But his thrill-seeking personality creeps into every aspect of his life and influences the way he interacts with other people. When he’s hyper-focused and in “racing mode,” Dixon admits that he’s “not the most friendliest person … but it’s more that I’m consumed with what I’m thinking about.” This thrill-seeking personality extends to the fact that he can take only about two weeks off before he’s ready to be back at work again. Or in what he eats: “I’ll try anything once. I might not try it again, but I’ll try anything once.”

So when you’re watching Scott Dixon and wondering how he can handle the pressures and dangers of competition, just remember: For some like him, chaos and intensity are secret weapons of success.

Curious about your score on Sensation Seeking? You can take a test at this link or read more about sensation seeking in my book, “Buzz! Inside the Minds of Thrill Seekers, Daredevils and Adrenaline Junkies”.

You can watch the video above or by clicking here or you also can watch by subscribing to the Motorsports on NBC YouTube channel.

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”