Rinus VeeKay expects to recover in time to race Mid-Ohio after breaking collarbone

Rinus VeeKay injury return
Marc Lebryk/USA TODAY Sports
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Rinus VeeKay told The Associated Press his return to the NTT IndyCar Series from a shoulder injury could happen in the July 4 race at Mid-Ohio.

The rising IndyCar star will miss Sunday’s race at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, but is determined to be back in the car and salvage his promising season for Ed Carpenter Racing driver. VeeKay was on a 75-mile training ride when he lost control of his bicycle, flew over the handlebars and landed so hard that he cracked his helmet and his left shoulder.

He said he twice nearly blacked out on the trail from the pain, and his trainer had to leave him to go to the main road and call an ambulance. He was taken to a hospital in Hobart, Indiana, where X-rays confirmed a broken collarbone.

“Everyone is very, very sure that I can drive in Mid-Ohio,” VeeKay said Thursday during a drive to Milwaukee, where he planned to have lunch with the CEO of Direct Supply, the company sponsoring his Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet this weekend at Road America.

Oliver Askew instead will drive the No. 21 for VeeKay at Road America in Askew’s second consecutive race as a substitute driver. Askew filled in for Felix Rosenqvist on Sunday in Detroit when Rosenqvist was injured in a crash a day earlier.

VeeKay also is at Road America all weekend supporting ECR and having fun with Askew while trying not to be upset to see someone else driving his car. The 20-year-old Dutchman scored his first career IndyCar victory in May on the road course at Indianapolis and is fifth in the standings, 56 points behind leader Pato O’Ward in a changing of the guard season of IndyCar.

“I think it’s going to be a little bit hard, of course, to get reminded once you see the cars take off,” VeeKay said. “I’m just going to be at the track trying to learn as much as possible and still be a big part of the team.”

VeeKay and his trainer, Raun Grobben, left Detroit following the IndyCar doubleheader and headed toward Chicago for their training ride Monday. VeeKay’s parents went to the beach while he and Grobben went for a ride that dipped into Indiana on a “trail with good asphalt. No cars, no motorcyclists, we were just the only ones out there and taking it easy, just chatting.”

He said he doesn’t know what caused him to lose control of his bike but that Grobben tried to grab him and stop the fall and suffered tire burns on his arm and knee.

“He’s like `Are you OK?’ and I said `Well, I think I broke my collarbone,’ ” Veekay said. “I just kept hoping it was pulled out of the socket or something.”

VeeKay acknowledged he was “a little bit scared to call my father” because he knew Marijn van Kalmthout was going to be angry.

“You know it takes a lot of effort (to make it in racing) and he was definitely not happy. I will just call it very upset,” VeeKay said. His parents picked him up and drove VeeKay and his trainer to Indianapolis, where VeeKay underwent surgery Tuesday to insert a plate in his collarbone.

VeeKay says his parents had been scheduled to be at Road America this weekend, but they have returned to the Netherlands because he is not racing.

VeeKay has since connected with two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden, who broke his collarbone in a 2016 crash at Texas while driving for ECR. Newgarden had the same surgery and didn’t miss a race – he was back in the car at the next scheduled IndyCar event two weeks later and finished eighth.

“I talked to Josef about the pain and anything he felt when he was driving so I can prepare for that,” VeeKay said. “We are part of a very exclusive `Driving with a Titanium Collarbone Club.’ Josef thinks I am going to be all right and he looks pretty good the last few years, so a broken collarbone might be faster, who knows?”

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
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More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”