Kyle Kirkwood wins 2021 Indy Lights title

Kirkwood Indy Lights championship
Gavin Baker Photography/Road to Indy
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Kyle Kirkwood clinched the 2021 Indy Lights championship and $1.3 million ticket to the NTT IndyCar Series this past weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

After winning Saturday’s 30-lap opening event for his fourth consecutive victory (tying the late Greg Moore’s 1995 Indy Lights record with his 10th triumph this season), Kirkwood, 22, finished fifth Sunday.

The Jupiter, Florida, native needed only to start to wrap up the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires title and a $1.3 million scholarship that guarantees a minimum of three IndyCar races (including the 106th Indy 500) in 2022. He finished 13 points ahead of David Malukas (537-524) in the championship standings after 20 races.

Kirkwood drives for Andretti Autosport, which reportedly is considering him for a full-time IndyCar ride next season.

“To bring it home today and get this scholarship, it’s such a big relief,” Kirkwood said. “It’s been such a stressful season, especially at the end. We really had to push to beat (Malukas), they’ve been knocking on our door all season long. To get the win yesterday was crucial, and to survive today was crucial, though I have to say today was even harder than yesterday.

“But this is insane. I can’t thank everyone enough: Cape Motorsports, RP Motorsports, Andretti Autosport. It’s been an incredible four years. I’ve learned so much this year from the Andretti team. They’ve really taught me so much and I can’t thank them enough. And huge thanks especially to my entire 28 crew, they’ve worked so hard.”

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Malukas won Saturday and charged from last to second Sunday (behind winner Linus Lundqvist) after an opening-lap crash on the 2.258-mile road course.

“I couldn’t get any temp in the tires, and I knew it would be a problem going into Turn One,” he said. “Everyone was spinning and sliding all over the place. But that’s almost like a win, since I made it hard on myself.

“I decided to just have fun out there, going left, right, everywhere to try and make it happen. I’m really happy, even though we finished second today and in the championship. The team has shown what we can do. I feel as though I’ve matured so much over the past two years, and I’ve enjoyed this season so much. We battled the whole way and it’s been great to share that with this team, so a huge thank you to the team. This has been a year to remember.”

Mid-Ohio concluded the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires season for the three ladder series to IndyCar. Here’s how the other two divisions ended:

–Indy Pro 2000: Christian Rasmussen of Copenhagen, Denmark, won the championship as James Roe scored his first series victory Sunday.

Rasmussen, 21, also won the 2000 USF2000 championship. He started last and finished third in the finale, which he needed only to start to clinch the title. “I knew that as soon as I saw the green flag, I was the champion, so I had nothing to lose,” he said. “I could just enjoy the moment and enjoy the race. Now I can start to think about 2022 and Indy Lights.”

–USF2000: Kiko Porto of Brazil clinched the championship Saturday and then notched his 10th podium finish in Sunday’s season finale, which was won by Josh Green (his first series victory).

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.”