‘This one hurts the most’: Scott Dixon endures more heartbreak in the Indy 500

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INDIANAPOLIS – Scott Dixon has said the Indy 500 doesn’t owe him anything; that he can accept the fact that he is one of greatest drivers in the race’s history but has just one victory to show for his efforts.

After Sunday’s 106th Indianapolis 500, the five-time pole-sitter and six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion may want to rethink that comment.

Entering the race, Dixon had found almost every way imaginable to not win the biggest race of the year, with the exception of his long victory in 2008.

On Sunday, he found a new way to lose.

After starting on the pole and leading 95 of 200 laps, Dixon came onto pit lane as the leader, to make his final pit stop that would take him to an apparent second Indy 500 victory. But when he entered pit road, he had to get on his brakes hard because he came in too fast.

IndyCar Race Control issued a pit lane speeding violation, and the most dominant driver in the field was assessed a drive-through penalty.

Inside the cockpit, Dixon was livid. He had driven a flawless race up to that point and he knew his shot at victory had disappeared because of a penalty.

In pit lane, his crew members dropped their heads in disbelief. His wife, Emma, was distraught, telling NBC Sports that she was “gutted” by the call.

She then said, stopping the race for a red flag after Jimmie Johnson’s hard crash in Turn 2 with five laps to go was like adding “salt to Scott’s wounds for what they did to him in 2020.”

In that race, Dixon was running behind Takuma Sato, realizing the driver from Tokyo was about to run out of fuel in the final four laps of the race. When Spencer Pigot pounded the end of the pit road attenuator with five laps to go, IndyCar Race Control decided to let the race finish under yellow.

That allowed Sato to conserve his fuel and make it to the checkered flag, and there was no way Dixon could advance past the leader.

In Sunday’s 106th Indianapolis 500 however, Race Control stopped the race for 10 minutes with the red flag. Once Johnson’s damaged car had been removed from the track, that set up essentially a “green-white-checkered” flag finish.

IndyCar does not have an “overtime” rule like NASCAR. Inside the cockpit of the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda, it gave Dixon even more time to steam over the penalty.

Team owner Chip Ganassi left the pit area during the red flag to walk up to another one of his driver’s pits. It was Marcus Ericsson, the leader at the time of the red flag. He was stopped on the end of pit road directly ahead of Pato O’Ward’s Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.

Ericsson, the former Formula One driver from Sweden, was able to win his first Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, using a brilliant strategy on the restart to break the draft that would have made it easy for O’Ward to pass down the front straightaway.

Ericsson’s snake-like moves were successful as he built a 3-second lead over the 23-year-old driver from Monterrey, Mexico, and was heading to the checkered flag before Sage Karem’s Chevrolet slammed into the Turn 2 wall.

By then, Ericsson and O’Ward were entering the fourth turn, but IndyCar threw the yellow flag, and the race ended under caution with the Chip Ganassi Racing driver the winner.

Dixon finished 21st.

In the No. 9 pit, Dixon’s race strategist, Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull, had a very subdued celebration. A Ganassi driver had won the race, but it wasn’t Dixon, who had his heart ripped out of chest and waved in his face by the cruelty that is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“I wouldn’t say Marcus saved the day, he had a good car all day,” Hull told NBCSports.com. “All five of our cars were excellent race cars. Practice and qualifying proved that.

“But Marcus knows how to win. He won it today for 160 people in our building.”

The winner could have just as easily been Dixon, who dominated the race, had a car that could take the lead at will, was rarely tested on the track, and had a flawless strategy.

That was before it vanished with the pit road speeding penalty.

“As for Scott, we called a great race, he drove a great race and we do things together as a team,” Hull said. “We support each other, and we’ll go on to the next event. People always say that, but that’s how it is in racing.

“I think we had five good race cars and any one of the five like Marcus just proved, we could win this race.

“I’ve been with Scott Dixon for 20 years. We’ve been through the best of times and times that weren’t so great. We called a great race today and he drove a great race today and that is what we are going to look at going forward.”

Said Michael Cannon, Dixon’s engineer: “Scott Dixon is perfection personified. It’s one of those things. We were right where we wanted to be. The rules are the rules. At the end of the day, we try again next year. That’s what we do every time.”

The Indianapolis 500 is like the girlfriend in a toxic relationship a man can’t get out of his mind, no matter how badly she treats him. She gives the suitor just enough attention to get his hopes up, only to kick him once again to the curb with an evil laugh.

In Dixon’s case, it’s five Indy 500 poles, the second-most in the history of the race behind Rick Mears’ record of six.

Scott Dixon walks pit lane with his wife, Emma Davies-Dixon, after coming up sort in the 106th Indy 500. (Kristin Enzor/For IndyStar / USA TODAY Sports).

It’s also an Indianapolis 500 record for career laps led with 665 breaking the previous record of 644 by four-time winner Al Unser. Dixon broke Unser’s record by leading Lap 133 and passed both second-place Ralph De Palma (612) and Unser (644) in Sunday’s race.

It’s also three second-place finishes, including two to Dario Franchitti in 2007 and 2012 and to Sato in 2020. All three of those second-place finishes, the race ended under caution.

Dixon has eight top-five finishes in 20 career starts in the Indianapolis 500.

All of these near-misses and heartbreaks are close to the surface of Dixon, his wife, his agent, former driver Stefan Johansson, and the many crew members that view the driver more as a great friend and mentor than a co-worker.

This loss hurt — and deeply to the driver who climbed out of his car and hugged his wife with tears in his eyes.

Scott Dixon is a stand-up guy. The type of individual that has strong character and always does the right thing. Fellow driver Alexander Rossi once said Scott Dixon is the man every driver in the series measures themselves both on and off the race track.

Scott Dixon is a great friend, a terrific husband to Emma and a wonderful father to daughters Poppy, Tilly, and son Kit. His friends are more like members of his family, and he represents all that is great in this sport of INDYCAR racing.

But for some reason, the Indianapolis 500 likes to test his inner strength with one crushing disappointment after another.

Sunday was just one more slap in the face.

“It’s heartbreaking to be honest,” Dixon told NBC Sports. “It must have been very close. I came into the pits and had to lock the rears. I knew it would be very close. Maybe 1 mile an hour over or something. It’s frustrating. The car was really good all day. It had great speed and the team did an amazing job on strategy.

“I just messed up.”

Dixon said he was super happy for Ericsson, and he had a car that deserved to win.

“If things went smoothly, we would have been in a fight at the end, but obviously not,” Dixon said. “This one really hurts.”

Johansson is a former Formula One driver and a former CART and Indianapolis 500 driver who serves as Dixon’s agent. He also had tears in his eyes when he hugged the driver after the race.

“I frankly don’t know the details at all,” Johansson told NBC Sports on pit lane after the Indy 500. “If it’s a speed violation, it’s a speed violation.

“Poor Scott, I just feel terrible. He dominated the race all day then something like that happened.

“This place is just brutal. It really is. It’s the hardest race to win and the easiest race to win. It just depends on where you are. It’s always something different here.”

Johansson said the red flag was the right thing to do, but “I wish they had done that in 2020.

“Of all of Scott’s misses, this one hurts the most,” Johansson said. “As races go by, it isn’t easy to dominate these races.

“He has been the class of the field and has nothing but disappointment to show for it.”

Nothing except pain, heartbreak, sadness, and bitter, bitter disappointment for one of the greatest drivers in Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar history.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

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.”