Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson has watched last two laps 10-15 times: ‘I still pinch myself’

Marcus Ericsson Indy Detroit
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Empire State Realty Trust

DETROIT – The path to victory in the 106th Indy 500 for Marcus Ericsson might have started on the streets of Belle Isle in Detroit.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver will hope to continue the ride with a second conscutive victory in Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix — where he scored his first NTT IndyCar Series victory nearly one year ago.

It’s been quite a rush for the slim, blonde-haired driver from Sweden, though it took him more than 11 years to become an overnight sensation.

INDYCAR AT DETROIT: Details for watching the last weekend at Belle Isle

Ericsson arrived at Detroit’s Belle Isle on Thursday weary and tired from a weeklong celebration since his big win May 29 in the Indianapolis 500.

From the moment he arrived in the Winners Circle at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Ericsson’s time has been taken by the massive obligations that come with being an Indy 500 winner.

That means no time for rest.

“I have not had much sleep, it’s been completely crazy since the checkered flag,” Ericsson told NBC Thursday morning in Detroit. “I had two hours of sleep Sunday night, three hours of sleep Monday night, I actually got eight hours of sleep on Tuesday night but only three hours Wednesday night.

“It’s been a hectic week, but I have loved every second. I’m still on an adrenaline rush from that victory. I’m just trying to soak it all in and enjoy every minute.”

When Ericsson gets those few rare moments to himself, he has reflected about how he actually won the biggest race in the world in front of more than 325,000 (the largest single-day sporting event crowd in the world since the COVID-19 pandemic).

“I think I can figure out how I did it, but I still struggle to believe it actually happened in real life,” Ericsson said. “I still pinch myself to remind myself that it actually happened.

“I have watched the last two laps 10 or 15 times because it is such an intense finish as well. It’s still unreal, and it’s still hard to wrap your head around it.

“It feels amazing.”

When Ericsson’s No. 8 Huski Chocolate Dallara-Honda went up the lift to the victory stage at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he felt as if he were on top of the racing world.

But one of the drivers that congratulated him was crushed by the way he lost the race.

Teammate Scott Dixon led 95 laps and drove a near-perfect race until being nailed for a pit lane speed violation during his final pit stop on Lap 175. After a drive-through penalty, Dixon finished 21st and was gutted.

“They didn’t tell me what happened,” Ericsson said. “I understood something had happened to Scott but not what happened. I saw Scott was no longer on top and the two McLarens were ahead of me.

“I spoke to Scott briefly after the race. He came up and congratulated me, and that was very big of him because he was hurting for sure after such a strong month and strong race. I spoke to him there and at the banquet.

“But if there is one thing we know about Scott, he is one of the best ever, and I’m sure he will bounce back and be up front challenging for the win this weekend at Detroit.”

Ericsson’s Indy 500 victory obligations went deep into Sunday night before he finally could celebrate with his team. Though he went to bed at a reasonable hour, he managed just a few hours of sleep. He woke up at 5 a.m. Monday, his mind still buzzing over his tremendous career accomplishment.

During photo shoots Monday morning at IMS, he met with William Behrends, the sculptor for the Borg-Warner Trophy. Behrends will study those photos in the first step of the lengthy process to create Ericsson’s image on the famous trophy.

Afterward was the traditional winner’s photo at the “Yard of Bricks” along with countless more cameras.

106th Running Of The Indianapolis 500 - Champion's Portraits
Marcus Ericsson with Chip Ganassi and other team members for celebratory photos May 30 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Justin Casterline/Getty Images).

When a Chip Ganassi Racing driver wins the Indy 500, all of the nearly 200 on staff at the team’s Indianapolis shop are invited to share in the victory photos Monday. That meant Ericsson posed individually with the team members (and many of their families and friends) for Dixon, Alex Palou, Tony Kanaan and Jimmie Johnson.

Once that finally was completed, media interviews lasted until 4 p.m. ET Monday. Then Ericsson got ready for the Indy 500 Victory Celebration at the JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Indianapolis. The culmination of that event was Ericsson collecting a check for more than $3 million.

It was 11 p.m., and the crowd started filing out of the banquet hall, but Ericsson’s night was far from over.

Marcus Ericsson helped open the NASDAQ stock exchange Tuesday morning (Vanja Savic).

“On Monday before the banquet, I had one hour to unpack all my stuff from the Speedway, shower, pack my bags for New York, get changed and ready for the banquet,” he said. “Straight to the banquet, did the banquet, straight from the banquet to the airport and then we jumped on a jet to go to New York City.

“Got to New York City at 2 a.m., checked into the hotel at 3 a.m. Wake up at 7 a.m. and it was a full day in New York.”

Ericsson and other IndyCar officials opened the trading at NASDAQ on Wall Street.

“I really didn’t know what to expect at NASDAQ, but it was super cool,” he said. “Then we did the Empire State Building. I had never done that before, and it was very impressive.

Winner of the Indy 500 Visits the Empire State Building
Marcus Ericsson and girlfriend Iris Tritsaris Jondahl visit the Empire State Building (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Empire State Realty Trust).

“After the Empire State Building, it was more media interviews in New York and then I got to throw out the first pitch at the New York Yankees game.

“It was an incredible day. Sunday was the best day of my life, but Tuesday in New York is up there in the top five in days of my life because it was so cool.”

Even in Sweden, they have heard of the New York Yankees. For Ericsson to get a chance to stroll out to the pitcher’s mound at Yankee Stadium and be cheered by Yankee fans for winning the Indianapolis 500 was a special experience.

“It’s such a legendary team,” Ericsson said. “I have no clue about baseball, but it’s such a legendary team.

Los Angeles Angels v New York Yankees
Marcus Ericsson throws out the ceremonial first pitch for the May 31 game between the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels at Yankee Stadium (Elsa/Getty Images).

“The starting grid at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway may be the only thing that beats walking out to the mound at Yankee Stadium. It was super cool and there were a lot of fans there. It was a special moment I will forever remember.”

But wait, there’s more.

“Then on Wednesday morning, we flew back to Indianapolis and on Wednesday night I jump into the simulator because we have a race in Detroit this weekend that I need to try and win,” Ericsson said. “The last 12 months if you count from Detroit last year to now over the next 16 races, I have scored more points than anyone in the championship.

“That says a lot about where the 8 car team is after that first win last year. We are in the mix and in the hunt for the championship.

“Leading the championship going into Detroit, it’s my favorite track of the year. I had my first podium here and I had my first win here last year.

“We checked the one box winning the Indianapolis 500. The next goal is winning the championship.”

When he joined the NTT IndyCar Series in 2019 as a rookie, Ericsson had started 97 races in Formula One but little was known in the United States about the driver from Sweden.

Usually when an F1 driver arrives at Indianapolis Motor Speedway or the IndyCar Series, they come with fanfare and flair. Two-time champion Fernando Alonso created “Alonso Mania” in 2017 when he competed in an Andretti Autosport Honda for McLaren Racing.

Romain Grosjean became one of the most popular drivers in the series when he switched to IndyCar last year. Alexander Rossi was an F1 journeyman before coming to IndyCar and winning the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016.

But when Ericsson arrived three years ago, his three best finishes in F1 were a trio of ninth places in Bahrain, Hockenheimring and Mexico City during his final season in 2018.

Joining the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team, he finished second at Belle Isle in the first race of a doubleheader and ended the season 17th in points. In 2020, he scored Huski Chocolate as a sponsor and moved to Chip Ganassi Racing with two fifths and a fourth while ranking 12th in points.

In 2021, Ericsson won at Detroit and Nashville and finished sixth in the points standings.

At Belle Isle, his Saturday win in the opener of a weekend doubleheader came after starting 15th. The team masterfully executed its pit stop strategy to move behind race leader Will Power in the closing stages. Power was in control until Grosjean crashed in Turn 9 with five laps to go.

IndyCar red-flagged the race, and the cars were brought onto pit road and shut off. When time to resume, everyone’s engines refired except Power’s because the ECU sensor had “roasted” from the heat of the engine.

Power’s car eventually returned to the race, but Ericsson led the final four laps for his first career victory. Two months later, another win followed on the streets of Nashville, where Ericsson rallied after going airborne on Lap 5.

A lot has happened to Ericsson in the past 12 months. He went from  under the radar to winner of the most heralded race on Earth.

“It was definitely the dream, but I know how hard this race is to win,” he said. “I knew this year we had a good chance. From the first day at the Speedway, we were extremely competitive and extremely fast.

“It’s hard to put into words. You think about all the hard work you put into this. All the tough races, tough days and all the people that have been there for you. My family was here, all the people at Chip Ganassi Racing and Honda.

“It was very special and is very, very emotional to me. I have so many snapshots in my head, and it puts a big smile on my face.

“It would be amazing to finish this week off by winning the last-ever race at Belle Isle.”

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

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.”