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11.01.13

INSIGHT: IndyCar Champ Scott Dixon By Those Who Know Him Best

IndyCar - Racer Magazine

Robin Miller / Racer.com

In the past decade Scott Dixon has morphed from…

A bashful kid into a confident veteran.

A terrible interview into a damn good one.

A bachelor into a happily married family man.

A CART orphan given to Chip Ganassi by Toyota into Ganassi's longest-tenured driver.

A driver with a lot of potential into a three-time champion.

But one thing that hasn't changed about the 33-year-old Kiwi is that relentless pursuit to get to the top – and stay there.

“During the past 10-11 years we've changed cars, tires, engines and tracks, and drivers have come and gone,” says Mike Hull, who has been Dixon's race strategist at Target Ganassi since the 21-year-old joined the team full-time in 2003. “But Scott has always been tenacious and figured out what it took to win and to be a champion. He's pretty special.”

Copy that...and his latest title has to be the most satisfying because of all the road blocks, pitfalls and drama he overcame.

“I think this one was the best, because he came through so much stuff,” agrees Ricky Davis, who has been Scott's chief mechanic for all three titles. “At Pocono we hadn't qualified very well and our season had pretty much been crap, certainly not what we wanted, and we were wondering if it was ever going to turn around. From that weekend on, he was in a zone and when he gets like that, stand back.”

Prior to the green flag at Pocono, the 2008 Indy 500 winner stood seventh in the standings with no wins, one podium and zero laps led. He was 92 points behind leader Helio Castroneves. Starting 17th, he led 160 laps and scored his initial win of 2013.

Next up was a sweep of the Toronto double-header and, suddenly, he was P2 in the title chase.

Leading at Sonoma, he brushed Will Power's tire changer exiting his pit on his last stop and went from first to 15th after incurring a drive-through penalty. In the next stop at Baltimore he captured the pole and led 52 laps before being spun out. And then, after charging back to sixth, Power accidentally slammed him into the wall on a restart and he finished 19th.

Instead of leaving Baltimore with the point lead, Dixon left an angry man with a torrent of criticism for the officiating. It was unlike the guy who usually flatlines emotionally, but it was totally understandable. What could have easily been two more victories were disasters and he trailed Castroneves by 49 points going into the Houston double-header.

“But, you know, he wasn't hanging his head,” recalls Davis. “As a matter of fact he said, ‘We've still got a shot, brother; it's not over yet. We just need to be close heading for Fontana.'”

A win in the Houston opener followed by runner-up in the Sunday show, coupled with the only bad weekend of the season for Castroneves, did more than get Dixie close. He left Texas with a 25-point lead and, even though anything can happen in a 500-miler, nobody really thought he'd lose it, not even when Helio was leading and Scott was 16th, a third of the way into the MAVTV 500. He drove smart, dodged all the crashes and came home fifth because that's all he needed to do.

And that champagne tasted even better to his crew as he sprayed them that Saturday night.

“He amazing, that's all I can say,” continues Davis. “If something is bothering him, you never know it and if we have a bad pit stop or bad race, he never throws anybody under the bus.

“He doesn't throw tantrums. He says, ‘Yes please' when we make a suggestion over the radio about a setup change and he always thanks the crew for good pit stops. And when you see the effort he puts in, it makes you want to work twice as hard for the guy.”

It requires a special temperament to work for Ganassi but Dixon's cool demeanor plays well against Chip's mood swings. To stay at one place for 12 years in big time motorsports is rare and to do it with Ganassi is Ripley's material. But even Ganassi seems to understand he doesn't have to light a fire under Dixon's butt because that pilot light is always burning.

Yet the most impressive statistic may be the fact that Scott is only 33 years old. He's got 33 wins and he won't get to A.J. Foyt's tally (67) but Mario Andretti (52) is certainly catchable and Michael Andretti (third all-time with 42) figures to be fourth by the time Dixie is done. Scott's now one behind Mario in championships and Foyt's seven may be in jeopardy as the top of the tree…

“Standing on the podium the other night, I was looking at that trophy and all those great names on it and Scott's already got three and he's only 33,” says Hull. “But what's so special about him is that he doesn't think about the Hall of Fame or records; he thinks about today and winning today. That's why he's so good.”

It's never wise to compare eras or drivers – there are too many variables – but for me, Dixon is the modern day Al Unser. He's good on ovals or road courses, seldom makes a mistake and goes for the throat when the time is right. And he's so smart at speed.

“What dazzles me the most is his ability to think and how everything seems to slow down for him,” said Davis. “He absorbs and processes things so fast, filters out what he doesn't need and he's on it. And it seems like he's getting smarter.”

What he doesn't seem to be getting is more famous. Despite his accomplishments, Dixon is pretty much a faceless star. He doesn't get recognized very often whether it's eating dinner in Indianapolis or walking through the pits at the Chili Bowl. But, that doesn't bother him. Hell, I think he's fine with being in the shadows.

Some people assume he's boring and think it's not good for IndyCar that he's not enough of a personality, but they couldn't be more wrong. He's got a splendid sense of humor and, as mentioned, has gone from Danny Ongais to Bobby Unser in terms of media savvy and popularity. He's good with the fans and has a great appreciation of IndyCar's history.

He's always in a cheery mood (although who wouldn't be with the lovely Mrs. Dixon, Emma, by his side?) and his two daughters can make him forget about a bad day at the track in a heartbeat.

Yeah, all in all, it's good to be Scott Dixon. But he's earned it.

Read more about Scott Dixon's IndyCar Championship here.
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  • Scott Dixon, Photo: Goongraphix
  • Scott Dixon, Photo: Goongraphix

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