Scott Dixon in Position to Make IndyCar History
IndyCar - Target Chip Ganassi Racing
Rather than pay a crew to complete the strenuous task, Dixon did it himself, alone in the heat for hours with only a pressure washer, some walls and a few pesky insects.
Think big-time racers are glamorous? Meet one who isn't.
"One day (team owner) Chip (Ganassi) called me and said, 'Hey, what are you doing?' I said, 'Mopping the floors,' " Dixon says, describing his do-it-yourself approach. "He said, 'Don't I pay you enough money to have someone do that for you?' It's just the way I am. I like to do things my way. If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself."
That DIY mentality is at the root of Dixon's success and explains in part how he won the last three IndyCar races and moved to seventh on the all-time list of Indy-car racing's winningest drivers with 32 victories.
That's rarified air. Only A.J. Foyt (67), Mario Andretti (52), Michael Andretti (42), Al Unser (39), Bobby Unser (35) and Al Unser Jr. (34) are ahead of Dixon on that list.
Heading into this weekend's Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course -- where the 33-year-old has won four of the past six years -- Dixon also has firmly planted himself in the conversation for what would be his third IndyCar championship.
That would tie Dixon with Rick Mears, Al Unser, Ted Horn, Jimmy Bryan, Bobby Rahal and Sam Hornish Jr. in open-wheel titles. Foyt leads with seven.
Dixon looks at the names ahead of him — Foyt, Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, Al Unser, Bobby Unser and Al Unser Jr. — and smiles with wonder and bewilderment. He got here quickly and quietly. In fact, of all the successful drivers in the Izod IndyCar Series these days, Dixon is the one who most often wins under the radar.
"Some people love attention," Dixon tells USA TODAY Sports. "I'm not going to be that person who goes out to showboat or create a scene or get recognition. Some people are more about that part of it, or maybe it comes more naturally to them, but I prefer to be the quiet one. I love what I do and I'm passionate about it, but I'm not going to jump up and down after I win races. It's just the way I am."
From heartbreak to success
To understand Dixon, start at the beginning. The son of racers and promoters in New Zealand, he was fast in go-karts at a young age. When he was 13, he was granted a special license to compete in a saloon-car race — imagine a ladder series for sedans — at Pukekohe Park Raceway not far from his home in Auckland.
Unable to reach the pedals and see over the steering wheel of his Nissan Sentra, Scott needed a boost, so his dad, Ron, strapped a floral cushion to his backside. Then, as the race reached all corners of Australia and New Zealand via live TV, Dixon's car flipped on its roof. Young Dixon crawled out a window, flowery cushion attached to his rear, and tried to right the car by himself. The worst part — the part the makes him smile to this day? When cameras closed in, they showed young Scott in tears.
"I'll never live that down," he says now. "People still bring it up when I go back home. 'Hey, remember the time you crashed your car and cried?' "
The early start was a critical phase in Dixon's career. While most of his contemporaries were still racing karts, he was in cars, advancing rapidly. The same year of the infamous cushion crash, Dixon won the New Zealand Formula Vee championship. He quickly moved through other open-wheel ladder series, and, at 19, came to the U.S. to race Indy Lights. In his second season, he won the Lights championship.
The varied background is the underpinning of Dixon's success.
"He's a throwback guy," says Mike Hull, team managing director for Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Dixon's race strategist. "He can get in any car and perform to a high level without having a one-dimensional drive style. We see it in our sports-car team. He has the ability to adjust his skills to match the type of car. He doesn't get pigeon-holed into one drive style, and that's what guys used to be able to do. That's what I really appreciate about him."
In Dixon's third year in the U.S., he won at Nazareth, becoming the youngest driver in CART history — 20 years, nine months and 14 days — to win, leading to rookie of the year honors in 2001.
When he made the move to the IndyCar Series in 2003, Dixon made an immediate impact, winning at Homestead-Miami Speedway in his first race. Dixon won twice more that season and added five second-place finishes en route to his first IndyCar championship. He earned a second championship in 2008, winning six of 17 races including the Indianapolis 500.
"The foundation of our team is with guys like (Alex) Zanardi and (Jimmy) Vasser and (Juan Pablo) Montoya," Ganassi says. "You can't argue that Scott hasn't laid his block in that foundation. In fact, he's laid an entire row of blocks in that foundation."
Last year, after Dixon won twice to climb further up the list of all-time winners, the guy in third place took note. Jokingly, of course.
"Michael (Andretti) said, 'I'm worried about you catching me,' " Dixon recalls. "I said, 'You're crazy. You've got 40-some victories.' Honestly, it was cool to hear that. When I was growing up, he was one of my heroes."
What happened in July sent Dixon past other stars and even closer to Andretti. Three consecutive wins — at Pocono and two street races in Toronto — pushed Dixon ahead of teammate Dario Franchitti, Paul Tracy, Sebastien Bourdais and four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears.
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