2008 was a big year for Scott Dixon. The New Zealander got married and won the Indy 500 in the same year. And now, 10 years on, happily married and having escaped a huge crash at last year’s race at IMS, he wants to win at Indy all over again. In an exclusive interview for Mobil 1 The Grid, the veteran racer sat down with Lee Spencer to find out more about ‘that’ crash, and why 2018 might just be his time to shine again.
To say that Scott Dixon has fond memories of 2008 is a colossal understatement.
Among the highlights? He kicked off the year with his marriage to his wife Emma Davies in February. In March, Dixon won the IndyCar season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway from pole. He then found Victory Lane again in May when he celebrated his first Indianapolis 500 win. Dixon scored a career-high 12 podium finishes before capping off the year with his second IndyCar title.
In the last decade, the Dixons have added two daughters to the family. The 37-year-old driver has earned two additional championships and climbed to fourth in the all-time list of North American open-wheel series career wins, with 41.
Still, it’s hard to believe a decade has passed since the affable New Zealander won the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. He has yet to repeat the feat.
“It was one of the best years of my life, for sure,” Dixon told Mobil 1 The Grid.
“There was a lot going on. I got married that year to my beautiful wife Emma, we won the Indianapolis 500 and then the IndyCar championship. I guess you couldn’t have scripted 2008 any better.
“But I think we’re due again for another win at Indy. It’s been way too long. We’ve been close several times and finished second a bunch, too. Last year, we won pole, so maybe we can do that again in 2018 and convert it into a second win at the 500.”
Dixon’s pole-winning speed of 232.164 mph last May was the fastest four-lap qualifying run the Indianapolis 500 had seen since Arie Luyendyk topped the chart with his record 236.986 mph attempt in 1996.
Dixon led the first five laps at last year’s race.
He was running eighth and had completed 52 circuits when the lapped car of Jay Howard ricocheted off the outside wall between Turns 1 and 2. Howard barely missed Tony Kanaan but Dixon had no time to react.
Contact with the No. 77 Dallara-Honda launched Dixon into the air. His car flipped end over, and the right side slammed into the inside SAFER barrier. Dixon’s head missed the barrier by mere inches. His No. 9 Dallara-Honda bounced off the wall right-side-up as flames shot from the back and rear suspension parts showered the track. The car then made a full rotation and a half in the air, before rolling over and spinning to a stop at the exit of Turn 2.
With the safety tub intact, Dixon climbed out from the wreckage and walked to the safety vehicle following the accident. He described himself as “a little beaten up” following the “rough ride” after he was released from the infield care centre.
“It’s tough,” Dixon added. “I think, when you make those decisions of which way to go, you’re hoping that the car – I was hoping that Jay was going to stay against the wall. But obviously with the impact, it started to turn down, but I’d already picked that way to go. And there was nowhere else to try to avoid him.
“It’s just a wild ride. You just hold on and believe in the safety progress that we’ve had over the last many years.”
Nearly a year later, Dixon is still grateful for the advancements in IndyCar safety technology that enabled him to race another day.
“I think if you look back in history, IndyCar have always been a huge leader in safety for drivers,” Dixon said. “Making the car safer and continuing to develop it has always been a priority, and it shows.
“Who knows? Maybe five-ten years ago someone wouldn’t have walked away from that accident. I think another slight rotation could have been a lot worse, but the car itself did its job, and I was able to walk away from it with just a sore foot and race the next weekend in Detroit.”
He came back at the Raceway at Belle Isle to finish second and vaulted to the top of the points standings. Three races later, Dixon won at Elkhart Lake – his 13th consecutive season with a victory in the series. He led the standings until Mid-Ohio, where Josef Newgarden won the race and assumed the points lead with four races remaining in the season, and never looked back.
Still, with second-place finishes at Gateway Motorsports Park and Watkins Glen, the savvy veteran remained in the title hunt. He trailed Newgarden by just three points entering the season finale at Sonoma Raceway, but settled for third in the standings after finishing fourth at the GoPro Grand Prix behind an all-Penske podium.
Dixon began driving for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2002. He’s been synonymous with the No. 9 team since 2003 and is responsible for two-thirds of Ganassi’s 60 IndyCar wins. He leads all current drivers on the tour in victories and shows no signs of slowing down. But since his sole victory at the Brickyard in 2008, Dixon’s image has not reappeared on the Borg-Warner trophy.
Dixon came close to winning in 2012. He led five times over the final 40 laps, including four of the last six circuits until teammate Dario Franchitti took the point on Lap 199. Takuma Sato followed Franchitti to second, then spun entering the corner while challenging for the lead on the last lap. Dixon held onto second-place as the race ended under caution.
After winning his second of three Indy poles in 2015, Dixon led a race-high 84 laps. He took the point with 14 laps remaining and again with 11 to go. But Dixon was tag-teamed at the end by a pair of Penske drivers – Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power – and finished fourth.
When asked about the decade-long drought since Dixon’s last 500 victory, team owner Chip Ganassi replied, “I don’t know, but he’s about due.”
Ganassi could not deny Dixon’s status as a perennial contender. While his friends refer to him as ‘Dixie’, others call him ‘The Iceman’ for his cool demeanour – a side of him which has not been lost on Ganassi.
“He has a good work ethic,” Ganassi added. “He has good perspective. He doesn’t get too wound up when things are good. He’s doesn’t get too down when things are bad. It’s good.”
Dixon credits his success and longevity in the sport to a solid work-life balance. His physical training is legendary. He stays in shape by working out five to six days a week. Last month, the triathlete made a return appearance on the television show American Ninja Warrior.
His ability to adapt to a variety of tracks, cars, rules and teammates has served him well over two decades of open-wheel competition.
“Yes, I think it’s all about balance and adapting to circumstances,” Dixon said.
“We’ve had a number of different generations of cars since 2001 to get used to. You have to have a great team of people with you to achieve those results as well. It’s a huge part of this sport really.
“Fitness and my training is a huge part of my routine, and I’m in the gym training almost every day. Family is just as important as well. Emma and I have two little girls now, and it’s great to have them at the track with us and see their perspective on everything.”
And nothing would make Dixon happier than to share the Victory Lane experience with his daughters – Poppy and Tilly – at the end of the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500.