The long awaited 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 will take place this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. As motorsports historians gear up for what is sure to be one of the greatest spectacles in racing, this writer was honored to have the opportunity to slip Behind The Wheel with a four-time IndyCar Champion who hopes to bring home the illustrious win for Chip Ganassi Racing this Sunday.
New Zealand native Scott Dixon found his love for racing at the tender age of 7 years old.
“When I was around 7 years old, my cousins were starting to really get into racing and I had a go in one of their cars and I’ve been hooked ever since,” said Dixon. “Due to the rich racing history in New Zealand as well as watching my parents racing as a kid made this sport become a family affair for sure. That definitely influenced the route I took in my career.”
Despite Dixon’s parents both choosing to compete on dirt tracks throughout New Zealand, this young open wheel driver decided to take another route after realizing his natural born talent while kart racing at the age of 7. Dixon’s ongoing performances caught the attention of the New Zealand public, which led to an early special dispensation to compete in a saloon car at the age of 13 years old.
While this began to fuel this wheelman’s fire for road racing, Dixon continued to pave his way to a successful open-wheel career as he picked up his first championship in the New Zealand Formula Vee series, at the age of 14 years old. After following up with a second championship in this series, Dixon would also collect a championship in the class I Formula Ford Series.
By the age of 17 years old, Dixon followed his racing career to Australia where he caught the eye of New Zealand businessman Christopher Wingate, who assured that this talented driver would have the funds that he needed to further his career.
Along with the confidence boost and financial assistance offered, Dixon was able to pick up his first Rookie of the Year title in the Australian Formula Holden series. After forming Scott Dixon Motorsport in 1998, Dixon hoisted his first championship trophy in this series.
Despite offers to compete in Australia’s V8 Supercar series the following season, Dixon had his sights set on competing in the United States. Thanks to the backing of Scott Dixon Motorsport investors, his dream became a reality at the age of 18 years old.
Shortly after his arrival, Dixon was offered the opportunity to test his first open-wheel IndyCar at Sebring. After breaking the track record on lap 8, Dixon was signed to Johansson Motorsports Dayton Indy Lights series team, owned by one of Dixon’s long-time mentors, Stefan Johansson.
“Johansson, who competed in Formula 1, IndyCar, and a number of other racing series, not only lent a hand in bringing me to America, but showed me the ropes,” said a nostalgic Dixon.
Although there were many challenges that this future IndyCar star would have to endure while competing in the Indy Lights series, Dixon would also see a lot of success. This includes setting a lap record and taking the pole position in his first oval race in Chicago as well as becoming the second-youngest champion in this series in 2000.
When he received the call to move up to the CART series in 2001, Dixon would once again enter the record books in Nazareth, Pennsylvania by becoming the youngest winner ever of a CART race, or any major open-wheel race, by capturing his first victory at the age of 20 years, 9 months and 14 days. Despite picking up the Rookie of the Year title for his PacWest Racing team that year, Dixon would be left wondering where he would compete next after this team was forced to fold due to financial constraints a few months into the 2002 season. Dixon wouldn’t be left without a seat long after being introduced to CART team Target Chip Ganassi Racing, which added a third car to its squad alongside drivers Bruno Junqueira and Kenny Brack.
After a solid rookie season, which resulted in 12 top-10s and a second place finish in Denver, Dixon would see his future unfold as Target Chip Ganassi Racing joined CART teams Penske and Andretti-Green Racing in 2003 to switch to the all-oval IndyCar team.
This storybook season would be the start of a one-of-a-kind success story after Dixon would become the third driver to not only win in his IndyCar series debut, but capture the championship in his rookie season. This season, Dixon is competing in his 15th year with Target Chip Ganassi Racing and has become one of the most successful drivers in IndyCar history, with four championships and 38 victories. In fact, Dixon recently joined historical names like A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr., Michael and Mario Andretti on the top-five list of IndyCar all-time wins list.
Along with all of these wins, Dixon has even had the opportunity to have his name engraved on the Indianapolis 500 Borg-Warner Trophy after his 2008 Indy 500 win and he hopes to do the same for his Ganassi family on Sunday.
“I think you have to be realistic and understand that this is a team sport. It’s not just any one person,” said Dixon. “We have all of the tools that we need to be competitive in this and any other race and that is a big part of our foundation for being successful in the past.”
So, what will it take for Dixon to win on Sunday, especially after having to switch engines prior to last weekend’s qualifying session, which resulted in a 13th place starting position?
“I think it’s going to be tough like it is every year because the field is just so competitive and close and you have to have so many things go right for you,” said Dixon. “If I knew exactly what it was going to take to win, I would go play the lottery right afterward. In fact, my teammate Tony Kanaan has a great saying about Indianapolis Motor Speedway as well as the Indianapolis 500, ‘you don’t pick the winner of the Indy 500, the track picks you’.”
Other than winning, Dixon will also have his and his fellow competitor’s safety in mind, especially after the recent tragic deaths of Dan Wheldon and Justin Wilson.
“I think that safety is ever evolving in IndyCar racing,” said Dixon. “This sport has been a leader in safety for as long as it has been in existence. You have to constantly analyze the rules, the cars and the different situations. The fact is, motor racing is never going to be 100 percent safe no matter how hard you try, but this series is always looking for ways to improve and be safer and the same can be said for this weekend’s race.”
We at RacingJunk.com wish the best of luck to this legendary IndyCar driver on Sunday and hope that he can continue to share his advice to all of those aspiring young drivers out there to “never give up on your dreams because big things can happen for anyone if you work hard enough.”
As the 2016 race season continues, we will be jumping Behind The Wheel with more motorsports legends. If you would like to see your favorite legend featured, please contact us at [email protected]