All photos by LAT Photographic
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.