Kiwi Dixon lapping up p
LAST October, Scott Dixon’s nieces wanted to go to a Justin Bieber concert in Auckland.
A radio station was running a competition – the caller who got the most famous New Zealander to ring in, would win the tickets. The girls badgered their Mum, Scott’s sister, who got her US-based motorsport icon of a brother to ring in.
‘‘I called up, but on the other line was Sir Colin Meads,’’ Dixon says.
‘‘I was like ‘man, I’ve lost this for sure’. He was battling cancer and in hospital at the time, I think. That’s the only time I got to speak to him, on the radio show.
‘‘We were all on the call together – he seemed like a really pleasant guy. When it comes to New Zealand, you couldn’t beat Pinetree.’’
When it has come to Indycar racing over the last 15 years, the same could virtually be said of Dixon. Tomorrow the 37-year-old Kiwi will squeeze into the cockpit of his Chip Ganassi Racing car at Sonoma Raceway in California and attempt to win his fifth Indycar title.
Only three points short of Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden ahead of Sonoma, Dixon could become just the second single-seat driver in American motorsport history, after legend AJ Foyt, to claim five.
If he wins the Sonoma Grand Prix, he’ll equal Michael Andretti with 42 career race victories. Only Foyt and Andretti’s famous father Mario, both Americans, have more.
‘‘Once he gets into the high-40s, or mid-40s, you’d have to consider him one of the greatest of all-time,’’ former Indycar driver Wade Cunningham says of his fellow Kiwi’s record.
But while he remains the darling of New Zealand’s motorsport community, Dixon occupies a peculiar position in Kiwi sporting hearts and minds.
Despite being a regular contender at the Halberg Awards, his profile remains muted back in New Zealand. His achievements are acknowledged but, at the same time, remote. One could argue his American base has helped that, though NBA superstar Steven Adams has managed to carve a substantial niche in Kiwi public life.
The truth of the matter may well lie in the personality of the driver himself. For all his on-track success, Dixon, who has also competed in the Le Mans 24-Hour race the last two years, is as relaxed and genuine as any athlete you’d hope to meet.
When Stuff interviewed him in the Chip Ganassi team trailer ahead of a recent race in Madison, Illinois – where he’d finish second – Dixon was just as happy to chat about a Taupo bach holiday last summer or the upcoming Mayweather- McGregor fight as he was in-race technique or his own legacy as a driver.
Yet while Dixon now holds a near-historic driver’s resume, has a wife, two kids and a true athlete’s build, you don’t have to squint that hard to see that kid with a pillow strapped to his backside driving a Nissan Sentra in Pukekohe all those years ago. The grin is still as boyish as it was back when he was driving karts and saloon cars.
On the raceway, you know where those 20-odd years have gone though. Ice pumps through Dixon’s veins. His mind becomes a complete, constantly moving rational calculus of fuel spent and optimal speeds. On track, the Kiwi picks up exactly what he needs – and disregards the rest.
‘‘He just puts things behind him – he doesn’t get too emotional on what’s happening,’’ Dixon’s chief mechanic Blair Julian, a New Plymouth native, says.
‘‘Whether it be a practice session in St Louis, one the following week in Detroit or overcoming his injuries, he just focuses on what’s at hand. He’s got the ability, mentally, to block out a lot. It separates him from most of the other guys.’’
Despite finishing second in his last two races, and claiming victory at the Kohler Grand Prix in Wisconsin in late June, the second half of Dixon’s season has been tougher than the first.
Though still adapting to a new engine manufacturer (Honda) and aero kit, Dixon topped the driver standings after qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 with the fastest time in 21 years. A second victory at the Brickyard – his first came in 2008 – seemed within reach.
That night, however, Dixon and retired Scottish driver Dario Franchitti were mugged at a Taco Bell just down the street from the speedway.
‘‘Going from winning pole at the biggest race in the world to a few hours later, Dario and I getting held up at gunpoint – it brings things into reality rather quickly,’’ Dixon says.
‘‘[But] the racing is always somewhat of a good distraction away from what could have occurred. Looking into that situation a little bit more, and hearing a little bit more about the people involved and the gangs, it could have gone a lot worse.
‘‘You know, during the month of May, it’s so busy anyway. Coming off that, you’ve just got to switch gears and get on with it. I think the biggest detriment was [the police] found them and called us in at one in the morning to go and ID them.
‘‘You’re taking photos the next morning at 6.30am [at the track]
Scott Dixon is chasing a record-equalling fifth Indycar series title in California tomorrow, and inset, with his wife Emma and daughters Poppy and Tilly.