P life in the fast lane

Sunday News - - MOTORSPORT -

be­fore you start prac­tice again, so the loss of sleep was prob­a­bly the big­gest down­side to it.’’

Worse was to come. Dixon’s car was clipped by Jay Howard on the 53rd lap of the main race, send­ing the Kiwi fly­ing into the track­side hoard­ings. In­cred­i­bly, the Kiwi walked away with just a frac­tured an­kle.

‘‘Any of those ac­ci­dents, man, ev­ery­thing slows down,’’ Dixon says. ‘‘It feels like it takes a good five min­utes to get through it. I was su­per-lucky there, too. The way the car hit what it hit, when it hit, and the way it had three mo­ments to dis­tort the power of it.’’

Two days af­ter the crash, Dixon was back in Chip Ganassi’s In­di­anapo­lis work­shop to see if he could use his in­jured an­kle to ap­ply pres­sure on his car’s brakes.

FAM­ILY MAN

Ask peo­ple about Dixon away from the race­track and the im­age of a low-key, fam­ily-ori­en­tated bloke is quickly as­sem­bled.

Af­ter mar­ry­ing for­mer Bri­tish Com­mon­wealth Games run­ner Emma Davies in 2008, the Bris­bane-born south Auck­lan­der has set­tled down to life in In­di­anapo­lis’ trendier north­ern sub­urbs where the cou­ple raise GETTY IM­AGES/PHOTOSPORT their daugh­ters Poppy, 8, and Tilly, 6.

‘‘He could have eas­ily bought a big man­sion in Miami, bought a pri­vate jet and lived the good life – but he has lived in In­di­anapo­lis since day one,’’ Cun­ning­ham, a long-time friend, says.

‘‘Un­til a few years ago, he lived in a very mod­est home. He just goes about his business of mo­tor rac­ing.’’

While Indycar crews are back to work first thing on Monday af­ter a race week­end, driv­ers have more flex­i­ble hours. For Dixon, that means do­ing the usual dad stuff.

‘‘Most Mon­days, Tues­days, Wed­nes­days and Thurs­days, I take my kids to school and pick them,’’ he says. ‘‘There’s swim­ming on Mon­days [and] bal­let on Tues­days. Horse-rid­ing on Wed­nes­days. I’m very for­tu­nate on that side of things.’’

Dixon’s wife trav­els to ‘‘around 75 per cent’’ of the races, while their kids, who at­tend an in­ter­na­tional school in In­di­anapo­lis, at­tend around half. Dixon, who trains for triathlons in his free time, says his daugh­ters un­der­stand parts of their dad’s job – but mostly just en­joy the race week­end en­vi­ron­ment.

‘‘Poppy is more aware of it – Tilly is more low-key, any­way,’’ he says. ‘‘But they live in In­di­anapo­lis, which is very rich in rac­ing – and all their friends know about it.

‘‘I think the whole Indycar series is very fam­ily-ori­en­tated. If you go to the mo­torhome lot most week­ends, all the kids are run­ning around and they get to hang with their friends. They en­joy that.

‘‘Do they grasp all of it? Prob­a­bly not yet. Poppy started to ask about hav­ing a go on a go-kart, which is pretty funny. Tilly not at all – she’s into horses.’’

The Dixons have be­come cen­tral in the driv­ers’ sup­port net­work on tour.

Fol­low­ing the in-race death of close friend Dan Whel­don in 2011, the fam­ily moved to St Petersburg, Florida, for a brief stint to stay with the English driver’s griev­ing fam­ily.

Cun­ning­ham says Dixon – who has had a doc­u­men­tary crew fol­low­ing him around for the ma­jor­ity of this sea­son – is uni­ver­sally liked by his fel­low driv­ers, while his per­son­al­ity has res­onated amongst the wider In­di­anapo­lis com­mu­nity.

‘‘He re­mem­bers strangers’ names re­ally well,’’ Cun­ning­ham says. ‘‘He’ll see some­one out in a so­cial set­ting, and al­ways re­mem­bers their name. He makes peo­ple feel spe­cial.’’

RE­TIRE­MENT

Given Dixon’s ob­vi­ous love of a rel­a­tively nor­mal fam­ily life – and his Indycar longevity – the re­tire­ment ques­tion is al­ways one lev­elled at the Kiwi.

Strip away the glam­our and mo­tor­sport is a tough gig. The travel is con­stant, the pres­sure huge – and the risks im­mense.

‘‘When there is a tragedy or even an ac­ci­dent like In­di­anapo­lis, it is a com­mon ques­tion,’’ Dixon says. ‘‘I’ve al­ways known mo­tor rac­ing is dan­ger­ous – that’s part of it – but I couldn’t imag­ine giv­ing up on terms like that.

‘‘I’ve just turned 37. Juan Pablo Mon­toya and Tony Kanaan are both 42 this year. It’s easy to kinda put a round num­ber on it. Most peo­ple look at 40 to 42 to be the num­ber, but, for me, it’ll be if I feel like I’m not com­pet­i­tive any more. That’ll be the turn for me to look at a dif­fer­ent kind of series.

‘‘But I feel like I am­still very com­pet­i­tive. This sea­son has been very strong, con­sid­er­ing the bad patch we had. But, yeah, I don’t know. It’s one of those things that when the time comes, it comes.’’

The re­cent mail around Amer­i­can mo­tor­sport cir­cles is that Palmer­ston North’s Bren­don Hartley is likely to re­place Brazil­ian Tony Kanaan at Chip Ganassi Rac­ing next year.

With the team un­der­stood to be cut­ting Max Chilton and Char­lie Kim­ball to be­come a two-car unit again, Hartley, a European speed­car pro and ex-F1 test driver, and Dixon could form an all-Kiwi lineup for Chip Ganassi.

While re­tire­ment is un­likely on the hori­zon for the Old Dog just yet, Hartley’s pres­ence along­side Dixon does hold a nice nar­ra­tive blend for Kiwi mo­tor­sport fans.

Over time, torches al­ways get passed. In terms of sin­gle-seat suc­cess, Dixon’s achieve­ments in the US have placed him firmly in the lin­eage of our finest mo­tor­sport gen­er­a­tion – F1 driv­ers Bruce McLaren, Chris Amon and Denny Hulme of the 1960s and 1970s.

Dixon met Amon as a teenager, has since met McLaren’s daugh­ter – and fea­tures in Roger Donaldson’s re­cent doc­u­men­tary McLaren.

‘‘For a lot of us younger guys, from their gen­er­a­tion at least to the next gen­er­a­tion with [Mitch] Evans and Bren­don, I take a lot of pride in the his­tory we have from such a small coun­try,’’ he says.

‘‘It’s fun to hear the sto­ries – that gen­er­a­tion was so much dif­fer­ent. It would have been a re­ally fun gen­er­a­tion to be a part of, but also the safety as­pect of it was very tough.

‘‘We’re lucky to be in this gen­er­a­tion but, I think, to be in that gen­er­a­tion in that time of chang­ing tech­nol­ogy and ex­cite­ment of dif­fer­ent cars, it would have been re­ally cool.’’

The track has had plenty of twists and curves since that day in Puke, and even his first CART – now Indycar – out­ing in 2001, but ask Dixon about how much of that kid in the Sen­tra at Puke is still in­side and you’ll get a big grin.

‘‘You know, I heard a funny story the other day from a Kiwi that helped me along the way,’’ Dixon says.

‘‘He was talk­ing about an­other driver, and he was like ‘oh man, I just don’t think he has enough mon­grel in him, like you’.

‘‘I laughed, be­cause I don’t see my­self that way. It was quite a funny de­scrip­tion of the strug­gles we had, but I think that helps in so many ways through­out your ca­reer when you come from not much.

‘‘You’ve done it that way, and the pay-off is a lot bet­ter as far as the peo­ple around you and com­ing from a small town and things like that. I think we all grow in many dif­fer­ent ways. I was very quiet back then and I think that I’ve come out of my shell a lit­tle bit.

‘‘But I think as far as the ba­sics go – as far as me the driver goes – I’m very sim­i­lar.’’

This sea­son has been very strong, con­sid­er­ing the bad patch we had.’ SCOTT DIXON

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