It’s been 15 years since Scott Dixon introduced himself to Indy car racing, on the road course at Monterrey, Mexico, in a season-opening race that included Bryan Herta in the field.
A lot has happened since then. Herta retired as a driver and has won two Indianapolis 500s as a car owner, including in May with Alexander Rossi. Dixon won the 2008 Indy 500 and has celebrated four Verizon IndyCar Series titles, most recently last year, for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams.
Herta still hasn’t forgotten racing against Dixon that first time.
“I just remember being really ticked off because he was a rookie and it was his first race and he was ahead of me,” said Herta, who finished 16th that day in March 2001, three spots behind Dixon. “That really irritated me at the time, but obviously he was pretty good then and very good now.”
Three races later, Dixon celebrated his first victory on the short oval at Nazareth (Pa.) Speedway. Now 35, the Australian-born New Zealander is still going strong. His victory at Phoenix International Raceway in the second start this season extended a streak of winning at least one series race to 12 consecutive years.
His methodical climb up the all-time wins list has Dixon at 39, tied with Al Unser for fourth. It’s a reason he’s been nominated for a second time as “Best Driver” in the ESPYs, which will present its latest awards July 13 in Los Angeles. Rossi, NASCAR’s Kyle Busch, Formula One’s Lewis Hamilton and NHRA’s Erica Enders-Stevens are the other nominees. Click here to vote.
Success, though, hasn’t changed Dixon from being the congenial, humble and straight-talking guy he’s always been.
“You always have highs and lows,” he said during the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America race weekend June 24-26. “There’s no point sugar-coating things, especially in this industry. There’s no reason to be boasting about yourself. You should always just let the results speak for themselves.”
Other drivers speak volumes for him.
“I don’t think there’s a guy who is as unanimously respected as highly as Scott Dixon,” said Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe, who won the pole for the 100th Indy 500 in May.
What makes Dixon so good? Hinchcliffe flapped his lips in amusement.
“Everything!” he said. “I don’t know what makes him good, I just know that he’s good at everything. If I knew what made him good, I would go find it and buy copious amounts of it, apply it, ingest it, surgically install it, whatever needed to be done to be able to do what that guy does.”
Herta provided a simple explanation.
“Scott Dixon is good because he’s good,” Herta said. “He’s fast and he’s smart and he’s the whole package and he’s been doing it at a really high level for a long time. He’s awesome.”
Charlie Kimball, a Ganassi teammate, cited another recent example of Dixon’s greatness at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where his Ford GT finished third in class in his first experience at the renowned 24-hour endurance race. The one-off in sports cars’ most demanding race came in between Indy car racing at Texas, testing at Watkins Glen and racing again at Road America.
“He’s really impressive. I watched his schedule and I was exhausted just reading about where he was,” Kimball said. “He shows up at a track he’s never seen, an 8-mile track like de la Sarthe (Le Mans, France), and goes out and sets a track record. That’s pretty impressive.
“He’s got a great personality, but when it comes time to be in the car, he gets the job done. I don’t know if that’s ice cold or he just does what he has to do.”
Perhaps Dixon’s secret is he doesn’t have one. His mindset is the same whenever he gets behind the wheel.
“For me, I just love racing,” he said. “It keeps going back to the fact that I love what I’m doing. I’m not going to create some big overflow of emotion that’s not there. But also I think the Verizon IndyCar Series is very lucky in the fact that we have so many personalities. Yes, we have a lot of people from different countries, but the personality scale is crazy.”
Hinchcliffe, a Canadian, is one of the more entertaining drivers in the paddock. Points leader Simon Pagenaud, from France, is also personality plus when it comes to enthusiasm. Brazilian Helio Castroneves of Team Penske became so emotional after winning races, he started climbing fences.
By comparison, Dixon maintains a cool demeanor – hence his nickname, “Ice Man.” When he has an opinion, he expresses it, but not for the sake of drawing attention.
When asked about being able to concentrate on winning a fifth series title, now that the 100th Indy 500 is out of the way, Dixon gave a surprising observation on the aftermath of finishing eighth at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May.
“Indy was definitely a milestone, there were so many great memories for everybody, but on the other side of it, everybody is happy to be out of that,” he said. “It was the most grueling month I’ve ever been a part of as far as appearances. Yeah, man, it was brutal.
“When you’re starting every day at 7 or 8 in the morning, and then the hard part at Indy is you run until 6 (p.m.), then you don’t get home until 8 or 9 and you’ve got an appearance most off days and tons of travel. I don’t want to sound like I’m spoiled and it was a pain in my ass, but it was very demanding. So I think everybody is happy to be through it.
“And there’s really only ever one person who is happy and that’s the winner. … You’ve got to put it behind you.”
He's moved on. There’s another race to run and fierce competition awaits. A disappointing 22nd-place finish at Road America dropped him to fourth in series points, 90 behind Pagenaud. Time to look ahead to the Iowa Corn 300 this weekend.
“Life’s good. Loving it,” Dixon said. “I need to win some more races.”