The Verizon IndyCar Series’ active wins leader appreciates a compliment, but too much gushing can make Scott Dixon squirm.
When a media day interviewer started a conversation near Phoenix in early February by referring to Dixon as a “legend,” the effusive praise prompted the humble four-time series champion and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner from New Zealand to come up with his own descriptive word.
“It’s a bit ‘cringy,’ to be honest,” he said.
Consider “cringy” the Kiwi’s adjective for cringing.
“But I’m not going to lie. It’s nice to hear, too,” he said. “What the team and I have done throughout the years, we’ve achieved a lot, but by all means I never expect that (compliment). I’m just grateful and thankful for everything I’ve been a part of.”
He’s at 41 wins and counting. His next victory will move the 37-year-old Dixon into a tie with Michael Andretti for third on the career list. The goals don’t change from one year to the next as Dixon enters his 18th season racing Indy cars: win the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil and the series championship.
“That’s the whole goal, the same goal every year, win the Indy 500 and secondly the championship,” he said. “There’s been lots of changes and the adapting to the (new universal) aero kit is hopefully something we can jump onto and do well with right out of the box.”
Whereas last season required an adjustment as Chip Ganassi Racing shifted back to a Honda engine from Chevrolet, this year’s challenge is to adapt to a redesigned car with a universal aero kit that all teams are using. The other significant change is Dixon will be wearing some orange, now that PNC Bank has become a primary sponsor on his No. 9 Honda.
“I think the car looks fantastic and it’s good to partner up with PNC,” Dixon said. “It’s been a relationship for a few years now, but definitely excited about them coming on board for the whole season. It looks pretty cool.”
In two days of open testing at ISM Raceway near Phoenix on Feb. 9-10, Dixon ranked eighth out of 23 drivers on the speed chart. But he also had an incident during the final evening session in bumping the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier. He was uninjured and said the contact was the result of getting too low in the corner and losing control of the rear of the car after accelerating.
Dixon spoke earlier about the challenge of adapting to the new cars, which have less downforce on the back end and will require drivers to manage the tendency to slide in corners.
“This year is a very different,” he said. “It’s more of a style thing and everybody is even keel now. The engine is the only difference. The aero kit, everybody has got the same.”
Although he finished third in the championship last year, Dixon thought the team had a solid run despite winning only one race, the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. It was the first time he didn’t win multiple races in a season since 2005.
“For us, the shift in engine manufacturers, there were a lot of components,” he said. “The Honda aero kit, one, it wasn’t easy to use and, two, it was deficient in a lot of areas. I was actually really surprised how competitive we were last year. We did almost win the championship. Take Indy, if we just finished in the top 20, we would have won (the championship). If we would have finished Texas without getting drilled, we would have won the championship. It’s part of racing and I totally accept it.”
Dixon won the pole for last year’s Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil and had one of the fastest cars but couldn’t avoid the slower, lapped car of Jay Howard and was launched in an airborne flip into the catch fence of above the Turn 2 inside wall. Dixon limped away from the horrifying crash without serious injury, but finishing 32nd in a double-points race was a major setback.
Dixon was trading the lead with Team Penske’s Will Power near the end of the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, but was collected by Takuma Sato’s spinning car with five laps remaining. Dixon still finished ninth.
“It’s very easy to go back and say if we would have done this or that,” he said. “We won at Road America and we had five second-place finishes and some that we probably had the potential to win. For me, last year as a team I think was a fantastic year in making the car better and getting the most out of what we had. Unfortunately, when we came down to the end of it, we were a little bit short.”
Dixon finished fourth in the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma as Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden placed second to win the championship and Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, the 2016 series winner, won the race to end up second in the points.
“We’ve obviously achieved a lot, but there’s a lot more to be achieved,” Dixon said. “For me, that’s what drives me, trying to better what we did last year, be better myself and the team be better and try to win a little more.”
Dixon is expected to receive more positive publicity in a feature-length documentary produced by Matthew Metcalfe, who also produced the acclaimed film of another New Zealand racing legend, “McLaren,” released last year.
“It’s going to be exciting for the sheer fact that I’m in the car most of the time,” he said. “I don’t get to see a lot of that stuff which goes on behind the scenes, a lot of the personal feelings of people that are on the team. There’s going to be a lot of insight for me personally that I never get to see. I’m excited to see a lot of it. It’s not solely on me. I’m one of the characters in it. The team and personnel and just the storyline, I hope it’s good. I think it’s good, I think there’s a lot of good content. I’d hate for it to be all about me.”
And if a cinematic-style movie was ever done on his life, who should play the role of Dixon?
“Brad Pitt. I think we look so similar, it’s inevitable,” he said with a wry grin.
Compliments and movies aside, Dixon likes to think he has more chapters to add to his life story.
“I hope it’s not close to being over. I enjoy doing what I do,” he said. “I’m just a boy from South Auckland living the dream.”
When he retires, maybe then he won’t get “cringy” about being referred to as a legend.
“No, I’m never a legend, mate,” Dixon said. “I’m just here to have fun.”