You may think you know Scott Dixon, “The Iceman” who’s unflappable driving at any speed in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
It’s a demeanor that seems like a perfect fit alongside his longtime race strategist, Mike Hull, managing director at Chip Ganassi Racing and a man whose calm disposition and soothing voice are ideal over the radio amid the stress of their high-intensity sport.
Perceptions aren’t always accurate.
Dixon may seem like the coolest driver on the track, but Hull knows firsthand how hot he can get in the cockpit.
“People think he’s ‘The Iceman,’ but he can get very, very emotional in the car,” Hull said. “We just try to harness that emotion in the right direction.”
It goes both ways, Dixon says. From the pit box, Hull can get “fired up,” as Dixon describes it, when he needs to drill a message into his driver’s ear.
“He’s the guy I converse with the most during the race,” Dixon said. “We’re both fairly laid back. He’s very mild and monotone, but at times he definitely can get fairly fired up.”
What stirs Hull the most?
“Being beaten,” Dixon said. “Or having something out of our control happen. And I can get him pretty fired up.”
“Oh, I do dish it back. There’s no question about that,” Hull said. “Especially when he tries to be the ‘other’ Scott Dixon.”
Whatever the wavelength – strategic and mild or competitive and emotional – Hull and Dixon have connected to win 40 Indy car races in a relationship that has become one of the tightest in the series. They start their 16th season together today at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg as the most successful active driver/strategist duo in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Dixon will start today's race from ninth in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda.
Dixon, whose 41 overall wins rank fourth all time in Indy car annals, is starting his 18th season in the sport. He joined Chip Ganassi Racing four races into the 2002 CART season after PacWest Racing folded. Hull started calling Dixon’s race strategy when the team moved to the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2003. It was an instant success, with Dixon winning the season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“I’ve been really lucky the last 15 years of my life to be with Scott Dixon,” said Hull, who begins his 26th season with Chip Ganassi Racing. “That drives me.”
There's a synergy between the two like close teammates on an athletic field. They realize when the other needs a spark of encouragement or a swift kick of reality. And they often know what the other is thinking before they even verbalize it.
“I think a lot of relationships like this develop early. You either click or you don’t, and for us it happened very quickly,” Dixon said. “There are moments when he says something and I automatically know kind of what’s happening on the stand, what he may be portraying and maybe not telling with the other teams able to hear because it’s all open radios. It definitely helps to have a free flow of information with somebody who you know almost what they’re going to say.”
Hull can read the inflection in Dixon’s voice, and that helps when important calls need to be made during a race.
“You don’t need to take inspiration from what’s said; you need to measure what’s said,” Hull said. “I like working with Scott because I can watch what he does on the computer and I can hear what he says on the radio. When you call a race, you try to be an information center, not from minutiae, but for how to make a difference at some point in time during the race. I think that’s how we’ve gotten along so well. It works out OK for us.”
Maybe a lot more than OK. Besides their four championships and 40 race victories together, including the 2008 Indianapolis 500, Dixon has driven three times in Chip Ganassi Racing sports cars that Hull managed to victory at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
“Mike has been a huge part of my career. We've achieved a lot together,” Dixon said. “We’ve won and lost some great races, and I know he’s always giving it 110 percent. That’s what encourages me.”
Nothing defines their relationship like the gesture Dixon made in 2015 after one of those Rolex 24 victories. He offered Hull the Rolex watch given to winners of that race. Hull declined, but Dixon wouldn’t take that for an answer, and it turned into a story that Hull loves to tell.
It starts with the 2011 Rolex 24, where the Ganassi team finished 1-2 with the winning prototype car of Scott Pruett, Graham Rahal, Joey Hand and Memo Rojas beating the other Ganassi car of Dixon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Franchitti and Jamie McMurray by about two seconds.
“After that race, Dixon asked, ‘Did you get a watch?’” Hull said. “I said, ‘Scott, only drivers get Rolexes. Guys like me get Timexes.’ Then Scott said, ‘The next time we win, I’m giving you my watch.’ And I said, ‘I’m not taking it.’
“In 2015 we were like the second (Ganassi) team in the race. Our first team were our full-time IMSA guys (Pruett and Hand, joined by Charlie Kimball and Sage Karam). They got all the glory and all the credit, and we were kind of the stepchild going into the race. We showed up with Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson, and we were just kind of there to fill the field. And then we run the 24-hour race and we win the thing.
“Our coaches were parked next to each other, and after the race Scott comes over to mine and says, ‘Here’s the watch.’ I said again, ‘I’m not taking it.’
“About two weeks later, he and Kanaan walk into the door of my office in Indianapolis and they hand me a little green Rolex bag and there’s a box inside. I said, ‘I told you I’m not taking your watch.’ He said, ‘No, this one is for you. Tony, myself, Jamie and Kyle bought this for you and we’ve had it inscribed on the back, and we want to give it to you.’ I couldn’t turn that down. That meant a lot to me.
“That’s who Scott Dixon is.”