The time had come to honor the champion during the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Victory Lap Celebration on Sept. 25 at Union 50 in downtown Indianapolis.
Scott Dixon’s first instinct, true to his nature, was not to bask in the glow of winning a fifth series title for Chip Ganassi Racing. He, instead, asked everyone to keep injured driver Robert Wickens in their thoughts. Wickens, who is recovering at a rehabilitation center from multiple series injuries sustained in an August crash at Pocono, was shown in a video after being named Sunoco Rookie of the Year.
As much as Dixon is appreciated for a legendary racing career with the championships and 44 victories including the 2008 Indianapolis 500, those who know the 38-year-old New Zealander best admire the man for his genuine thoughtfulness.
Barry Wanser, Ganassi’s team manager of competition, still gets emotional this night when sharing how Dixon continually visited the hospital to see Wanser’s ailing son, Michael. The 6-year-old boy died from acute myeloid leukemia on Oct. 23, 2011.
“A lot of people know Scott as the incredible racer, a true legend,” Wanser said, “but Scott Dixon is also a guy who has a heart of gold.
“Scott, behind the scenes, was above and beyond what anybody could ever expect out of anybody to help in the situation that we were in. Both Scott and Emma were phenomenal in offering support to (wife) Laurie and I. A lot of hospital visits, a lot. With Michael, we were stuck in hospitals, we could never leave. For the 11-month battle, Scott was always there.”
Wanser paused and added, “Even now, it’s a hard story to tell.”
Ganassi team manager Scott Harner recalls sitting on an airplane in Pennsylvania when Dixon decided he needed to go back to a hospital to visit driver Justin Wilson, who was fatally injured in a Pocono incident in 2015.
“We were sitting on the charter on the tarmac at the airport, getting ready to pull out, and Scott said, ‘Let them know I’m getting off,’” Harner said. “He got off the airplane and headed back to the hospital. He had already been there. He ended up spending two or three more days there.
“When any of these tragic things have happened, he’s the first guy there and it’s not with fanfare or anything else. It’s just what he does. He wants to be there to help any way he can. They’re all people he cares about. I think he was involved with getting Robert Wickens’ family to Pennsylvania. It’s what he does. He jumps into action and takes care of people.”
Dixon doesn't really accept the praise for himself. He gives it to his wife, Emma.
“The things we talk about away from the racing side, the people and friends, a lot of that is a credit to her,” Dixon said. “We’re all very lucky to be in the situation we’re in. To be honest, if we were in a bad situation, it would be the same for us. It’s just us trying to help out in any situation if it’s possible. We try to help when we can. It’s important. It’s a tight family here. It’s a tight group, whether it’s our team or the whole INDYCAR family.”
That’s why he reacted the way he did to Wilson’s situation, and how he reached out to help when Wickens was hurt.
“You just hope it’s all going to be OK,” he said of Wilson. “That scenario, it turned very quickly to understanding how bad it was. Justin was a good friend of mine. (Wilson’s wife) Julia, we’re still very tight with. Even Justin’s parents, they’re great people. That’s just what any normal person would do, to be honest.”
But Dixon, to be honest, isn’t normal. That’s why he mentioned Wickens on that stage.
“I feel awkward at these things. It’s something I’ve never really gotten used to,” Dixon said. “But at the forefront right now, that’s where everybody’s thoughts are, thinking of Robbie, thinking of his family, his fiancée. It’s a tough situation.”
Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles knows he can call Dixon, who lives in town, at any time to ask for his assistance.
“He’ll come out and spend time and give honest feedback,” Boles said. “He’s a great asset to have as a promoter, to make sure our facility is properly done. I just love the friend that he is to the entire industry. He’s a great guy and there’s never been a time when I’ve picked up the phone and he hasn’t answered or called back right away and been helpful.”
Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay was shocked at how Dixon handled the media after surviving a spectacular and scary crash in the 2017 Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. He limped away with a fractured tibia but didn’t miss a race.
“He gave a smile and was upbeat and, yeah, it was onto the next race as if it were just a bump in the road,” Hunter-Reay said. “That’s just typical Scott. We can all learn from that.
“Scott doesn’t get the appreciation he deserves now. Everybody here knows he’s a legend, one of the best ever. He’ll be much more appreciated when he retires. Most of the drivers realize who they’re racing against. It sets our target high and makes it very enjoyable to race against him.”
Ed Carpenter, the series’ only current owner/driver, cherishes a podium picture from his first victory at Kentucky Speedway because Dixon and Dario Franchitti were up there with him.
“More so than all of his accomplishments, which the list is long, Scott is an even better guy, better dad, husband and more people should be like him,” Carpenter said. “He’s a real genuine, good guy who does things because it’s the right thing to do, not because it’s something he feels like he needs to do. That means more than anything he’s being celebrated for.”