Scott Dixon Gets Personal
As if that were not enough, he learned to fly an airplane. And he feels that he has also made big strides in the personality department. He has long been known as the “iceman” due to his shy, reserved, quiet, even stand-offish manner - a bit like F1’s Kimi Raikkonen - but thinks he has now changed.
“Before meeting Emma, I guess most people would say I was a lot more quiet and probably a lot more moody and that is where I got my iceman name from. Nobody really liked me too much,” he said. “Meeting Emma definitely brought me out of my shell. Now I feel most at home, most complete and she’s definitely a big part of that. A couple of years ago I was more like the iceman. Now, I’m a warm man maybe a little bit.”
Yet team-owner Chip Ganassi thinks he still has ice in his veins when he steps into the car. “I was a little worried when he got married, but it’s made him a great guy off the track and focused him on the track,” he said. “As soft as he has become off the track, he’s become that much more the iceman on the track.”
That would certainly seem to be the case judging by his results. Just a month after his nuptials, he showed he was the driver to beat for 2008 when he won the season-opener at Homestead from the pole. He would go on to take six of this year’s 17 IRL championship races, tying the record set by recent team-mate Dan Wheldon in 2005. He led a record 899 laps, more than anyone ever has in a single season.
Dixon had narrowly missed out on the IRL championship in 2007, when he ran out of fuel while leading at the last turn of the last lap at the Chicago finale, handing the race and title to Dario Franchitti. Although he won four of the final eight races of 2007, his late championship bid was thwarted by a slow start to the season. He was determined not to let that happen again.
“In 2007, we didn’t really start out the season as strong as we probably should have and, from that point on, I was playing catch-up,” he said. “The way we lost [the title] was tough. To come down to the line with Dario and lose it the way we did was frustrating, especially when it comes down to maybe a cup of ethanol. It was a big motivational factor for everyone, I think, coming into this year.”
Dixon fell a little behind in the 2008 points chase when he damaged his car’s suspension in round two at St. Petersburg, his only DNF of the season. But he was back in the hunt with a pair of third-place finishes in Japan and Kansas City and then came the big one - the Indy 500. He started on pole and dominated most of the race, leading 117 of the 200 laps. It was his first Indy 500 win in six attempts.
“I was shocked, almost dumbfounded,” he said in describing his reaction to the victory. “It feels special, but it’s such a strange feeling and for me, I don’t show emotions too much. It’s almost like you’re in a dreamland and you sort of expect somebody to pinch you and wake you up.”
With the Indy win, he snatched the points lead from Helio Castroneves and he solidified his advantage with a second-place finish at Milwaukee the next week, then another victory at Texas Motor Speedway. A pair of fourth-place finishes followed before his big embarrassment of the year - spinning out of the lead while warming up his tires under caution at Watkins Glen, a track where he was chasing a fourth straight win.
He rebounded with win number four at Nashville, a third place at Mid-Ohio and more victories at Edmonton, the first IRL race in Canada, and at Kentucky. He led Castroneves by 78 points with only three races to go.
But the next two races were “tough,” as he put it, due to uncharacteristically poor strategy by the Ganassi team. He finished just 12th at Sears Point and said, “Everything we did was wrong.” The next week, at Detroit, he was fifth. Castroneves finished first and second in those races to close the gap to 30 points.
Still, Dixon needed only an eighth place at the Chicago finale. In a near replay of the 2007 event, the two title contenders battled for the lead in the final laps, but this time Dixon had all the fuel he needed. He and Castroneves crossed the line side-by-side and electronic scoring gave Dixon the win.
As it turned out, the transponder on the Ganassi car was improperly installed, sending out its signal at an angle. Photos of the finish showed Castroneves clearly ahead by about a foot. So Dixon again had to settle for second at Chicago, but this time he had the bigger prize - the championship (by a margin of 17 points).
“I had no idea [who had won]. I knew it was close,” said Dixon. “But I knew we ‘d won the championship and that was all that mattered to me. A seventh win would have been nice, but the championship is what we’ve worked all year for. We’ll give Helio another win. That’s all right. I’m happy with that.”
Dixon becomes only the second multiple champion in IRL history, joining three-time titlist Sam Hornish Jr., now in NASCAR. His previous crown came in his rookie season in 2003, but this one is more satisfying.
“This is much better than ‘03 when I don’t think we knew what we’d won,” he said. “It was unexpected in ‘03, a bit of a shock - not for Chip and his team because they are great at winning championships, but for me probably. We came in that first year and I did not like ovals too much at the point. This year, we know what’s gone into winning races and the championship and how much effort everybody puts in. It’s much sweeter.”
Although his parents, Ron and Glenys Dixon, were both dirt-track racers in New Zealand, most of Scott’s racing experience prior to the IRL had been on road courses.
Dixon got an early start. After karting success, he received a special licence at age 13 to race full-size cars and promptly won New Zealand’s Formula Vee series. By age 16, he was national Formula Ford champion and at 18, he won the Australian-based Formula Holden series, the premier open-wheel class down under.
In 1999, Dixon moved to North America to run Indy Lights for Johansson Motorsports. He quickly made his mark with podiums in his first two races - third in his oval debut at Homestead, second at Long Beach - and briefly led the point standings. He won on the Chicago oval, leading flag-to-flag, and seemed a shoo-in for rookie-of-the-year until a cut tire at the California finale handed that title to rival Jonny Kane.
He stayed in Lights in 2000, but switched to PacWest Racing and largely dominated the series, beginning with a win at the Long Beach opener. He went on to take six of 12 races en route to the championship.
He then moved up to PacWest’s CART Champ Car operation in 2001 and was victorious in just his third start, on the Nazareth oval. He was the youngest winner in CART history at 20 years, 9 months, 14 days (a mark later surpassed by a seven-months younger Nelson Philippe). He had six top-five finishes, was eighth in the championship and easily took top rookie honors.
After just three races into 2002, however, PacWest owner Bruce McCaw folded his cash-strapped team. As it turned out, this was the best possible news for Dixon, as he was quickly snapped up by Chip Ganassi, who already owned four CART titles. So began his long association with Ganassi that continues to this day.
In 2003, Ganassi abandoned CART in favor of the rival IRL and Dixon suddenly found himself adjusting to a new car in a then all-oval series. Yet he won first time out at Homestead, only the third driver to do so in his IRL debut, and scored mid-season victories on the short tracks at Pike’s Peak and Richmond.
He went to the Texas Motor Speedway season-finale tied for the points lead with Castroneves. He clinched his “unexpected” title with a second-place finish behind Gil de Ferran, while Castroneves was just 13th. His triumph was somewhat overshadowed, though, by an horrific accident that badly injured Kenny Brack.