Saturday, July 11, 2009

Kerrzy's Notebook: Interview with IndyCar's Scott Dixon

The Rexall Edmonton Indy is just a couple of weeks away from taking over the headlines in our city. Once again, I spoke with another of the drivers that'll likely be front and centre when things get underway.

New Zealand's own Scott Dixon or Target Chip Ganassi racing is the reigning IndyCar Series champion and one of his six wins last season came right here at Rexall Speedway.

Dixon talks about the ups and downs of his IndyCar career so far, life as a husband and new father, and some funny advice for up and coming drivers!

Listen to the interview HERE:

JK: One race to go before the 2009 Rexall Edmonton Indy - you've got three wins already this season and four since your win here. Should fans in this city be ready for a repeat?

SD: I hope so, we're definitely looking forward to the Canadian races - we've got Toronto coming up this weekend and then a weekend off and we're back to Edmonton. Edmonton last year was probably one of the toughest weekends I've ever had, considering that when we got there we were probably 11th or 12th in the first practise then we wound up winning the race at the end of the weekend so it was a lot of fun. Definitely a very challenging circuit, but a fun city and a fantastic track.

JK: What do you remember most about your time in Edmonton last year, before you crossed the finish line?

SD: I think probably the thing that stuck out was - you know, the race did go extremely well, the tiger car was fast and the key point for us was probably the last pit stop when we jumped ahead of Helio Castroneves so that was probably the key to the race. I had a lot of fun in the city, it was great to get down and see the festivities on the Friday night, downtown to grab some food and see all the fans and see everybody that was excited to be at the race.

JK: It's bound to happen at some point - what'll it mean to you when you become the Indy Racing League’s leader in all-time wins with your next first-place finish?

SD: It's kind of funny to even be aligned with that sentence - it has been a while since Sam Hornish has raced in the series, since 2006, but you know to be tied with him at the moment on 19 is pretty special. It's pretty cool to be, hopefully in the next few races, be named as the all-time winner of the IndyCar series. It's going to be a tough challenge keep that going, there's a couple of other drivers that are fairly close to me. You've got Helio [Castroneves] on 16 and maybe TK [Tony Kanaan] on 14, so it's pretty special.

JK: Lets talk about your team: Target Chip Ganassi racing has won FIVE of NINE races so far this season. What is it about your teammates and yourself that makes you guys so dominant?

SD: Well I think the Target team has always been dominant, we've won many races, many championships. Last year [we're] coming off such a big one, myself winning six races, eight as a team which is about half the races and another championship and the [Indy] 500 was a big year for us. So we've got high expectations, we're used to winning and we're going to keep trying to win, but you know I think Dario [Franchitti] has been a huge influence this year. The guy is very accomplished, it's great to have him back in the IndyCar series and to see him already winning two races, he's going to be a huge threat for the championship.

JK: Talk about Chip Ganassi the man, and what he's done for the sport. On your website, which is a great looking site by the way, he's referred to as one of the most successful and innovative owners the game has ever had.

SD: For me, it's plain and simple - the guy is just massively competitive. When you mess up or you do something wrong, he's the first guy that's going to be in your face to see what happened. A lot of teams, there's a lot of politics going on and things like that and Chip, he keeps things fairly simple. He makes sure he gets great budgets from a great sponsor like Target to make sure that we can get what we need. Unfortunately, motor racing is quite expensive. He's been a racer before, so he knows what the drivers expect and I think the keys are being simple, but knowing what you want. It goes back to being competitive and Chip's probably the most competitive person I know.

JK: You're a bit of an Ironman when it comes to the IndyCar series, finishing 28 straight races twice in your career. What do you attribute that kind of longevity to, a lot of shoulder checks out there on the track?

SD: (Laughing) I don't know! The racing side, obviously I've been racing since I was seven when I started in go-karts, but it's a ton of fun. Having reliability and things like that [is good], but fitness is a huge part of racing as well. For me, I love doing it, it's a lot of fun and it keeps you not worrying about the physical side of things when you can be focusing on the racing. The mix of loving sports, being physical and the racing side of it is a huge benefit.

JK: You joined the team back in 2002 - your first taste of a top-level team. Since then you've won two championships and were unlucky to win a third in 2007, so you've obviously had a lot of success. Take me through some of the ups and downs of the first couple of years.

SD: The first year I started midway through the season with Team Target in 2002 but my first full season was 2003. Going into the IndyCar series, an all-oval series, I'm from New Zealand so all my racing had been on road courses and street courses so it was definitely an eye-opener. But to go into that season and come out that year in 2003 to be the champions, you know I don't think I really knew what I'd won. I think that was for the team as well, it was just such a fantastic first year to go in and come out as champion - it was awfully strange I guess. The first two years to follow after that, 2004 and 2005, were dreadful. We had an engine manufacturer that was not as good as the other one, and Honda definitely dominated those two years. It was a struggle for us to be in the top ten. So to go from such a high peak and then to have two dreadful years, it was very frustrating. But we definitely and quickly turned that around in 2006 to have Dan Wheldon and myself fighting for the championship in the last race, Sam Hornish obviously won that year. Then 2007, to be fighting Dario down to the last lap, last corner, me running out of fuel and losing the championship was pretty tough. So last year was a dream come true, winning the biggest race that we have, the Indianapolis 500 and then going on to winning the championship.

JK: And you also got married last year! Are we seeing some of the momentum carrying over into this season and how's married life treating you?

SD: It's been fantastic - and I'm hoping my wife's not listening because I forgot the biggest and best part of 2008 was getting married. It's definitely been a lot of fun, Emma is a fantastic woman and has changed me in many ways and we actually just had our first baby on Sunday. We had a little baby girl, Poppy. We've got quite the nice little family going!

JK: Congratulations! Lets delve a little more into your background - I had a lot of fun reading through the bio section of, as you'll see by some of the next questions. But lets start at the beginning - how did you get into racing, is it true that both of your parents were race-car drivers too?

SD: Yeah, that is true! I'm actually the only Australian-born person in my family, all of us are Kiwis and from New Zealand and they were actually living in Australia at the time. They owned a race track, a dirt race track. My dad had raced in club stuff from road courses to rally cars to dirt cars to all kinds of stuff so it's always been in his blood, and my mom definitely got into some of the racing at the speedway at that time and I think she enjoyed just being a part of it. But the key point for me was watching my cousins when I was seven once we'd moved back to New Zealand. I watched them go-kart and two weeks later I had my own and I've been racing ever since so it's definitely a huge family influence.

JK: Your car number is nine. What's the significance of that?

SD: No significance, Chip picked the number. We probably should be running number one this year since we won the championship last year but he's a little superstitious because after our 2003 victory of the championship we ran number one and we had a dreadful season! So I think he's trying to keep the number nine going.

JK: Fair enough! I read on your website that you train, and occasionally compete in the triathlon - does pushing yourself to the brink like that off the track help your push yourself out there on the track?

SD: Yeah, absolutely! Going back to the physical side of things, at some of these circuits we're getting up to 5G's in the corners and you're racing flat out for up to two or three hours at a time, it's very draining on the body. For me, I love working out, I love triathlons, I've done some half Ironmans a lot of sprint triathlons and things like that. It keeps me interested on the fun side of the fitness and it benefits me in the race car.

JK: Have you competed in one recently?

SD: I haven't competed in one for probably about six months. Last year was very tough with the compressed season that we had, and because they're always in the summer it's been tough but I think I've got another one coming up in about a month so I'll be looking forward to that!

JK: When you got the keys to your first ever car, a 1982 Honda Prelude, how many speeding tickets did you get in your first year?

SD: I had lots of red light tickets...actually I think I did get a few speeding tickets! I wrecked my cars, I put them in ditches - I was probably the worst teenager that my parents could have ever dreamt of. I owe them a lot, put it that way!

JK: What advice would you give an up-and-coming race car driver?

SD: The best advice is just to keep at it! Obviously you need a lot of support; you can't do motor racing without family or some sort of financial support, that's the toughest part of it. But as long as you've got that, you've got to be hungry, you've got keep pushing and keep doing your best. As soon as you win a category you've got to get out of it. You've got to move up and get on to the next biggest thing.

JK: Are you sure it's not "Don't ever let your mother tie a cushion to your butt before getting in a race car?"

SD: Well yeah, I can see where you're coming from on that one! That was a story I'm never going to live down, obviously racing when I was thirteen. I was in an endurance race where I had a team partner that I was meant to swap over with at halfway and let him finish the race. Because I was only thirteen and he was like 28 or 30, to make the driver change quicker they put a cushion on my butt, but it was a nice floral cushion. Somebody crashed me out of the race and flipped me and then when I crawled out of the car I had this big floral cushion tied to my butt so it didn't look too good!

JK: One final question: Where is your favourite place to race?

SD: My favourite race track is Phillip Island in Australia. It's a place that I grew up racing a lot at. I'd say the Canadian races that I've had so far have been fantastic too, as far as Vancouver and Edmonton and Montreal and Toronto - they've all been great places, great cities to attend. And I think the city vibe is definitely a big key too so I can't wait to get there in a few weeks.

JK: Thank you very much Scott; I wish you the best of luck the rest of the way, and I hope you make some history here in Edmonton!

SD: I hope so, thank you very much!

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