He’s been at Target Chip Ganassi Racing since 2002. He won the IndyCar title in 2003, 2008 and 2013. He’s won the Indy 500 (2008). And at 33, he’s got time to become the most successful Indy car driver since Mario Andretti. He’s Scott Dixon, and he explains to RACER editor David Malsher why Target Chip Ganassi Racing is so consistently successful.
To be honest, I’m not sure there’s a “secret” to Target Chip Ganassi Racing staying at the top for so long. What I mean is, there shouldn’t be any mystery about it!
One of the key things – and I know it sounds sort of cheesy – is that people are happy there. There’s no one who comes into work at Ganassi with a “don’t care” attitude. Management hires people with the right attitude – self-motivated, not self-promoting. They’re the ones who like their work so much that they keep learning on the job and making progress.Then, once they’re there, these people realize they’re working with others who share that work ethic and outlook, and so the team spirit builds. No one wastes energy getting upset with each other or being political: that’s counter-productive, when all we want to do is win.
That kind of team suits me perfectly. I’ve always been a flying-under-the-radar sort of person and I try never to cause havoc if things are bad. I think it’s important to stay low-maintenance, and never think that you’re any more important than the other team members, even though it’s the driver who gets most of the glory. I’ve had teammates who don’t stick around long because they’re high maintenance, and that just doesn’t fit in well with the Ganassi environment, because it starts hurting the team spirit.
So I love my job but it’s Chip, the management and the engineers who’ve allowed me to do what I love doing up at the front of the field. OK, occasionally I’ve had to carry a bad car to a good result, but there are times when I’ve made a mistake and thrown a good car in the wall. Basically, we all depend on each other to do a good job or we’re not going to win. So if we do win, everyone deserves credit.
The team’s pretty proactive, not afraid to make changes. If there’s an issue and someone needs replacing in a certain role, the guy who’s swapped out is still retained and has an opportunity to prove himself and come back. I know other teams where if you make a mistake, you’re worried about getting the axe altogether, and in that situation, you end up making more mistakes. I think the Ganassi environment is one of high standards, but it’s not threatening. I’ve obviously got a great relationship with Mike Hull, Barry Wanser and Scott Harner at the management level, but I’d say half my crew guys have been on the team since 2003. We all know each other. So personnel-wise, there’s a lot of continuity which is a nice thing to have when they’re the right people.
But the kind of contrast is that Chip isn’t afraid to change partners on a technical level if he thinks there’s another way to go. Going from Reynard-Honda, after four straight championships, to Lola-Toyota for 2000; going from Lexus to BMW to Ford in sports cars; and then even last year in IndyCar – we won the title with Honda but we switched to Chevrolet for this year. Maybe that shows Chip’s roots. Obviously he’s a smart racing businessman, but there are times when I think he also follows the old race driver’s instinct – looking for the “Next Big Thing.” That’s why he signed Kyle Larson to the NASCAR program, why he’s got Sage Karam in the books.
The important thing is that Chip does his research beforehand. He’s methodical. When he was considering the switch to Chevy for IndyCar this year, he sat down with engineers and mechanics to ask about the differences in engine installation, and he asked us drivers what we’d heard about the differences in the drivability of the two engines, and so on. And you’ve got to say, his approach works. Look at the Ford program in sports cars – a win in only its second race, and it’s a big one, the Sebring 12 Hours! That’s impressive.
I like Chip’s attitude as a racer. As you go through categories, you sometimes encounter team owners who don’t seem to have enough fight in them or the determination. But Chip cares; one bad practice session and he wants an explanation! I know that sounds as if he’s a tough boss, but actually I love that: I want to drive for someone whose will to win is the same as mine. And you only need to look at the team’s record – championships, Indy 500s, Daytona 500s, Daytona 24 hrs – to realize that Chip’s way of doing things is the right way if you want to be a consistent winner. Well I want to be part of that and I think we’ve achieved a lot together…although when we’ve had bad years, like in 2004 and ’05, I was glad we had a contract that got me through! Despite all the winning Chip’s done already, the desire to do more and stay on top just hasn’t diminished. That’s what I respect the most.
Chip has a soft side too: he was very quick to look after and encourage Dario [Franchitti] after his accident at Houston, and he’s been supportive of the families of Tony Renna and Dan Wheldon, even though Dan hadn’t driven for him for three years when the accident happened. He may have moments when he’s fired up and if you say something he considers wrong, he can have a way of snapping back. But he’s very, very loyal, and will back you to the hilt. And I know there are charitable things he does which he gets no publicity for and doesn’t want publicity for.
Did Chip give you all that B.S. about just being lucky to achieve all his success? Yeah, don’t listen to it, man – the guy just can’t handle praise. For his team, yes, but for himself, no. He’s smart and very focused, and if it’s not something that makes the team more successful he won’t waste money on it. Obviously, this is one of the better-funded teams, but Chip spends the dollars in the right areas. There wasn’t the necessary budget to run a fourth IndyCar last year, so he wasn’t prepared to compromise the efforts of the other cars by overstretching the team, and the same’s true of the sports car campaign: the 01 runs full-time and when there’s enough money to run the 02 car, he runs that, but when there isn’t, he doesn’t.
That’s why he’s still around; you look at how many teams have come and gone since Ganassi started, sometimes because they were run by people who got carried away or wanted to believe the check was in the mail from the big sponsor, who then turned out to be a flake. Chip’s partnership with Target has lasted 25 years for a very good reason; it’s there in the results.
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