Bidding wars and race drivers are rarely used in the same sentence – especially when we’re talking IndyCar drivers. A handful make decent money, a few others do OK, and then there’s a group that takes a percentage from its sponsorship to stay alive.
But because of the expense of operating an IndyCar along with pathetic purses and lack of seven-figure sponsors, owners haven’t had to fork out big bucks for years, and the glory days of big money when Honda and Toyota were buying drivers and teams are long gone.
Scott Dixon missed out on that manufacturer money train, and those days when CART teams raised millions of dollars through Target, Kmart, Texaco, Phillip Morris, Miller Brewing, Player’s and KOOL sponsorships. Don’t get me wrong, he’s made a good living for the past 17 years, but nothing like he would have earned in those CART heydays, and nothing close to his true value.
That’s why it was so damn cool, and so overdue, that there was a bidding war for the best IndyCar driver of the past two decades.
Zak Brown and Michael Andretti were very serious, and a couple major players in DTM and Supercars were courting the versatile 37-year-old Kiwi, along, of course, with Chip Ganassi. It’s exactly how big-time auto racing is supposed to work when you’ve won 44 times, earned four championships and conducted yourself with class on and off the track. And the fact Dixie chose to stay with Ganassi for an 18th season should tell you a lot about the guy.
In a cutthroat business where most owners only worship the almighty dollar and loyalty is laughable, Dixon decided to stay with the man and team with whom he’s built his legacy. And driving for Ganassi for a couple years, let alone 17, takes a special temperament because Chip can be a real, demanding pain in the ass. Scott somehow rolls with the punches.
Now, before we anoint our boy as a total saint, let’s be honest. The McLaren deal might have been for more money, but there were still too many unanswered questions to take a leap of faith. Maybe that’s why Scott supposedly signed a one-year deal with options, despite an announcement claiming a multi-year deal – to wait and see what’s around the corner. You’ve got to admit, a New Zealander driving for McLaren is about as historically pleasing as it gets.
But the ramifications of Dixon leaving could have been dramatic for the team that’s been on top since 1996. There was genuine concern inside CGR that if Scott left, Chip might shut down his IndyCar operation, and that would have been devastating to IndyCar.
As it is, sounds like the ‘ol Chipster opened his wallet to the driver whom he signed for pennies on the dollar when PacWest folded in 2002, and now ranks No.3 on the all-time win list and is closing in on Mario Andretti. And I’m pretty sure Honda’s affection for him also helped seal the deal.
It’s good for IndyCar that Scott is staying with Ganassi, because it keeps the balance of power intact, along with one of the major evergreen storylines, which is Team Penske vs. CGR.
With his unassuming personality, modest mantra and desire to stay in the background, he was probably a little uncomfortable having people fight over him and upping their offers if what we heard was true. At Mid-Ohio it was almost like asking him to brag to admit he had “a couple good offers”, because he’s simply a private person that never gloats about his successes or accomplishments.
But if anybody deserved to be honored with a bidding war it was Dixie, and I hope PNC Bank gave him his own branch.