Perhaps no better venue exists for the continuation of Ryan Dalziel’s racing renaissance than Sebring International Raceway.
His wife, Jessica, is from Sebring. His father-in-law has attended races at the track for decades. He married into a Sebring family, people who know all the race winners and all the crazy infield stories. People who know people who know where the burned couches are buried.
After his first race at the track in 2005, Dalziel stepped out onto a balcony at what was then called the Chateau Elan (now the Seven Sebring Raceway Hotel) and gazed at the aftermath in the infield. “It was like World War III had happened,” he said with a laugh. “It’s calmed down a lot since then.”
In essence, that’s why the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts on Saturday is the fitting race for Dalziel to press forward with a comeback that began victoriously in January at the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
He never really went anywhere, mind you, but the past few years weren’t up to Dalziel’s standards. He raced just twice in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2020 and six times in 2019 — all for Starworks Motorsport — after a five-year run with Tequila Patrón Extreme Speed Motorsports ended in 2018.
Not surprisingly, that’s when the self-doubt surfaced.
“I’ve been vocal with this at times,” Dalziel said. “I wouldn’t have hired me during a couple of those seasons.”
He found his way back in January with an emotional victory for Era Motorsport in the LMP2 class at Daytona. He teamed with Kyle Tilley, Paul-Loup Chatin and Dwight Merriman for a triumph that couldn’t have been more timely or necessary.
“I’ve won Daytona twice now, and both times it’s been equally special but also personally very much needed,” Dalziel said. “When I won it in 2010, I was unemployed. That was a one-off race for me. It led to a full-season program with another team after that and a second-place finish in the championship that year.”
In 2018, Dalziel, an established, multi-faceted racer with a résumé that included the 2012 LMP2 win with Starworks in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, found himself scrambling to find work. He landed a part-time gig in the GT GTD class with Starworks, but he also began to feel uncertain.
“By no means do I think I’m old in the racing world,” said Dalziel, a 38-year-old native of Glasgow, Scotland. “But when you go through droughts, it’s pretty easy to doubt yourself. On the IMSA side, for sure, it’s been a tough few years for me since the Patrón deal ended, just trying to find some security and continuity.”
He found it with Era Motorsport, the Indianapolis-based team founded and operated by Tilley. The group brought its ORECA LMP2 07 to Daytona, qualified seventh in class, then chased down six competitors over 24 hours. The win hit the refresh button on Dalziel’s career.
“It was just a very good, very needed, very well-timed result,” Dalziel said. “It was more of a personal one. Kyle put a lot of hard work into the program, and everybody needed that one. It was definitely pretty special for all of us. But selfishly, it gave me that fire in the belly for endurance racing that I was missing the last couple of years. It definitely reignited all of those feelings about the reason I do this.”
His renewal now turns to Sebring with confidence gained from a team with which he feels comfortable — and successful.
“You always swagger a little bit more going into the next one after winning,” Dalziel said. “It’s one of those teams that has so many good ingredients. That doesn’t mean to say that it always works for other teams like that, but to me it was pretty evident very early on that it did work with this team.”
The site of 15 years of racing memories and volumes of wacky stories is the proper place to bury the doubts and celebrate the renewal. Sebring, welcome a member of your family. He’s back in more ways than one.
“I don’t care what athlete you are or what person you are, it’s impossible to say you don’t start having self-doubts, and I definitely had them,” Dalziel said. “I just kept plugging away. I kept thinking, ‘It’s going to change. It’s going to change.’ And then it did change. It was perseverance.”