It was nothing less than a thrill to stand inside the one-mile Phoenix oval and watch as Mario Andretti scored what would prove to be his final IndyCar win back in April of 1993.
The 54-year-old living legend defied time and age that day, and here we are, decades later, as the same scenario is happening with Scott Dixon. The greatest IndyCar driver of the modern era, days away from his 42nd birthday, just matched Mario with 52 victories after romping to an uncontested win at Toronto while showing no signs of slowing down.
Even better, Dixon’s win wasn’t a gift or the byproduct of adversity for others. Passing took place all through the 85-lap race, but once he demoted polesitter Colton Herta on lap 18, the Andretti Autosport driver had no response to the New Zealander who controlled the gap with ease until the checkered flag.
On a slippery and winding street circuit that often bites and bites hard, Dixon—the master of managing oversteer—was in his element as the pilot of the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda made error-free speed from start to finish. The 41-year-old was truly in his element on Sunday as his peerless car control and unmatched skills at conserving fuel without losing pace were the keys to reaching victory lane.
Of all the ways to draw even with Andretti, doing so while demonstrating what makes you different and more successful than everyone else in the field added the perfect touch.
Dixon’s dear friend, former rival-turned-teammate Dario Franchitti, stayed connected throughout the weekend from New York where he commentated on the Formula E race. While logged into the team’s communication platform, the Scot listened to the Kiwi’s radio transmissions as he dealt with a tail-happy car and had a good laugh at the exchanges.
“The car wasn’t easy to drive,” Franchitti told RACER. “He said on a number of occasions that it was a bit loose. For him to say that was something… I had a chuckle at that, because loose for him is uncontrollable for everyone else. The boys did great pit stops and then he had to make a bit of fuel. It was a strong performance. He’s been threatening all year and it just hadn’t, for one reason or a million others, come together, so it was mega to see it, and to tie Mario — God, how special is that?”
Before he joined CGR in 2009, Franchitti got a feel for the competitive fire that lives within Dixon. Ask the great race car drivers why they eventually retired and most will tell you that they lost the spark to attack every lap with the ferocity that came so easily in their youth. For someone who’ll turn 42 on Friday, it’s readily apparent that Dixon’s inner motivation continues to rage.
“I think one of the most impressive things about Scott is his will to win,” Franchitti said. “I knew that watching him as a rookie, actually, which was quite annoying! I saw that when he first came into the CART series. I saw it as a competitor going against him at different teams, and now I’ve seen it working with Ganassi in my current role.
“And it’s probably even more impressive to know that he’s got all the success in the world, which would allow him and other people to maybe back off the gas, but he just doesn’t. And obviously, I saw it as a teammate, when my job might not have been to help him quite as much as I help him now, but you know — that will to win, and that ability to learn from all the people around him… That, along with this clear, incredible talent, is very special.”
As far as turbulent weeks go, it was a busy one as the Ganassi team arrived in Toronto with nothing but distractions created by CGR’s reigning IndyCar champion Alex Palou, who signed contracts to drive for his current team and with Arrow McLaren SP next year. Franchitti was not surprised to see Dixon, who possesses a steely mental approach to the sport, rise above it all and tune out the noise when it mattered.
“Trust me, he’s been through a lot more distracting situations than this in his career,” he said. “And he just has that ability to like to take whatever is going on three minutes before he gets in the car and say, ‘Never mind,’ and just switches off and gets on with the job.
“That’s one of the things, I think, that astounded me. I wished I could have done it more when I was driving, but I couldn’t. I had to prepare for a long time in advance and he literally just stops what he’s doing, whether that’s sleeping or eating something or having a chat, and he just goes, ‘OK,’ jumps in the car and does what he did today.”
Beyond the amazing feat of tying Andretti, an equally remarkable achievement has been reached with Dixon producing 51 of those 52 wins with the same Chip Ganassi Racing team. A.J. Foyt, the all-time IndyCar win leader with 67, sits far ahead from Dixon with the overall number, but those 67 were spread across a variety of teams with the greatest amount—35—belonging to one team.
CGR managing director and Dixon’s race strategist Mike Hull has been there for the 51 and says the era of spec racing where those wins have been delivered is worthy of additional praise.
“What Dixon’s achieved is unique because over the last 20 years, over that span of time, we’ve gone to spec cars that are certainly much more limited in how they differentiate performance,” Hull said. “Everybody in Scott’s era has effectively been in the same car, the same or equal engines, more or less, and if you look at the people that he’s raced against over the years, they’ve all really been categorically good.
“Not that they weren’t in those older days, but the difference between the guy in first and the guy in 20th now is invariably small in ways that they weren’t before. And in terms of our team itself, I think it’s a huge achievement for everybody that’s partnered with us over those years to make that happen for Scott. That’s all the team members — all of them, not just the ones that have been on his race car — and all the partners and all the people who’ve contributed to our global success. There’s a lot of people who’ve been part of the 51 wins who deserve acknowledgement.”
I bet there are thousands of IndyCar fans who wish they could go back in time to 1993 and watch Mario tear around Phoenix and score his final win, or head to Pocono in 1981 when Super Tex recorded his 67th victory. Who knows where Dixon’s last win will be authored, but rest assured it wasn’t at Toronto in 2022, and that’s the gift I hope IndyCar fans allow themselves to receive. There’s no need for a time machine to celebrate the great moments from IndyCar history because they’re happening today. Dixon has no plans to retire as he chases a record-setting seventh championship and that elusive second Indianapolis 500 win.
Get out to an IndyCar race. Make sure you’re able to say you saw one of the all-time greats write more chapters in an illustrious career. Thanks to Dixon’s undiminished fire, we have more to witness.