The start of a new NTT INDYCAR SERIES season is underway this weekend with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding, but nothing has changed for Scott Dixon.
There is a race to win this weekend and a championship to pursue in the months leading up to the season finale Sept. 11. Sure, personal milestones figure to be achieved, but the driver known as the Ice Man is singularly focused as always.
It’s called chasing excellence, over and over again, and the ability to achieve it is part of what defines the legend from New Zealand. Dixon’s latest pursuit is at hand, and that excites him.
“For me, it’s why I enjoy the sport,” Dixon said Friday as the season’s first practice was held. “(INDYCAR) is never stagnant. You’re always chasing a target, whether it’s the race weekend or the weather conditions.
“It’s never exactly the same – it constantly evolves, which keeps people not stuck in their ways.”
Dixon is 42 years old and beginning his 23rd year in the sport, a correlation that illustrates how intertwined his life and career are. Last year in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, he passed Mario Andretti for second place on the sport’s all-time win list – he now has 53 wins – and the pursuit of A.J. Foyt’s record of 67 career wins is on.
Appropriate for Dixon, a new target is on the horizon — Tony Kanaan’s series record of consecutive starts (318 races). Dixon enters Sunday’s race (noon ET, NBC, Peacock, Telemundo Deportes on Universo, INDYCAR Radio Network) with 305 in a row, meaning he can tie Kanaan at this season’s 13th race – the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on Aug. 6 in Nashville – and eclipse him in the Gallagher Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on Aug. 12.
Like with everything Dixon achieves, it won’t mean as much in real time because he’s always focused forward, on the next corner, the next lap, the next race. Milestones, like much of the off-track topics, are to be talked about when the driving is done, he said.
“It really comes down to the main reason I got into motorsports – because I love (driving),” Dixon said. “I’ve always said, and (team owner) Chip (Ganassi) hates it, but he pays me to do the media and the other (non-driving) stuff. I drive the car for free (because) that’s when I feel the most at home, where I enjoy (my career) the most.”
Dixon won two races last year and finished fourth in the standings, a good season by the standard of most drivers but not good enough by his admission. He said Friday he spends more energy trying to understand why he didn’t win a race than he does enjoying what he and his crew have achieved.
Last season was an example of Dixon’s immense consistency. The victory in the Honda Indy Toronto extended his series records of most consecutive seasons with at least one race win (18) and number of overall seasons reaching victory lane (20). It’s almost unfathomable that three drivers competing against Dixon this weekend – Christian Lundgaard, David Malukas and rookie Sting Ray Robb – weren’t born when Dixon won his first series race at Nazareth Speedway in May 2001. Colton Herta, Devlin DeFrancesco and rookie Marcus Armstrong were barely a year old, or younger.
This will be Dixon’s third chance at a seventh career series championship, which would tie Foyt’s all-time record. Three times the New Zealander has started a season with a victory in the first race, although in none of those cases was the race on this 14-turn, 1.8-mile circuit.
For all of Dixon’s success in St. Petersburg – four second-place finishes and a pair of third-place finishes, including his championship-sealing drive in 2020 – he has never reached victory lane. He can’t explain it, but he isn’t consumed by it.
“If we knew we would have won here,” he said. “We’ve led a lot of laps here; it’s the strategy we’ve kind of missed sometimes. We’ve always had speed.
“We’ve had decent success, but we’ve also had seasons where (poor finishes here) put us in a hole somewhat (for the championship). I guess the short answer is, (winning) is definitely on the radar.”
A target is what drives Dixon. Maybe this is his weekend.