Flashback: Scott Dixon, the Ice Man with a love of speed gallery

Scott Dixon, centre, celebrates on the start-finish line with car owner Chip Ganassi, left, and Gregg Steinhafel, ...
AJ MAST/NZPA

Scott Dixon, centre, celebrates on the start-finish line with car owner Chip Ganassi, left, and Gregg Steinhafel, president of team sponsor Target, after Dixon won the 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500 auto race in 2008.

A dab on the brakes was all it took to cement a place in New Zealand's greatest sporting moments.

It was 29 laps from the end of the 2008 Indianapolis 500 in May 2008 – nine years ago this month – and New Zealand driver Scott Dixon made a pit stop.

Coming out of that pit stop Dixon was just ahead of eventual runner-up Vitor Meira. It was a lead Dixon would not lose.

Dixon drives through turn one ahead of Justin Wilson, of England, on the Kiwi's way to victory during the 92nd running ...
Tom Strattman/NZPA

Dixon drives through turn one ahead of Justin Wilson, of England, on the Kiwi's way to victory during the 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2008.

After the chequered flag had dropped and the milk flowed, a victorious Australian-born, New Zealand-raised Dixon told an Associated Press reporter that could have easily been the moment he lost.

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"When you're out front, you're a sitting duck ... I really would have preferred to be second coming out [of the pits]. But the team did a great job and I just had to deal with being up front."

Dixon crosses the finish line of the Indianapolis 500 in 2008.
DAVE PARKER/NZPA

Dixon crosses the finish line of the Indianapolis 500 in 2008.

The pit restart was "the pivotal moment for me", he said.

Leaving the pits, Dixon touched his brake for a moment, slowing the cars behind him, before shooting out and taking the lead, which he would take to victory.

"I think that gave us enough buffer  that Vitor couldn't get by.

Dixon kisses a brick at the start-finish line.
Jeff Roberson/NZPA

Dixon kisses a brick at the start-finish line.

"That was the key moment for me and I think that won the race."

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At home in Whitford, Manukau, veteran driver Ken Smith, who had mentored Dixon during his teenage years, knew the level-headed  27-year-old could take the chequered flag after that pit stop.

But he also knew that it was far from bagged. "At the end of the day with these cars you don't know."

The Borg-Warner trophy gets a kiss.
JEFF HAYNES/REUTERS

The Borg-Warner trophy gets a kiss.

It was about 5am New Zealand time when Dixon went over the line.

For Smith – no stranger to staying up all night to watch broadcasts of motor racing from around the world – there was a justifiable sense of pride.

"Nothing is won till you get over. I was over the moon ... it's like winning it yourself."'

Scott Dixon douses himself with milk after winning the Indianapolis 500 in 2008.
Darron Cummings/NZPA

Scott Dixon douses himself with milk after winning the Indianapolis 500 in 2008.

It was about 15 years earlier, when Dixon was 12 or so and racing Formula V cars around the tracks of Auckland, that Smith came across him.

Smith watched and mentored the youngster through Formula 4, then Formula Holden in Australia, then went with the young driver to America.

He recalls taking Dixon to test for a couple of teams. At one of the tests, Dixon took just seven laps to break the track record.

It was enough – with some cajoling – to get Dixon's career under way in the United States and on track to a cheque for almost US$3 million (NZ$3.82m).

The cheque that May in 2008 set a record from the richest purse in open-wheel racing history.

Dixon – known as "The Ice Man" for his cool-headedness – blew his cool after crossing the line.

"I don't normally yell too often, " he said. "But I was definitely yelling and I had a few four-letter words in there as well to the team. Winning here – it's like nothing else.

"I keep saying to people that's the funniest part of it because all you're wanting to do is get back to the pits and enjoy it with everybody else. You feel so alone out there on that [cool-down] lap, and all you can do is talk to them on the radio."

The world saw an elated red-clad Dixon – pouring milk over his head, kissing the trophy, on his knees – that day in 2008.

To Smith, who called Dixon the next day, the teenage protege was, as always, just a "down to earth guy".

"He's a good family man, he loves his kids and his wife. He has always been good. There are no airs with Scott."

The following day Dixon returned to the Indianapolis track but this time it was a more leisurely affair as he rode around the 4km oval in a white speedway bus at 65kmh, a speed Associated Press noted was about 290kmh slower than top speeds just the day before.

When Smith took a phone call from Fairfax this week, he was back at a racetrack mentoring other young drivers. 

The conservation is cut off by a deafening scream as promising 15-year-old driver Liam Lawson tears by. Then another roar with another teen behind the wheel.

When the sound dies: "Are these the future Scott Dixons?"

"You never know with these kids," Smith said. "It's hard these days without the money."

 - Stuff

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