Fans Should Learn To Appreciate Scott Dixon
When Scott Dixon took the checkered flag the other night at Phoenix, he won his thirty-ninth race in his IndyCar career that is beginning its sixteenth season. He is now tied for fourth with Al Unser in total victories. He currently trails only Michael Andretti (42), Mario Andretti (52) and AJ Foyt (67).
For those that think Dixon piled up stats against the Jack Miller’s of the IRL world, his win total started in 2001 as a CART rookie driving for PacWest Racing going up against the likes of Gil de Ferran, Michael Andretti, Kenny Bräck, Paul Tracy, Dario Franchitti, Alex Zanardi, Townsend Bell, Helio Castroneves and Jimmy Vasser.
When PacWest encountered financial woes three races into the 2002 CART season, Chip Ganassi brought Dixon into his stable and he’s been there ever since. In the remaining sixteen races that year, Dixon squeaked out ten top-ten finishes, with a best of second at Denver.
Chip Ganassi made the jump to IndyCar in 2003. Dixon won the season-opener at Homestead, on his way to a championship season that produced three wins and five second-place finishes. The next two years proved difficult for Dixon, as he was saddled with the woefully underpowered Toyota engine and the underwhelming G-Force/Panoz chassis. Dixon did well to scratch out a tenth place finish in points in 2004 and thirteenth in 2005.
For 2006, things were all different. Honda had driven Chevy and Toyota out of the series and was in the back of every car on the grid. Also gone was the Panoz chassis, except for the road courses at Watkins Glen and Sonoma. Dixon also had a new teammate in Dan Wheldon, who was coming off of a championship year with Andretti-Green. The changes worked. Dixon placed fourth in the points, winning races at The Glen and Nashville, along with four second place finishes.
In 2007, Dixon barely missed out on his second championship – finishing second to Dario Franchitti who was still driving for AGR. But it all came together in 2008 as Dixon won six races and finished second three other times en route to his second championship. He also won that year’s Indianapolis 500.
The 2006 season is the last time that Dixon finished any lower than third in the championship. Nine seasons have passed since then. In that time, Dixon has won three more championships, in addition to the one earned in 2003.
Oddly enough; thirty-nine race wins, an Indianapolis 500 victory and four championships have done little to endear Dixon to many fans. That is one of the biggest mysteries in today’s IndyCar world. What else does the guy have to do? While cementing his standing as one of the all-time greats on the track, off the track he is likeable, polite, pleasant, nice enough looking with a gorgeous wife and family and is a good team player.
For those that like a little controversy with their drivers, Dixon has been known to speak his mind rather candidly – like the time he accused Will Power of making “…somewhat of a d**k move” in a live televised interview a couple of years ago. He is funny, without being caustic. His normal demeanor usually finds him with a smile on his face, rather than a perpetual scowl that some drivers have.
Yet many fans find him boring and look upon him with disdain.
Is it because he wins too much? I get that. Most find it more appealing to pull for the underdog rather than the bully that wins all the time. If the Golden State Warriors set the total wins record this season (which is somewhat questionable after last night’s curious defeat to the Timberwolves) and then go on to win their second consecutive NBA championship, they’ll soon find themselves on the wrong end of cascading boos everywhere they go. Most outside of the New England area despise the Patriots. It’s always been popular to hate the New York Yankees and love the Chicago Cubs, who may finally shake the "lovable losers" moniker this season.
No one calls Dixon a loser. Now in his sixteenth season of IndyCar competition, he has had only three seasons in which he failed to win a race; 2002, 2004 and 2005. Many good drivers go an entire career without winning a race. They are tough to win, but Scott Dixon makes it look easy.
That may be what irks people the most – the seemingly little effort it takes to do what he does. On Sunday, my oldest brother and I were on the phone discussing the Phoenix race. He said it’s appropriate Dixon is now tied with Al Unser, because that’s who Dixon reminds him of. I have to agree.
Unlike his brother Bobby, Al Unser was never loud or outspoken. Sportswriters of the day dreaded his interviews because he said so little and most of his answers were one to two words. On the track, Al was never the hard charger that brother Bobby was. Al was more methodical and was smooth as silk with a race car. His driving style was deceptive and you’d tend to forget he was even in the race – until he somehow managed to get to the front. When he got to the front, he seldom would relinquish his lead. Sound familiar?
Al Unser’s Indianapolis 500 career spanned from 1965 to 1993, a span of twenty-eight years. By the time Unser retired he had driven in 332 races, won thirty-nine of them, won three championships and won the Indianapolis 500 four times.
Maybe it’s that last stat that is preventing many fans from embracing Scott Dixon. Maybe the fact that he has “only” one Indianapolis 500 win to go with his four championships lacks credibility for some fans. Seriously? Mario Andretti won it only once and his son, Michael, never won it. I don’t hear anyone saying that either of the two Andretti’s don’t belong among IndyCar’s elite.
In my mind, if Scott Dixon was to never win another race from this point forward – he has already done enough to be in the discussion of IndyCar’s all-time greatest drivers. Al Unser’s style was very similar to Scott Dixon’s. Both built reputations for smoothness, being able to save fuel and rarely wadding up a car. Like Unser, Dixon will take calculated risks, but will rarely throw a race away by making a bold move and sticking a car into the fence. If he doesn’t have a winning car, he usually knows it and will settle for second and not force an issue when he doesn’t have a strong enough car underneath him. That works out well for points at the end of the season and for the owner’s checkbook, but leaves fans yearning for flashy drivers that take undue chances, wanting more.
I consider myself very lucky. In my lifetime, I’ve seen some of the greatest drivers in history race in person. Just a smattering of the names I’ve had the honor to watch compete are AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Parnelli Jones, Dan Gurney, Al & Bobby Unser, Mark Donohue, Gordon Johncock, Johnny Rutherford, Rick Mears, Bobby Rahal, Michael Andretti, Al Unser, Jr., Nigel Mansell and Emerson Fittipaldi. More recently, I’ve gotten to witness Gil de Ferran, Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Dan Wheldon and Dario Franchitti race their way into the history books.
Some will disagree with this – some rather vehemently; but I would stack Scott Dixon up against the majority of those names and I could give you a good argument on why he belonged. AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti may be the two where my argument might come up short. Anyone else on that list, and I think Dixon’s body of work compares nicely.
So, to those that dislike Dixon because he’s boring or lacks pizzazz – you’re shortchanging yourself. You’re looking for a reason to dislike someone that just may not be there. Do yourself a favor and learn to appreciate what you’re seeing when you watch Scott Dixon behind the wheel of a racecar, while you’ve got the chance. He’s at an age where anytime, he could decide his legacy is safe and he no longer feels the need to keep putting himself in harms way.
I’m hoping Dixon hangs around at least another five years or so. When he decides to walk away from racing, one of these days his detractors will suddenly realize they were watching history in the making. But by then, it’ll be too late to appreciate the opportunity we all had to watch Scott Dixon do what he does best – win.