Commentary

New Zealand's Dixon finally lands himself on IndyCar Series map

Scott Dixon is far from the most-hyped driver in the IndyCar Series, likely because he is one of the quietest. There will be no hiding behind that exterior calm after a dominating Indy 500 victory, writes John Oreovicz.

Updated: May 25, 2008, 9:20 PM ET
By John Oreovicz | Special to ESPN.com

Scott DixonRobert Laberge/Getty ImagesScott Dixon got to taste the milk after dominating most of Sunday's 500-mile race.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Scott Dixon likes to keep a low profile, and he has often been referred to as the quiet man of the IndyCar Series.

Victory in the 92nd Indianapolis 500 is going to blow his cover.

After establishing himself and Target Chip Ganassi Racing as the overwhelming favorites in the two-week buildup to the race, Dixon delivered by leading 115 of 200 laps to take a relatively unchallenged win over Vitor Meira and Marco Andretti.

The 27-year-old New Zealand native who now resides in Indianapolis gave Chip Ganassi his first Indianapolis win since 2000, when Juan Pablo Montoya triumphed at The Brickyard.

Dixon may be a man of few words, but that doesn't bother team owner Ganassi.

"He's been like that forever, ever since I've known him," Ganassi said. "At first, quite frankly, I didn't think he was that excited about racing. He won so early in his Indy car career, and people confuse that quietness with caring about things.

"What it is, it's a quiet confidence. It's sort of his trademark, and that's a powerful tool."

On Sunday afternoon, Dixon was forced to come out of his shell to start what will ultimately be a monthlong media tour to promote his Indy victory. When you're an Indianapolis 500 winner, people want to hear about how it feels.

"I was shocked, almost dumbfounded," Dixon said. "It's such a strange feeling. I don't show emotions too much and it's almost like you are in a dreamland. It's kind of crazy. It's like you're waiting for someone to pinch you to wake you up when you're sleeping in your bed back home.

"I was definitely yelling a lot in the radio and punching my fist in the air and I think I almost took out three cars on the cool down lap. The last 30 laps you feel quite alone out there, thinking, 'It's down to me, I hope I don't mess up.' It is such a special moment, but all you want to do is get back to the pits and see the people who helped you get there."

Since breaking into the CART Indy car series with PacWest Racing in 2001, Dixon has been one of the most consistent performers on the U.S. scene. He won a CART race as a 20-year-old rookie, establishing the record for youngest Indy car race winner (since broken by Marco Andretti and in turn Graham Rahal), and he won five races and the IRL IndyCar Series championship on his first attempt in 2003.

A couple of lean years with outclassed Toyota power followed, but once all IndyCar competitors were supplied with Honda engines, Dixon regained his front-runner status in 2006.

Although he ultimately lost the 2007 IndyCar Series championship to Dario Franchitti, Dixon has been the hottest driver in the series for the past 11 months, with six wins and 11 top-three finishes in the past 14 races.

"It goes back to last year, when we won three races in a row and [nearly] chased down Dario for the championship," Dixon said. "That's when it started and we've carried on that confidence level even though we didn't come away with the championship. That combination, along with more determination, is what has helped us this season."

But until Sunday, Dixon had never found real success at Indianapolis. His worst moment came in his first Indy start, when he spun and hit the pit straight wall while running under caution. And last season's second-place finish behind Franchitti in the rain-affected 2007 race didn't resonate well with the New Zealander.

"The race last year was kind of a strange day," he said. "When I finished second I still didn't feel like I had done it. It was a day of strategies, just kind of a blah day and nothing really came out of it for me.

"This is sweeter than winning a championship because you work for three weeks and it comes down to one day when you have to make everything happen. The '03 championship was a bit of a shock -- I didn't like ovals much at that point and we didn't have the car to have.

"This is much sweeter because we know now how much work goes into winning this race."

The Indy victory was by far the biggest individual achievement of Dixon's career, but it came as no surprise to those who have followed his time racing open-wheel cars in America.

"I remember seeing him in go-karts and saying, 'This kid has a lot of talent,'" said Mauricio Gugelmin, Dixon's teammate at PacWest for the 2001 CART season. "I've never seen anyone as quiet as he is, but he has a great sense of humor behind him once you start bringing it out. He was also a remarkable teammate in terms of speed and doing the job and total focus."

The polished and experienced Brazilian was considered the perfect mentor for bringing along a young charger, and Gugelmin still thinks highly of Dixon.

"In racing, a lot of the kids come in and think they just have to be fast," Gugelmin said. "But there are so many other fast kids that there are other things you have to do as well that are important to a race team.

This is sweeter than winning a championship because you work for three weeks and it comes down to one day when you have to make everything happen.

-- Scott Dixon

"What I liked about Dixon is he was somebody that wouldn't BS you. He would just be straight and he wouldn't hide anything. That shows maturity. I could trust him 110 percent, which wasn't always the case with some of my other teammates."

PacWest team manager Russell Cameron was also impressed with Dixon.

"Scott was great -- so dedicated, so committed, so talented," he said. "One of the great memories was Dixon really battling the Penske team head-to-head at Laguna Seca in 2001. Dixon and the team did a great job and Scott was battling Gil de Ferran. That's no small accomplishment for a rookie and those Penske Reynards were awesome cars."

Chip Ganassi took note of Dixon's performances and he didn't hesitate when he had the opportunity to sign him in mid-2002. Once Ganassi switched his open-wheel team's focus full-time to the IndyCar Series in '03, Dixon has been one of the sport's most consistently successful drivers -- not that you would know it.

Until this year, Dixon was rarely featured in the IndyCar Series' main promotional efforts. Now that he's an Indy 500 champion, that's about to change. He'll be heavily featured in the rotation along with Andretti, Helio Castroneves, Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick.

But anyone who knows Dixon is aware that winning the Indianapolis 500 and the promotional responsibilities that come with it will not distract him from giving his best over the remainder of the season.

"We've got another championship to win this year and it starts this week at Milwaukee," he said. "2003 was a long time ago.

"We're going to have great memories from this day and we'll treasure them for sure. But our focus is ahead on winning races and another championship."

IndyCar Series competitors and public relations staff: You've been warned.

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.

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