Scott Dixon remembers winning his first IndyCar race more than two decades ago, back when the only thing he cared about was keeping his job, and the thought of having his name someday mentioned in the same breath as A.J. Foyt, the Unser family and Mario Andretti seemed downright laughable.
“There's some numbers that are achievable,” Dixon explained, “but I think when you look at even getting to the Unsers, then Mario, this sport can be super tricky. You can be in it one minute and out the next.”
All these years later, Dixon is still in it.
Near the top of it, too.
Dixon ended a 22-race winless stretch — a maddening eternity by his standards — when he held off pole sitter Colton Herta on a late restart to win Sunday's return to the road course in Toronto. It was Dixon's 52nd win in the series, all but that first with Chip Ganassi Racing, and it moved him into a tie with Andretti for second on the career list.
Foyt is the only one left ahead of him, though even Dixon acknowledged his 67 wins might never be touched.
“Probably have to be racing well into my 50s for that one,” said Dixon, who turns 42 on Friday. “It's hard. The competition's really tough right now. Even the luckiness of pulling strategies — if you have a bad day, pull off a win from weird cautions and things like that — it gets a lot trickier because there's so many good teams now. You have a field of 25 or 27 every week that they're going to be thinking the same ultimate strategy.”
That wasn't necessarily the case back in 2001, when the 20-year-old New Zealander earned his first start for long-defunct PacWest Racing in Mexico. He led 14 laps that day in Monterrey, which merely foreshadowed his day two races later, when he became the youngest winner in CART — a predecessor to IndyCar — and went on to finished eighth in the standings.
Dixon joined Ganassi's team the following year, won his first championship in 2003 and never slowed down: He's won five more, the most recent in 2020, along with the 2008 Indianapolis 500 and more close calls too numerous to count.
That included this year's edition, when he started on the pole at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and led a race-high 95 laps before his hopes of a second win came tumbling down. He locked up his tires on a pit stop 25 laps from the end, was forced to make a drive-through penalty for the mistake and saw his milk-splashed dreams end in disappointment.
Making it even worse? It continued a winless streak that stretched back to the May 2021 race at Texas, and as more weeks went by, the critics and cynics began to wonder whether “The Iceman” still had the goods to win in IndyCar.
“There's definitely people that kept talking about it, which gets a bit frustrating,” Dixon acknowledged. “It's not like anything changes. We are still the same process, trying just as hard. Again, I think in this sport you always think about those close misses that you had more than the actual victories. Can be a bit sad in some ways.”
There was nothing to be sad about Sunday.
With his family watching, and after a turbulent week in the Ganassi garage, Dixon spent almost the entire day running near the front. And when a caution flag flew 18 laps from the finish, and Herta thought he had a chance, Dixon quickly dashed it by opening up a big lead on the restart over the bumpy, challenging circuit at Exhibition Place.
"He’s a great guy off the track, very respectful, but I really care about how he is on the track," said the 22-year-old Herta, who was still in diapers when Dixon won his first IndyCar race. “He never puts you in a crappy situation where you have to make a choice of hit the wall or back out of a pass or something like that. He's always been very fair to me, which I respect, because some guys haven't, especially when you first come into the series.”
Maybe because Dixon remembers being one of those youngsters so long ago.
“He's like, the ultimate role model for younger drivers out there,” added 30-year-old Felix Rosenqvist, who finished third on Sunday. “I mean, I don't know how old he is now, but just shows if you want something, you can do it. No matter how old or how bad of a season you have, you can always come back if you want it bad.”
Dixon proved Sunday that he most certainly wants it. The win in Toronto gave him 18 straight years with at least one, and his fifth top-5 finish this season moved him into fifth in the championship chase with seven races to go.
“We’ve had loads of top-5s, but they’re not going to win you a championship. We’re in the business of winning, right?" he asked. "That's where it gets frustrating. You see the close misses. Indy is a good example, a good example for several years. It’s a team effort. I made a big mistake this year. Definitely frustrating. I think you start to hit a bit of a bottom-out.
“When you’re on a roll,” Dixon continued, "you just think it happens, it’s easy, stuff like that. You maybe don’t really respect it as much. There are low points. I’ve had these periods in my career just where you have to be really respectful of the sport. When it comes, you got to be extremely happy about it.”
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