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.

George Phillips

25 Responses to “Fans Should Learn To Appreciate Scott Dixon”

  1. I’m with you 100%, George. Scott is amazing, and I consider it a privilege to have seen a driver of his stature in person.

    Now, just to throw in a gratuitous Emma mention, as you so often do, let me make you a little jealous. Several years ago, 2010, I believe, or maybe 2011 I found myself sitting next to Emma on Friday, which is a general admission day at St Pete. That was back when his oldest daughter was just a baby. I remember Dan Wheldon standing there, playing cootchie coo with her. Funny thing was, I didn’t realize it was her when I sat down. Fond memories…..

  2. Doug Gardner Says:

    Agree 100%. And I agree as well. We are lucky to have witnessed just about all of those considered great over our racing viewing experiences. I think of that every May. This will be number 49 for me. Kudos George.

  3. Scott Dixon is one of the very best and why anyone would question that is beyond me. I have enjoyed watching him throughout his career and he is very easy to pull for and cheer on. When I make my Indy picks he is definitely considered.

  4. James T Suel Says:

    I agree Scott Dixon is one of the best of this crop of drivers. I dont think we can say hes one of the all time greats for the simple reason they are one trick ponys. I dont mean that in a bad way , these drivers do not compete in or win in other froms of racing. So i do not think he be rated with the AJ,MARIO, PANELLI AL AND BOBBY UNSER. All that may be because the guys now days cant go from one form to another. We may never know how good he is.

    • Dixon has 19 IndyCar oval wins and 20 IndyCar road/street course wins. To go along with that, he’s won the 24 Hours of Daytona overall twice (plus a second place), ran well in his three starts in an ALMS LMP prototype, and he’s even made noises from time to time that he’d like to try NASCAR, if only his schedule would allow a decent attempt at such a thing. I hardly think of that sort of resume as that of a “one trick pony”.

    • Preston Baus Says:

      James, on top of the points made by Speedgeek. SD has also been the champion of every series he has competed in: 94 Formula Vee, 95 Formula Ford2, 96 Formula Ford, 97 Formula Holden Rookie of the Year, 98 Formula Holden, and 2000 Indy Lights. I’m not sure you can put a more versatile skillet and resume together on any driver in history.
      Also, don’t forget SD has never bought a seat like half the field today, he earns it day in and out. Simply an amazing driver to watch, and I look forward to every race he is in….including the Le Mans this year!

  5. There is no doubt he is a very good driver. And if he drove for another team I could even be a fan.

  6. LurkingKiwi Says:

    Scott did actually manage to win at Watkins Glen in 2005 in the Panoz/Toyota, his affinity with the track overcoming the poor equipment. Then he went and threw away the 4th win in a row there with his signature move in 2008, crashing while scrubbing the tyres!

    • S0CSeven Says:

      I’m still laughing. George didn’t mention his “signature move”.
      I assume everyone in NZ knows that?

      • LurkingKiwi Says:

        No, that wasn’t a reference to his early career, but I’m always worried when I see him swerving under caution! He did it in his first 500 on the front straight (early Monday morning for us), Watkins Glen 2008 and maybe somewhere else.
        I was a bit tongue in cheek there, and I suppose his signature (not really a move) is fuel-saving – Mid-Ohio the other year was astounding.

  7. Ron Ford Says:

    George, I think you have become the Donald Davidson of blogsterville. Always well-researched stuff. I doubt if Scott Dixon cares one iota that a few folks find him boring. Here in Milwaukee we had a guy named Aaron who also quietly went about his job. But he was not someone you would bet against when he stepped into the batter’s box. Same with Dixon. In addition to IndyCar Scott always does well at the 24 hours of Daytona and at Sebring. I am sure he would do well at Le Mans.

    • Good news: we’ll get to find out how Dixie will do at Le Mans, when he goes over there in a couple months to drive a Ford GT in the GTE-Pro class. Given that he’s usually thought of as the quickest guy in the “all star” car Ganassi has run at Daytona the last bundle of years (with possibly the exception of the years that Montoya was in the car as well), I think he’ll stack up quite nicely.

  8. billytheskink Says:

    That Dixon gets remarkably little attention for being really, incredibly, undeniably, tremendously great is very puzzling. With so many he’s not loved and he’s not hated, he’s just there (winning, of course). He’s an all-time great, and will probably go down in history underrated based the attention he gets versus what he has accomplished.

    In 70 years, folks are going to be calling Donald Davidson’s show (I’m think he’ll be, like, a head in a jar then, but there’s no way he’s not hosting TTOGA) asking why he doesn’t tell more stories about this Dixon guy, who won all the races. 2086 will also be the year that Congress makes Jigger Sirois calls a federal crime.

  9. Bruce Waine Says:

    When voicing valid comparisons, one references and incorporates equivalent parameters upon which to base realistic/accurate findings, etc.

  10. Really hoping he wins at Lemans, even though the Ganassi / Ford program is a long shot.

  11. Ron Ford Says:

    A.J. Foyt and so many other “great” drivers began driving on dirt. Many of today’s IndyCar drivers likely began on paved Kart tracks.
    I see no reason to believe that today’s IndyCar stars would not have done just as well on dirt if that was where they needed to begin their racing careers. I know this is just wishful thinking, but I would dearly love to see IndyCar do a annual dirt track exhibition event.

  12. While Dixon isn’t my favorite driver (among the current batch, that mantle probably falls roughly equally to the trio of Hinchcliffe, Montoya and Newgarden), I definitely put Dixon in my personal top-10 of the sense of satisfaction that I feel when he wins a race. The guy is just uncanny when it comes to putting himself into situations where he can win races, and championships. Sure, some of this falls on his team’s shoulders, when it comes to pit strategy (although that strategy requires a lot of stuff like knowing when and how much to push in order to get back on the track in clear air, effectively saving fuel in order to stretch an extra lap while still driving quickly enough to not be vulnerable to attack, quick in and out laps, efficiently stopping on your marks, thereby saving your team tenths of seconds in pitbox because they don’t have to adjust from the exact spot where they set up, and on and on), but you can easily make the point that Tony Kanaan gets much the same treatment within the same team. In the time that they’ve been teammates, Dixon has outscored TK 5-1 in terms of wins, and has finished no lower than 3rd in the championship while TK has scored no better than 5th. So, yeah, while Dixon doesn’t always wind up making daring wheel to wheel moves for his wins (though he has also done that, when it’s been needed and/or possible), he usually puts himself in situations where it isn’t necessary to make such risky moves. As long as races are over distances and times longer than a drag racing quarter mile or an 60 second autocross run, things like strategy and tire and fuel conservation are going to play in. In EVERY type of racing. And Scott Dixon has consistently proven that he’s one of the best in the world at doing all of it. Yes, I said “best in the world”. I stand by it.

  13. One of the best ever. He’s the San Antonio Spurs of IndyCar.

  14. sejarzo Says:

    Never bet against Scott Dixon.

  15. ecurie415 Says:

    This is not a fan perception issue; he is just dull. Polite, thoughtful, gives a good answer to a question, but he is not what you would call “charismatic,” like TK, or Helio. Maybe too low key for his own good, but I bet he would rather pile up wins than a “most interesting loser” reputation.

  16. Jim Gray Says:

    Love the guy. No matter what type of track he is on he is ALWAYS a threat to win the race. How anyone can think he isn’t one of the best is mind boggling.

  17. […] I had read recently. As you may have seen a few weeks ago, after his victory in Phoenix, George at Oil Pressure had written so respectfully of Dixon’s many talents that you almost forgot he was an Helio fan. […]

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