SONOMA, Calif. — Scott Dixon said just one word over his radio, a four-letter expletive, as his car crashed off course on the opening lap of a critical championship race. He fell silent as track workers rushed to free Marco Andretti from an overturned car nearby, chaos all around him in the multi-car crash.
Dixon was not rattled. He maneuvered his car out of the dirt, wedged it around the accident scene and back onto the track, spraying a cloud of dust as he sped away,
The critical moment at the start of Portland's race two weeks ago could have erased Dixon's lead in the championship standings. Instead, he saved the season with a calm and steady fifth-place finish that has him in line for his fifth IndyCar title.
When the race was over, Dixon returned to his team transporter, changed out of his firesuit and nonchalantly leaned into a room of Chip Ganassi Racing executives.
"I need a new engine," the New Zealander said.
Then he left. He was met by a crowd of fans when he stepped outside, so he ducked back in to grab a handful of his race hats, then went back out to sign them and give them away. When he ran out, he took the orange PNC Bank hat off his head and gave that one away, too.
Just another race for "The Iceman," the skillful veteran who can be found stretched in the lounge of the team truck fast asleep 10 minutes before he has to climb into his car and drive 200 mph. His focus is laser like and this latest run at a title came during a season in which Ganassi downsized and Dixon was presented with outside job opportunities. He simply dedicated almost all his attention toward winning another championship.
"He's on a different level. Everything is about winning right now, and it makes him a bit boring," said Dario Franchitti, the retired IndyCar champion. "Away from all this, he's brilliant, can have a lot of fun. But right now he's just totally focused on racing."
Dixon saved his season in Portland by avoiding any damage to his car in the accident, then pulling out a strong finish. He takes a 29-point lead over Alexander Rossi into Sunday's season finale at Sonoma Raceway, a race worth double points. He simply needs a decent race to lock up the championship, which would move him within two titles of all-time leader A.J. Foyt (7).
Dixon already ranks third on the all-time win list and his 44 victories trail only Foyt (67) and Mario Andretti (52). He is without the question the most prolific IndyCar driver of his generation.
So what would another title mean to Dixon?
"It says that I did OK this year, if we do win, then we move onto the next year," the 38-year-old said.
Dixon, understated and even-tempered, is similar to his NASCAR contemporary Jimmie Johnson. Both Dixon and the seven-time champion are consummate at-track professionals with tunnel vision when it comes to racing and fitness, neither gets the proper recognition for their accomplishments and both have party personalities that are only occasionally seen.
It was Dixon who won the pole for last year's Indianapolis 500, then went to grab dinner with Franchitti at Taco Bell. The duo was robbed in the drive-thru, Dixon had a gun pointed at his head and he showed up at the track the next day as if nothing had happened. He was so nonchalant about the entire episode his publicist initially thought it was a joke.
Dixon didn't want to talk about the armed robbery, and at this time of the year, he doesn't want to talk about anything. It's a nuisance, not unlike his recent courtship during a contract year. Dixon has been with Ganassi since four races into the 2002 season and he's the longest-tenured driver with the organization. Dixon wins races, doesn't make any trouble for the team and does his job. He is exactly who Ganassi is referring to every time the owner uses his signature #ILikeWinners on Twitter.
"He's proven that he's not just a normal run-of-the-mill driver," Ganassi said. "I think on and off the track he shows that he is the man. He's the driver that if you were to take a stone and inject some brains into it, you'd chisel out Scott Dixon. He has the same desire to win today as he did when he came with our team, and I think that's impressive. He's a team player. He's always pushing the limits, and he likes to get the most out of any situation."
Dixon has recently shown more of himself to fans and recently unveiled the trailer for a feature-length documentary about him called "Born Racer," to be released Oct. 2. It will perhaps show more of the personality that Dixon keeps throttled while he's on the job.
When he finished signing autographs in Portland, his sweat-matted hair exposed because he'd given away his hat, Dixon headed to a suite alongside the track. He joined his wife there, as well as Franchitti and a host of friends. He grabbed a beer and settled in to watch a support race.
"It's right there in front of us right now, so that's what we're after," Dixon said. "It's on to Sonoma, we'll try to have the fastest car we can prepare, qualify where we can, put our heads down. That's what we can do."