Scott Dixon just wanted a quiet, celebratory beer with wife Emma and former IndyCar star Dario Franchitti.
There was no chance the soft-spoken driver from New Zealand could slip unnoticed into the hotel bar after a milestone win at Long Beach last weekend, much to his dismay.
“Scott came over for the first time and everyone started clapping,” Emma Dixon said. “And Dario was like, ‘Yeah! Woo hoo!’ We were all encouraging it because it was fun but he was dying inside. I could see him, just knowing him so well, he was like, ‘Oh my God.’
“Instead of enjoying that moment he was like, ‘I just wanted to be here and have a beer after the race.”‘
Dixon may be chasing iconic IndyCar names like Foyt, Andretti and Unser on the race track. But out of the car, he’s always been more comfortable flying under the radar.
That’s harder to do these days for a driver who enters Sunday’s (Monday NZT) Grand Prix of Alabama in suburban Birmingham having just moved past Bobby Unser into sole ownership of fifth-place all-time in IndyCar Series wins with No 36 at Long Beach.
Dixon is now in pursuit of Al Unser Jr (39 wins) and Michael Andretti (42), followed by Mario Andretti (52) and AJ Foyt (67).
The 34-year-old Dixon didn’t always embrace the attention and the obligations like spending time with fans signing autographs. He was just more comfortable behind the wheel, saying he was called a “phantom” starting out in CART.
“I just love racing,” Dixon said. “I understand that racing is a much bigger thing than that. It’s about the show, it’s about the fans, it’s about the sponsors. It’s about a lot of different things. I think the coolest thing about motor racing is the differences in personalities.
“For me, I am kind of quiet, I’m shy. I’m not boisterous in front of the camera all the time. I love to go out and race cars. I don’t chase the spotlight or anything like that.”
However, he’ll be among the drivers to beat at Barber Motorsports Park, where he’s had podium finishes in each of the five previous IndyCar races. Four second-place finishes and a third in last year’s rain-shortened race are nothing to be ashamed of, but do present some what-ifs.
Like most athletes, Dixon remembers the ones that got away.
“I think what you remember most is the times that you came close,” Dixon said. “Obviously, we’ve come close five times. Last year the race was shortened. I think had the race gone on, we were definitely coming on strong. One year we got caught in lapped traffic and Will Power got us on a pit stop exchange. There’s different scenarios that you remember that maybe annoy you a little bit.”
Dixon started the year with his second Rolex 24 win at Daytona, along with Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Tony Kanaan, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson.
Dixon is hoping he can follow other drivers like Franchitti and Helio Castroneves in racing well while pushing 40. Castroneves turns 40 in May. That kind of durability could let Dixon overtake a few more icons.
“Scott has a big, big abundance of talent and he has proven it over the years,” Bobby Unser said. “He wins driving on any type of course he races his Indy car on. Scott wins on ovals, big and small; street courses and road courses.
“I remember last year he came from dead last to win at Mid-Ohio. Dixon has talent and skill and will win races for years and years to come.”
And maybe he’s becoming more comfortable with the attention and public obligations off the track, if not barroom ovations. It’s something his far more gregarious wife is encouraging for her “super, super shy” husband.
Emma Dixon can point out the crestfallen looks on fans’ faces when they wait for autographs and he starts to bolt.
“He’s like, ‘Oh sorry, I didn’t even realize,”‘ she said, noting that he’s trying harder and enjoying the resulting smiles.
If Dixon is reluctant to toot his own horn, their little girls Tilly, 3, and Poppy, 5, aren’t so bashful.
“They just adore him,” Emma Dixon said. “We have to tell Poppy because we go to the grocery store and she’s like, ‘My Daddy is a really fast race car driver.”‘