Scott Dixon's All-Time Great Career, In His Own Words

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On Scott Dixon's All-Time Great Careerillustration by Tim Marrs
scott dixon indycar imsa career
illustration by Tim Marrs

In the century-plus history of American open wheel racing, just two drivers have won more than four championships. Those same two drivers sit at the top of the all-time wins list, and those same two drivers also have a couple of wins in the 24 Hours of Daytona for good measure. They are AJ Foyt, arguably the greatest racing driver ever, and Scott Dixon, who makes a strong case as the best U.S.-based racing driver of the 21st century.

Foyt is one of two drivers in history to win both the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the only one to ever win them in the same year. Over the next four weeks, Dixon has a real shot to repeat that feat.

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As IndyCar fans already know, the 43-year-old Dixon's reign has been one of consistency and unwavering confidence. Surprisingly, Dixon himself described his driving style to Road & Track during an interview at the 2024 24 Hours of Daytona as "aggressive, angry a little bit," adding that while "Most steering traces are nice, mine will be kind of erratic."


Dixon's 27-year-old teammate Alex Palou, now a two-time IndyCar champion himself after an incredible 2023 season that saw him never finish worse than 8th, has a simpler description: "Close to perfection, always." Palou, who works with Dixon in both IndyCar and sports car racing as teammates at Chip Ganassi Racing, tells Road & Track that Dixon maximizes the performance of his car consistently, whether that's over the course of a single stint, a single race, or an entire season. "There are other drivers that can be so amazing in one lap, but that doesn't make you a better driver. It makes you a fast driver. He's super fast, but he's always maximizing the performance of a car, especially over a season."

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Those aggressive inputs sit in contrast to a reputation for patience, an uncanny ability to save fuel, and for maximizing a car's performance without regularly putting himself in the situations that lead to crashes and other mistakes. He credits the fuel saving to preparation and car setup, decisions made in advance to allow him to extract as much efficiency from the car as possible during a stint. The patience, he says, comes from the early years in cars where he literally could not afford a mistake:

"A lot of that started in the early days when we had no money. My dad would say 'go win the race, but if you crash, this will be our last race,' so that would always be in my mind. 'Alright, what's the probability of this working?' I think once I got into Formula cars, having to think about crashing all the time was never fun but it was an interesting process to understand the pros and cons, whether it was just one pass or what a season's going to look like."

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Dixon's 57 wins are spread out over 22 different seasons, and his win in this year's Grand Prix of Long Beach ensured that he has now won at least one IndyCar race in every single one of the past 20 years. That is more consecutive seasons with a win than total seasons with a win for Mario Andretti, AJ Foyt, or Al Unser Sr. over their entire careers.

One of those championships sticks out over the others, not because of the quality of the season but because of the narrow margin of victory. Dixon says "the sweetest one was the really outside chance to beat Juan [Pablo Montoya] in '15 and that was a long shot. Everything kind of had to fall into place and the weekend didn't go that smoothly, we had an issue in qualifying. We had to win the race, we had to lead most laps, Juan had to finish worse than fifth or sixth. When you look back at that, to win it on a tiebreaker... Those ones feel sweet, just because you had such an outside chance of it."

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IndyCar is a unique sport, though, and there is one race that is equal or better than a championship. For all his success, Dixon has just one win in the Indianapolis 500. The race stood out to him in its perfection, but the strength of his run left him worried about some sort of impending disaster all the way to the corner after the race ended:

"I've had similar years like it, where everything just went well. We were fastest in over half the practice sessions, on the pole, won the pit stop competition, it's just like 'something has to go wrong.' I think that's the last 10 to 20 laps of that race, it was just horrible. You're thinking only about what's going to go wrong, like 'something has to go wrong.' And then you start hearing things, feeling vibrations, you think 'something's breaking.' I still went in turn 1 still flat, I didn't even know until the short chute on the other side."

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"It was wild, but I think the biggest sensation you get is relief. I'd only been with the team going into that race for maybe four years or five years, so kind of early for some people to get a win. But the amount of pressure, pressure comes with all of it and pressure is definitely something that's great because you should be, the opportunity to win. To go with a team like that and finally get a win, was pretty novel... That year, I don't know. We were just really good as a team and it was going to be hard to beat us on that day."

Fifteen Indianapolis 500s have been run since. Dixon has been on pole four more times, including a 2022 run that broke a 26-year-old record for the fastest pole run in the history of the race. Those races have ended in a wide variety of disappointments, including three runner-up finishes, a wild rollover crash, and a crushing speeding penalty from the lead on the final stop of the race.

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That, oddly enough, makes Dixon the rare driver who has unfinished business with the Speedway despite having won the race. It is a fate he shares only with Mario Andretti, the 1969 winner who ran 24 more "cursed" races without ever winning again. A poor performance by Chip Ganassi racing in qualifying leaves Dixon starting a career worst 21st, but he, along with fellow low-qualified Honda drivers Palou and Colton Herta, had a notably strong performance in traffic during practice sessions and could still factor into this year's race.

For all his on-track disappointment, the strangest bit of bad luck Dixon ever faced in Indianapolis came at a Taco Bell the night after he won pole for the 2017 race. He and former teammate Dario Franchitti were robbed at gunpoint in the drive-through. This, Dixon "honestly just thought was a joke" like the ones veteran drivers often pull on each other in the lead-up to the 500.

"I remember looking at Dario afterward and I said 'I don't think that was a real gun' and he said 'I'm pretty sure that was a real gun.' I kept waiting for, like, [Tony Kanaan] to come out of the bushes laughing... We had about $150 worth of Taco Bell because we were getting it for a large group of people, and by the time we got back after all the police, everybody had left so we had these giant bags of Taco Bell, just Dario and I. That was it."

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While Dixon's teammate Palou has not yet shared in either the glory of a 500 win of his own or the confusion of a robbery at Taco Bell, he has already shared in Dixon's misfortune while contending to win the Indianapolis 500. His misfortunes include damage in the pit lane, a poorly-timed caution that forced him to pit for emergency service, and the cruel fate of going head-to-head with Helio Castroneves in one of the most spectacular races in the event's 123-year history. Dixon recognizes the pattern all too well, but thinks Palou is well equipped to handle the disappointment and keep trying:

"I think it's part of the game. We're in a sport where you lose a lot more than you win, I think that comes at an early stage. I understand that some people react different, but I think Alex has a pretty similar temperament. It just wasn't your year, you'll figure it out but it actually drives you more. I see a lot of similarities there with him. It sucks, but it's also pretty cool to get to do what we do. You can't be all hitched on that situation."

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Palou and Dixon are two of the four drivers set to compete in both this year's 500 and the top class in this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans, something that has only become possible due to the explosion of cars and manufacturers competing in the top class. Both will share a Cadillac V-Series.R with two full-time sports car drivers, a first for Palou and just a second attempt in the top class for Dixon. Palou's first race in the car came alongside Dixon at Daytona this year, but Dixon has been running sports cars with Chip Ganassi Racing for over two decades.

He has won the 24 Hours of Daytona in an archaic DP-class prototype, a modern GT-class Ford GT, and an LMP2-based Cadillac DPi. Three of those four wins are overall, and he has another win as an endurance driver for Wayne Taylor Racing in the 2020 running of Petit Le Mans for good measure. Dixon says that he keeps coming back to the sports cars for the challenge, particularly in developing the car:

"I really enjoyed the process of [developing] the car, where there's a lot of things to define. A lot of the time they'll build these cars and they won't think too much about the driver, so even if it's stuff like ergonomics. It's fun to be a part of that process, especially because the IndyCar formula doesn't change much... Yes there's always still development and areas where you can do better and that process still continues, but with something like this, you might be working on 50 different things that are evolving at the same time."

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Dixon has been involved with V-Series.R development since the program's beginnings, but the fallout from Palou's high-profile scuttled move to McLaren kept the younger Ganassi IndyCar champion out of the car until Daytona this year. That left Palou to rely on Dixon more as a resource, and when asked if having an IndyCar teammate helped in his progress getting up to speed with the car, Palou made it clear that having this IndyCar teammate specifically was the key:

"I think it helps that it's Scott Dixon. If it was another one, maybe it would not help that much, but knowing that it's Scott Dixon helps a ton. Confidence wise, experience wise, knowledge wise. He's been through a lot. He's been through races where it rains, where it's super cold, where it's super super hot, where it's a good car, where it's a really bad car. He knows a lot more than I know, and that helps a lot whenever you ask a question, whenever you have something going on in your head."

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It is part of a relationship that is not exactly a mentorship, despite the drivers being 16 years apart in age. It is not quite the close friendship that Dixon had with long-time teammate and three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Dario Franchitti, either. The two are, uniquely, peers with similar racing styles and personalities that learn from each other. Speaking to R&T ahead of this year's 24 Hours of Daytona, Palou credits his ability to rely on Dixon as a major role in his championship:

"I was speaking with my dad at the bus while he was running and he was going by traffic very well. You could see on the camera. I said 'fuck, he's really good.' He said 'yeah, you actually learned a lot from him.' I think the credit to my 2021 and 2023 championship goes 50/50 to the team and to him. I think if you put me in 2021 with the same team and without him, the outcome would have been different. It's not one thing that he tells you of how to drive fast or how to save fuel, it's experience of everything and every aspect. How he works, how he thinks about the race, the questions that he asks to the engineers. It's more the mindset that he has than one thing that he tells you."

Both Palou and Dixon have a very real shot to win both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500. If the 27-year-old Palou, the current week-to-week IndyCar favorite, wins either race, it would be considered a likely outcome for a driver in their prime. If the 43-year-old Dixon wins, it could look like the capstone on a great career.

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What is so exceptional about Scott Dixon is that it might not be a capstone at all. At 43, he is still at the top of his game in two categories of racing. Not only are those big wins still possible, the last title and last 10 race wins he needs to pass AJ Foyt in the two most prestigious categories in championship American open wheel racing are still within sight. Dixon is third in the IndyCar championship right now, eager to continue a streak of finishing in the top four of the championship standings in 16 of the last 17 seasons. When asked about retirement, Dixon told R&T that it was "not currently" on the horizon. He has something keeping him going, and that something still has not faded.

"I enjoy it too much. Everyone asks 'why do you keep doing it,' and honestly for me, it's purely the fun."

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