Not a lot of people expected Scott Dixon to be the man with the big trophy at the end of this season. (That would be Helio Castroneves, who sat atop the leaderboard for most of the year.) But beating expectations -- and living up to his own -- is how the 33-year-old defines his career.
This championship was different than my first. Ten years ago, I was 22 and not expecting it or understanding what we'd achieved. The win in 2008 was special because I got married in February, won the 500 in May and won the championship in October. It was one of those storybook years. This year had its ups and downs. After Indy we were eighth in points and not even in contention for the championship. So to get to the last race and actually pull it off, it was pretty sweet. You appreciate each one more, and the added factor of waiting five years between each magnifies them for you.
Trust me, I celebrated. Oh, I definitely jumped up and down. I'm just more of a reserved person; I like to let results speak for themselves. But this year I was probably more outspoken than I was in any other year with problems we had off the track and on the track.
Some of it was frustration. Especially with the penalty at Sonoma and the crash in Baltimore, it was how I thought IndyCar could improve what they were doing. I have learned that it is important to speak up.
The times I came up short always served as motivation for me. In 2007 we ran out of gas on the last corner, and in 2009 we were on the wrong strategy with the last half of the race to go and Dario [Franchitti] ended up winning. So you focus on those. Since 2006, we've been in the top three or four in the championship race every year and fighting for the title at the last race, so we've been successful. But you wish you had a couple more championships. As you get to the third or fourth year after winning one, you think that might have been the last time you will ever win a championship. You try to not think like that, but it's there. It's the not winning.
Teammates are the best competition. You race your teammate hard, but you know that person the most. You know what they've got and what to expect and how the team will play its role. Inner-team competition is the best you can have. When Dario crashed at Houston, it was tough. The biggest thing was that he was going to be okay. But going into the last race and having such a big fight with another very competitive team, you wanted Dario to be there. You want your teammate there to help push you.
His accident shows how far safety has come. It's the brutal reality. You have cars that go very fast, and sometimes you will have accidents when they connect in the wrong way. If you look at how horrific Dario's crash was, that's a good testament to the improvements they've made. If you look back at the '50s, '60s, '70s, drivers were losing great friends every two weeks. You still have the crazy crash that may be fatal, but it's becoming a lot less frequent. The seats themselves, the foams they use, the anti-intrusion panels inside the cockpits now -- the tub Dario sits in after that crash, it did everything it should have.
Getting back in the car is part of the job. Crashes are part of the business, and so you just have to block them out. In some of those scenarios, you hold your wife and kids a little longer. It does bring things into reality. But when you get the helmet on and get back into the zone, it's trying to get to the front as fast as possible.
There's a lot left to do. I'm not a huge stats guy. That's something to reflect on when you're out of racing. But even after three, I still want to win more championships, win more 500s. I was lucky enough to win it once. Dario and Helio have won it three times too. I have to start working on shortening up the space between mine.