51 years ago this November, after a grueling 21-race championship with races as diverse as the Indianapolis 500, Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, and four dirt ovals, the legendary A.J. Foyt wrapped up the American open-wheel title, then run under the sanctioning of USAC. Holding off Mario Andretti by 80 points despite two DNFs in the final two races of the season, Foyt became open wheel racing’s first five-time champion in the United States.
It took the country 51 more years to find another one. This time, he hails from New Zealand.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon may still need to track down two more IndyCar Series titles before he can officially tie Foyt, who added two more in 1975 and 1979, but a lot of prognosticators might be willing to take that bet. Still just 38 years old, Dixon has an 18-year IndyCar resume that is by far the most accomplished in his era of competition, and he’s shown no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
The Kiwi climbed through the racing ranks quickly on his natural talent, claiming Formula Vee and Formula Ford titles in New Zealand and the Australian Drivers’ Championship in 1998. With the support of investors who pledged over a million dollars in Dixon via a company founded to support his endeavors, he would later cross the Pacific Ocean to spend two years in Indy Lights, winning the 2000 series title for PacWest Racing and earning a promotion to CART the next year.
But despite winning his third career CART race, Dixon’s career appeared poised to come to a halt in 2002 as the rebranded PWR was set to fold. But engine manufacturer Toyota realized Dixon’s potential, moving him to a third car at Chip Ganassi Racing, where he’s been ever since.
The team moved over to the rival Indy Racing League in 2003, and Dixon exploded onto the scene with three wins in the first seven races, and four runner-up results in the last eight. Those results were good enough to hold off Team Penske’s Gil de Ferran by 18 points for the championship. Held back by flagging engine and chassis performance the next few years, it wouldn’t be until September 2005 that Dixon would take another win.
After Honda took over as the series’ lone engine provider in 2006, and CGR permanently abandoned the Panoz chassis for a Dallara for 2007, the stage was set for Dixon to dominate. Since that season, he’s only missed a top three spot in the championship once, in 2016. To date, 2002 and 2004 are Dixon’s only winless seasons; he earned his first Indianapolis 500 win in 2008, and boasts victories on a majority of the tracks on the IndyCar schedule.
Dixon’s endeavors haven’t just been limited to IndyCar, either. He’s a three-time class winner of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, including two overall victories in 2006 and 2013. After following that second overall win up with his third IndyCar title, Dixon won his second Sportsman of the Year award in New Zealand, to go with three Jim Clark Trophies and two Bruce McLaren Trophies already earned in his home country. It’ll be no surprise if a third is forthcoming later this year.
For now, though, Dixon can sit content through another offseason with his place in the IndyCar record books firmly established. He surpassed Michael Andretti on the all-time wins chart earlier this year, and now sits third with 44 wins, trailing only Foyt at 67 and Mario Andretti at 52. In an era where competition is so closely matched (six different drivers won the first eight races of the 2018 season). it’s a true testament to Dixon’s talent that both of those numbers seem to be within his reach.