Is Scott Dixon our most unappreciated athlete?
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Does New Zealand's IndyCar superstar get enough praise on home soil?
While the rise and rise of 18-year-old wunderkid Lydia Ko continued unabated at the first of five women's golf majors this year, a New Zealander about twice her age is staking a claim as one of our greatest sporting exports to much less fanfare.
Scott Dixon won the Phoenix Grand Prix, the second race on the IndyCar calendar, positioning himself nicely for a fifth run at a championship.
His 39th victory in the open-wheel class, placing him fourth on the all-time list. In all likelihood, by the time he takes the metaphorical key out of the ignition for the final time, he will have overtaken Michael Andretti (42) and will be battling Andretti patriarch Mario (52) for a spot on the front-row of legends with the out-of-reach AJ Foyt (67).
The Phoenix victory means that Dixon has won at least one race in each of the last 12 seasons, a record even Foyt couldn't manage.
Coming from someone who struggles with the concept of a lawnmower, let alone the wonders of high-spec automotive engineering, the following analysis may seem like it's coming from a place of limited technical expertise, but here goes anyway — Dixon drives cars bloody fast.
He drives cars bloody fast on short ovals, like the one at Phoenix; on long ovals like The Brickyard, where he won the 92nd running of the famous Indianapolis 500 and hopes to return to win the 100th running next month; on street circuits like Long Beach where he won last year and is returning to on April 17; and on race tracks like Sonoma, where victory last year sealed his improbable come-from-behind championship win.
You don't need to know the maximum plenum pressure between the turbo compressor exit and the inlet to the engine combustion chambers to realise that's pretty impressive.
Don't waste your breath on the "It's only IndyCar" argument, either.
For a start, there will be more than 235,000 people watching the Indy 500 this year; that's the equivalent of every resident of Tauranga and Dunedin seated around a track. Put another way, if the Blues get 150,000 people through the gate for all their home games this year, they'll be doing well.
It might not have the glitz and glamour of Formula One but it does have a hell of a lot more overtaking and, perhaps as a by-product of that, danger. In recent years Brits Justin Wilson and Dan Wheldon - both Dixon's mates - lost their lives. Dixon was just two cars ahead of Wilson when the unlucky driver was hit by debris from a crash further up the Pocono track last year and in terms of harrowing viewing, it's hard to go past the multi-car smash that claimed the life of Wheldon at Las Vegas in 2011.
If Dixon was just fast and successful that would be enough, but he's also humble. In a sport where drivers carry oversized egos like skiers carry oversized baggage, Dixon has remained remarkably loyal. Chip Ganassi took him on in 2002 when Dixon's Champ Car team went bust in the wake of the dotcom crash and he's stayed ever since.
The Manurewa-raised strawberry-blond is renowned as one of the smoothest, coolest operators under pressure. Perhaps it is that sense of calm, that undemonstrative approach, that sees him only rarely pop up on the radar of our sporting conscious.
Let it be said here then, that if Dixon was to walk away tomorrow, he'd walk away, quietly, as one of our greats.
- NZ Herald