Midweek Fixture: Is Scott Dixon our most unappreciated athlete?

By Dylan Cleaver

Scott Dixon celebrates winning the IndyCar Phoenix Grand Prix. Photo / AP
Scott Dixon celebrates winning the IndyCar Phoenix Grand Prix. Photo / AP

While the rise and rise of 18-year-old wunderkind 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 places 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.

Read more: Scott Dixon - The best IndyCar driver ever?

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.

GIVE 'EM A TASTE OF KIWI ...

Staying on the motorsport theme, here's the final race of the dramatic 1977 World Speedway champs from a miserable Gothenburg. Ivan Mauger... genius.

SPORTS SHAREMARKET

I'm buying... World Rugby

It feels strange doing this for an organisation I'm at best ambivalent about, but a hearty congratulations for refusing to accept the Six Nations governing body's pathetic sweeping of the Joe Marler "gypsy boy" comments under the carpet.

Marler will now serve a two-match ban and in all respects other than the initial wrong-headed outburst, he's carried himself admirably, admitting he was wrong and apologising both privately and publicly to the recipient, Samson Lee.

It is those around him who have tried to minimise racism as "banter" that have disgraced themselves.

I'm selling... West Indian cricket
What a time to sell, you say, right when they've won the men's and women's T20 championships. To the victor the spoils... or in this case, to the victor the spoilt brats.

I once had a measure of sympathy for the players, who have been badly led from the WICB administration and board, but that sympathy rapidly dwindled after their disgraceful cut-and-run from a tour to India in 2014. The sympathy-meter is now at zero after Marlon Samuel's arrogance and Darren Sammy's opportunistic "woe-is-us" spiel in the wake of their stunning 6-6-6-6 victory over England.

This should have been the launching pad for a revival of Caribbean cricket but sadly it looks like this generation of players care only about T20 and the riches that can bring.

The West Indies players get a third of revenue generated by their controlling body, which is more than New Zealand, yet contrast the attitudes of players like Chris Gayle to tests (he's played just 12 since Jan 1, 2011), with Brendon McCullum who, let's face it, could have gone fulltime to the millionaire's circuit some time ago, yet stuck around to play 101 tests in row for his country.

The West Indies have become a test disgrace, having won just five series this century against opposition that is not Zimbabwe or Bangladesh, losing 35 series in the meantime.

Perhaps when they get their game in whites in order, they can start mugging off to the world.

I'M READING ...

Nicely presented, restrained telling of the story of two lives intersected at a brutal junction.

MY LAST $10

This could be the penultimate column. Unless I collect soon I will bust the self-imposed $60 disparity limit between spend and collect. Nobody, except the mocking 'mentor' who sits on my left, will miss it.

Last month: A multi the Chiefs and Brumbies will beat the Force and Cheetahs respectively, India to beat the Bangers in the World T20 and South Africa to beat the Windies. I saw this as three dead certs and an iffy punt on the Proteas, which is kind of how it panned out (although India only beat Bangladesh by taking three wickets in the final three balls of the game to win by a run).

This week: A perfunctory cross-code multi that sees the Hurricanes beat a rapidly fading Jaguares (pronounced correctly only by collecting phlegm at the back of your throat and gargling for three seconds before finishing with r-r-r-ayes) with a halftime/ fulltime double, and the Swans and the Kangaroos to beat GWS and Melbourne respectively in the AFL. That may but probably may not boost the coffers with a $28 gross.

Total spent: $90 Total collected: $39.35

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