Scott Dixon On Balancing IndyCar Championships With Having A Real Life

Illustration for article titled Scott Dixon On Balancing IndyCar Championships With Having A Real Life
Photo: Jonathan Moore (Getty)

This IndyCar season wrapped up on a high note for one of the sport’s fan-favorite veterans. Scott Dixon not only secured a difficult fifth championship, a distinction to set him firmly in the sport’s record books, but he and his wife Emma Davies-Dixon immediately leaped onto the road to promote a documentary of their life in motorsport, Born Racer.


Scott Dixon is something of an anomaly in the racing world. He has a record-setting number of championships, has won the notoriously difficult Indianapolis 500 race, and has finished first at the 24 Hours of Daytona multiple times. He’s spent eighteen years in both CART and IndyCar, and all but a year and a half of them have been spent with the same team: Chip Ganassi Racing. It can be argued Dixon is one of the best drivers in the world who has never raced in Formula One. It’s rare to see his kind of consistent success and composure on a starting grid.

“This was probably the most stressful championship,” the modest, soft-spoken 38-year-old New Zealand native said in an interview with Jalopnik. “This season started off really rough for us. We had really good speed but we made mistakes. We took the [championship] lead in Texas, very early in the season, and it started to dwindle away a little bit coming down to the final races. This one was definitely a big sigh of relief to get to the checkered flag in Sonoma.”

The start of his year was unspectacular. It took five races before he finished in the top three, at the Grand Prix of Indy, where Alexander Rossi had secured a firm hold on the championship lead. Wins at Detroit, Texas Motor Speedway, and Toronto aided his pursuit of another title, but that elusive fifth championship was never a guarantee with Rossi hot on his heels. Dixon’s lead over Rossi going into Sonoma was a mere 30 points—a number that could have easily been crushed by a poor showing at Sonoma.

He held second place for the entirety of the race. Rossi, who had qualified in sixth, ran into teammate Marco Andretti and had to battle his way up the field to seventh. At the double points race, it wasn’t enough. Scott Dixon crossed the line a five-time champion.

And it hasn’t gotten much quieter. Dixon’s wife Emma, an equally competitive sportswoman—she’s a former competitive track runner—told us it’s almost like the hustle and bustle of the season hasn’t ended: “Three weeks prior to the championship, I was like baby, if you win, let’s go to Vegas. And as soon as he won, this wonderful journey with the premiere and the press tour, we haven’t had time to celebrate.”

Born Racer is to be officially released on October 2, but the Dixons have been from New York to Los Angeles promoting it.

It proves to be a unique documentary in that it gives you a comprehensive look both at Dixon’s season and his home life.


“Some of the girls, when their husbands have a bad day, they can brush it off very quickly. They’re not really that bothered,” she tells me. “I kind of hate that I’m so competitive and into the career because sometimes Scott can brush off a bad day better than I can. I wish I was a bit more relaxed about that, but Scott likes that. He likes that I’m always pushing him.”

That family dynamic is easily the feature that makes Born Racer stand out in a voluminous lineage of racing documentaries. Normally, we only hear about the fast-paced life of the driver themselves, with their wives and children taking second stage. But not here. The Dixons—Scott, Emma, and daughters Poppy and Tilly—all take part. One minute, Dixon is lapping the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at over 200 mph. The next, he’s playing with his daughters on a quiet, sunny day at home. It’s a domesticity you’re not going to see in a film about racing.


“It changed some of the way I think about racing,” Dixon says in reference to the decision to build a family. “I’d get home after a difficult weekend and Tilly would be like, ‘do you want to play with horses or Barbies?’

“There’s probably an onus on a lot of people, thinking that people in a business like this slow down or don’t take as many risks when they have kids. I told Chip [Ganassi] I’ve got more mouths to feed so I’ve got more races to win, and he liked that.”


Emma noticed that same change in her husband. “He’ll walk in really uptight and really angry at his performance, very disappointed in himself when he’s had a bad day and didn’t get the most out of the race. The girls are massive daddy’s girls. They’ll climb all over him to play. Suddenly, I see him just forget about it. He relaxes. He kicks back. It doesn’t consume him for three days. He can go back to the track and start fresh again.”

It’s a unique aspect to focus on in a sporting documentary. The partners and children in a driver’s life often take second stage in movies like this, a mere mention of settling down in the midst of a career jam-packed with adrenaline. Born Racer strikes a compelling—and realistic—balance.


We see Dixon behind the wheel, yes, but there are just as many shots of Emma’s frustration with his car or performance, and plenty more of the entire Dixon family enjoying life together.

It was an important consideration for the Dixons when deciding to have a family.


“We put a big onus on the girls’ lives. It’s a very important aspect that we make sure that they’re not left at home often. They do travel with us, and I make sure we put a lot of effort on being a regular family,” Emma tells us. And the documentary shows it: the girls holding hands with their mom and dad on the pre-race grid walk, sitting on mom’s lap in the trailer.

Born Racer focuses largely on Dixon’s 2017 career, which serves as a frustrating counterpoint to 2018's success. We see Dixon’s terrifying crash in Indianapolis after he had qualified on pole position—and we see Emma’s reaction, her horror and fear, the tears of relief in the trailer afterward.


It’s a realistic documentary that doesn’t shy away from showing that racing isn’t always a tale of glory. Bitter disappointment is just as prevalent in a sport where only one man in a field of twenty-something can come bask in victory, and the rest have to wonder what it was that they did wrong.

Interspersed in the scenes of Dixon’s current life and championship are flashbacks to his history. Interviews with family are paired with footage of a young Scott behind the wheel of a kart. Dario Franchitti tells us how Scott Dixon is different than the rest of us, emphasizing Dixon’s ability to remain so calm under pressure that he can analyze everything about the car, his strategy, his competitor’s strategies—synthesizing that level of information in the midst of a race while still remaining lucid enough to drive wheel-to-wheel is a skill that many drivers never quite master.


And, of course, there’s a focus on the event that changed the way a lot of drivers and fans related to racing: Las Vegas 2011. Dan Wheldon’s death.

If there’s one area where Born Racer succeeds above all else, it’s the film’s refusal to shy away from the darkest and most difficult parts of racing. IndyCar is a sport where death and injury is still unfortunately prevalent and especially difficult, given that the drivers act like a big family. After Dixon’s Indy 500 accident, we’re shown a shot of Emma, distressed: “I thought it was my turn. I really thought it was my turn.”


And then, when she knows her husband is okay, there’s frustration. “We had a really good car!”

If you’re a massive Scott Dixon fan looking to get a play-by-play of his entire racing career, you aren’t going to get it in Born Racer—which doesn’t make it a bad film. This documentary serves more as a slice of life during the midst of what proved to be an incredibly difficult season, weaved with just enough history to give you a sense of this driver’s legacy to the sport and how he became the driver he is today. There are incredibly quiet family moments, but that just makes the portrayal of the driver all the more realistic.


It’s a realism that, I think, might appeal to a wider audience than just race fans. Viewers are going to get that adrenaline rush watching cars blow by the camera at hundreds of miles an hour, they’ll see what it’s like to race—and crash—at Indianapolis from inside the cockpit. They’ll see the raw emotion of it all. The film tells you what you need to know, but it’s not going to bog you down in intricate histories or complicated technical terms. It’s a human story as much as it is a racing story. Still, it’s likely to appeal more to race fans than the average viewer, those who’ve seen plenty of variations on the Daring Fast Driver Defies Death Like A Hero stereotype and are looking for a different angle to the sport they love.

In my eyes, that’s where Born Racer excels. Realism. This is a documentary that effectively balances on- and off-track moments to give you a full sense of what it’s like to be an IndyCar driver. It’s a film that race fans aren’t going to want to miss.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.


Nice write up. Really looking forward to seeing this and it sure sounds different and interesting based on it’s perspective.

Any idea on which online services this will be on?