The question has legitimacy. Dixon is the Andretti of his time, winner of six IndyCar titles and 53 series wins, three overall 24 Hours of Daytona wins, with one additional class win, and a podium at the 24 Hours of LeMans.
And both drivers have one Indianapolis 500 win each.
Bad luck and cursed were words associated with Andretti after his 1969 Indy 500 triumph. He DNF’d 16 times after his only win and placed in the top five just four times. A man with 52 IndyCar wins and a Formula 1 championship should have a better record at Indy than that, right? Just shows how challenging it is to win there. The same can be said for the New Zealand driver for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Dixon’s run at Indy has been met with bad pit stops, unfortunate timing, and downright bad luck. In a time when engine durability is high, he has finished more races, failing to make the end in only four instances in his 20-year career at IMS, ensuring he has had more opportunity to win. He’s led more times – 15 to Andretti’s 11 – and led the most laps in a race that didn’t result in a win – four to Andretti’s three. He has nine less starts, but he has accumulated more laps led to leapfrog Andretti and all other drivers in the race history to be the record holder. Finally, he’s always fast there, with five poles over three different chassis types, and seven starts on the front row; Andretti did that eight times.
Both drivers are exceptional without a doubt, and rank as some of the best to circle IMS.
It begs to wonder though, what’s worse – not finishing the race like Andretti or running well and being unable to seal the deal? In the case of Dixon, his runs at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing have a combination of unfortunate luck with a sprinkle of other drivers prevailing.
The rookie is overshadowed by the dominance of IMS veteran Tomas Scheckter. However, Dixon gets out front for the first time while many others pit. But the team judges the mileage wrong, and he goes empty. Later, under yellow, he hits the wall scrubbing his tires on the front straight. Inglorious start.
2004 and 2005:
Strapped with the overwhelmed Toyota engine, he is not a factor. But he grabs his first top-10 in 2004 and crashes while running near same position in 2005.
Hello, Mr. Dixon. With the spec Honda engine and Dallara chassis, the legend takes hold. His teammate, Dan Wheldon, dominates, but Dixon leads six laps. Later he is issued a rarely seen blocking penalty while defending in second. This throws off his chance to be in the hunt for the win. On the final restart, he actually is ahead of eventual winner Sam Hornish Jr., but unable to navigate the traffic like Hornish does and finishes sixth.
Starting fourth for the third time in five years, he leads 11 laps and finishes second to Dario Franchitti. The team used pit strategy to stay out and leap close to the front, but two back-to-back yellows before the rain prevented him from mounting a charge against the Scot.
He cashes in. Everything goes right, the universe aligns, and he wins the pole, leads the most laps and takes home the check. His first, and to date, only Indy 500 win, in his sixth start at the 500. Mario got his in five.
For the second year in a row, he leads the most laps. But bad luck hits. Dixon lost the lead to Helio Castroneves on a restart and on a final pit stop, a miscue pushed him down the order, and he finished sixth. Four straight years he had a shot to win, but took victory only once.
A top-five finish is overshadowed by the dominance of his teammate Franchitti.
His month starts off uneasy when he runs out of gas during the Fast Nine Shootout, puttering across the line to grab the middle of row one – he had been trending for the pole. During the race, he was leading when he pitted for fuel with 22 laps to go. He was running behind JR Hildebrand, who took the lead from Franchitti, and been in position to pounce when the rookie hit the turn 4 wall. But due to fuel conservation, he was passed by eventual winner Wheldon, who took the opportunity to win his second 500 in an Indy-only entry. He finished fifth.
His second opportunity to return to victory lane is snatched from him by a gutsy pass by Takuma Sato in Turn 1 on lap 199. Dixon led 53 laps, swapped the lead with his teammate and eventual winner Franchitti 10 times, and had the lead with two to go. But after Sato’s pass, and then his eventual crash on the final lap, the race ended under yellow and Dixon took home second, again.
Dixon’s team struggled with the spec DW12 Dallara chassis. Over the next two 500’s he’d lead four laps, and not finish in the top 10. In the 2014 race he crashed while in the top five.
Dixon grabs his second pole, and was up front all day. In the first year of the manufacturer aero kits, his Chevy was the better option and he led for 84 laps. Unfortunately, he led with 11 to go on the backstretch and was teamed up on by a couple of Penskes – Will Power and Juan Pablo Montoya – before fading to fourth.
Can’t be the best car every year. The Andretti Hondas had the field covered and Dixon finished eighth, leading no laps, only the fourth time he was never out front.
He gets his third pole, but this year is where the Lady of IMS really gave Dixon a rough time. Dixon goes airborne over a slowing car and in a spectacular crash ends up in the catchfence on the inside of the track. Luckily, he was uninjured.
In the first year with the universal aero kit, Dixon starts ninth and finishes third in a race dominated by Power and Ed Carpenter.
Iceman started to figure out the UAK, but only managed a 17th place finish. Led another 13 laps.
Now, the bad luck gathers intensity. The August Indy 500 during the COVID-19 pandemic was all Dixon. He led more than half the race – 111 laps, first time since 2008 he paced triple digits – but lost it to an opponent’s resilent maneuver. Takuma Sato, who stole a 2012 opportunity, tracked him down after the last round of pit stops, passing Dixon a couple laps after returning on track. It was a strong move on the best car in the field. Dixon couldn’t get back around his fellow Honda driver and got a third runner-up finish.
Dixon returned with the hunger and grabbed his fourth pole. But, due to an unlucky yellow, was on track waiting for the pits to open when he ran out of fuel. This set him back and he didn’t recover.
He set the fastest pole speed ever and led 95 laps. But the pits got him again, this time of his own making. He mistimed his entry into pit lane and was caught speeding on his last stop.
Dixon’s career at the Indy 500 is greatest-of-all-time worthy. In 20 starts, he’s earned five podiums, eight top fives, 12 top 10s, led more than 50 laps seven times and a total of 665 laps, completed 93 percent of potential laps and averaged an 11.2 finish. And, of course, one win. He’s been the dominant car on multiple occasions and was in position to have a win fall his way at times, but fate always seems to intervene.
By the end of the 2023 Indianapolis 500, will his fortune finally turn around, or does the race add to a legacy that maybe, there is a ‘Dixon Curse’?
About the author
Tom is an IndyCar contributor at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. He also works full-time for the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. A native Hoosier, he's followed IndyCar closely since 1991. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.
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