Home Cover Interview: IndyCar’s Scott Dixon Discusses New Documentary ‘Born Racer’

Interview: IndyCar’s Scott Dixon Discusses New Documentary ‘Born Racer’

Fresh off of his fifth Verizon IndyCar Series championship with Chip Ganassi Racing, the New Zealand native talks about what went into the new feature-length film.

Photo Courtesy of NBCUniversal

The month of September couldn’t have gone any better for Scott Dixon.  Dixon, 38, won his fifth Verizon IndyCar Series championship at California’s Sonoma Raceway, moving him into second in series history, two behind legend A.J. Foyt.  It was somewhat euphoric for Dixon and his team at Chip Ganassi Racing, who came up just short the previous season.  And now you have a front row seat to follow Dixon’s incredible journey last year, thanks to a new documentary.

Earlier this month, Dixon and his wife, Emma, attended the world premiere of Born Racer, a feature-length film from Universal focusing on Dixon’s 2017 season, one highlighted with several wins as well as a devastating crash at the Indianapolis 500 that he somehow walked away from unscathed.  The film delves deep into the glamour of a professional race car driver but also shows the grit, determination and potential serious risks involved – through the eyes of both Dixon, Emma, and fellow IndyCar drivers.  It runs the gamut of emotions, offering the kind of behind-the-scenes content you’ll almost never see.

Born Racer is available for pre-order now on Amazon and will be officially released on DVD and digital platforms Oct. 2.  We recently got the chance to chat with Dixon about winning the championship, what it was like being involved with the film and more.

Dirtfork: First off, congratulations on your fifth IndyCar Series championship.

Scott Dixon: Thank you, thank you.

DF: Now that you’ve had a little bit of time to let it sink in, what’s it mean to achieve such a rare milestone?

Dixon: It’s a – I don’t know.  It’s been kind of crazy.  It’s been sinking in. I think, for me, each championship, they’re obviously all very different, but I think as you spend more time in the business, and in the series, you create a lot more appreciation for how the racing is and how hard it is to actually win a championship.  So I think, for me, this year especially, we took the championship lead kind of early in June and then we started to see the points kind of diminish with the last two or three races. And it was like, ‘Alright, we can’t let this go now.’  So, for me, it was just a big sense of relief, closing it out and capturing that first, but it’s been an amazing journey.  I think when you look back, or when I look back, to where it all started, you know, starting go-karts at seven and the journey that we’ve been on, I don’t think I ever thought this would be possible, so it’s been very cool – very cool.

DF: Is it nice to share a win like this with your family?  I mean, your two girls are getting a little bit older now, so it’s something that they might be able to remember more.

Dixon: Yeah, that was a huge part, you know.  They hadn’t been to a championship race – we don’t typically take them along to the west coast stuff just because we have got to take them out of school a little bit longer and obviously the time change and stuff like that.  So, it’s not something we do often but, you know, it was like ‘Hey, we’ve got a great chance here, it could be the last one, you never know.’  We wanted to have this as a family and definitely, you know, Tilly is seven, Poppy is nine.  These are memories that they’ll never forget but, also, it’s something that we’ll always cherish and to have that, all four of us together and celebrating this one, was definitely very, very special.

DF: You had one hell of a week.  You won the championship, obviously, and then Born Racer premiered as well.  What was that like to be there and see yourself on the screen – you’re kind of a movie star now.

Photo Courtesy of NBCUniversal

Dixon: (Laughs) I don’t know, it’s been a crazy couple of weeks, you know.  It’s been inside-out.  I think, timing-wise, it was perfect to celebrate a championship and then have the release a week later.  It almost worked out perfectly. It would’ve been not as good had we not won the championship.  So I’m glad that worked out.  But yeah, it’s hard, with a project like this, I’m not super open to that stuff and Emma probably pushed a little bit more for it and she was probably on the selfish side having this kind of footage for our kids and their kids, you know, because it’s something that is unique and special, that not many people get the opportunity.  And the process was kind of long.  It probably started four or five years ago with two different variations and companies looking to do a similar thing but this one was Universal and the people that were involved, that had been involved with the Usain Bolt one, with some football ones, so you know, it’s a lot of – I don’t know.  There was just a lot of things pointing to like this is a good time and this should happen and I think they did a fantastic job.  You know, there’s a lot of things they captured that a lot of people probably don’t think about, or there’s misconceptions, or there’s the unspoken kind of thing, at least within the community.  There’s also crashing, and the extreme crashes, and tragedies, so I think it’s touched on a lot of places where, for a general sports person, it could definitely pull them into the sport, which is definitely the hope.

DF: Can you take me back four or five years?  How did this project come about?

Dixon: So, there was a couple of others, actually.  And most of these were Australia-born, so they were New Zealand starts.  New Zealand is a small country and they’re very big into sport, you know, it always speaks well down there and the same with Australia.  This one kind of was probably about two years ago, so it fell on the backside of two others that we were looking at – and one was a full, kind of pledged, actual movie with actors opposed to documentary film style.  That’s when I think, you know, it was more just the people. The way that first meeting went, the effort they had put into it to start with in getting all the background and trying to understand the sport – and they’d gone a long ways down the road with funding as well.  It was fully-fledged product that they approached us with and I think when you can do anything on this level and the documentaries they had done before, and Universal, those were kind of the things that got over the finish line for us.  You don’t want to do anything unless it’s properly, so just started off with a conversation and Stef Johansson, my manager, initiated it and then Colin Giltrap and the Giltrap family back in New Zealand was able to meet up with the producer and then meeting up with the director.  It just seemed that the passion they had I guess was what kicked it off and then we started, I think, shooting was maybe in February or March of 2017 and then ran all the way through to December of last year.

DF: What do you think, I mean hindsight is always 20-20, about making it with actors as opposed to doing it as an actual documentary?  It’s a very emotional film, do you feel like that shows up better now, rather than you telling the story with actors and a more fictional script?

Dixon: Yeah, there’s two ways of looking at it, right?  To me, I’m very attracted to autobiographies and documentaries – don’t get me wrong, I still love the other side of that.  But I do like the real life stuff and it’s always hard with motor racing too. If you look at Rush, because I’m immersed in the business, you kind of see what’s between shots, you know, that’s a made-up car, that’s a real car and those sometimes agitate me a little bit when I watch film, because it’s hard, it’s really hard, to make a motor racing film.  So, I don’t know, the documentary film, for me, I think for us at least, was best and it’s all factual to get the real grittiness of not just what I do but the family’s side and, you know, it worked out.  We had a crazy accident at [Indianapolis Motor Speedway] that ties into another part of the sport that pulls a lot of emotions from different people that are immersed in it.

DF: Speaking of those emotions, how open was Emma to the idea of being filmed and being featured in the film.  You go out there and essentially kind of risk your life every race, not knowing what the outcome is going to be, and to have the camera pointed at her – was she on board with that?

Dixon: I think she’s probably a little more open to that stuff than me.  She’s worked in TV stuff before, with Sky Sports and covering football in England and, obviously even with her career in running before meeting me, but yeah, she’s definitely a little more open than I am on that stuff.  So, she kind of sold it more to me, opposed to me pushing her. She thought it would be a great idea for us to kind of have that footage for our family but also for the sport – and building the sport.

Photo Courtesy of NBCUniversal

DF: When you’re on the track, you don’t really notice all of the cameras around but what was it like getting used to them when they were in your house, when you were swimming in the pool, that kind of stuff?

Dixon: It’s hard.  You know, sometimes like with filming whatever it’s like, ‘Oh, can you do that again?’  They were really good and they kind of just were there but the first sort of week you kind of notice it a bit.  We were lucky with the crew, there were people that we gelled with extremely well, you know, we had lots of dinners and nights out and stuff.  We just clicked as a group anyway, which I’m sure doesn’t always happen. You kind of get to a point where you have to be careful too. I don’t know.  I had preconceived notions that was going to be really difficult but that was actually not too bad – it was pretty easy, to be honest. The kids had trouble with it a little because, you know, they see a camera and they want to keep looking at it but I think over time they kind of got used to it as well.  I think it comes a lot down to the dynamic between what you’re willing to give up and the understanding of it and also the crew – and the crew were very nice.

DF: Audiences see you on the race track three or four hours a week, so how important was it for you to capture the grit and determination – some behind-the-scenes stuff of how you work in between races?  How important was that?

Dixon: I think it’s an important part for the story, right?  For me, I take it kind of mundane, it’s what I do every week and I think, from what we thought going in, like you want it to be this happy, cheerful, we always win kind of scenario but then, in reality, you lose a lot more than you win.  And there’s a lot of down moments.  I think what makes this sport, and what makes the people that are in it too, is you never give up – you keep getting after it, you keep trying to change things to make it better.  I think that was not necessarily where we thought it was going to go, we thought it was going to go much more of like ‘This is all the positive stuff.’  But they did a really good job of showing, you know, this is hard.  It’s not all cheerful, or roses, or anything like that.  I think the way that it came out, obviously with the team and some of the people involved and if there was a bad pit stop it’s like why did they have to show that but I think it’s an important part to show the general public.

DF: Speaking of all that emotion, Dan Wheldon was featured in the film, was that nice to kind of honor him in the film and make sure he was included and that people know he was an integral part of your story?

Dixon: Dan is important to me for being Dan and for being a friend.  I think with the crash that I had at Indy, and then kind of seeing that close relationship that we still have Susie, Sebastian and Oliver and also with Julia and Jess, you know, it – again, I think for me, I have those memories, right?  I know that portion immensely.  I think it was the group never really saw that stuff.  You know what I mean?  It’s that unspoken thing in our sport, nobody really ever brings it up.  You do it and at the forefront of when it actually happens and everybody is very good at running around and trying to make sure everybody’s OK or if they can help in this situation and raise money if that’s needed too.  The IndyCar family is amazing in scenarios like that, even recently with [Robert Wickens], but I think talking with the crew, they’re like, ‘We kind of thought this was part of the sport but we didn’t really understand the severity of it.’  And Dan was such a likable guy and, you know, he was taken obviously far too early and has a young family. It just shows you the severity and how raw the sport can be.

DF: It comes across in the film, because you can definitely tell – audiences, whether they know the sport and know the background of it or not, they will tell how close the two of you were.

Dixon:  Hmmm.  Yeah, man.  He was a good guy, a really good guy.

DF: Given today’s technology, could a film like this be made 15 years ago?  It’s impressive in that it’s well filmed and well thought-out. Could this have been done with IndyCar 15 years ago?

Dixon: I don’t know.  You know, in IndyCar they were tremendous in the access that they gave Universal.  That can always be very tricky.  I think if you tried to do that in NASCAR or Formula 1, it would be a lot harder.  I think this is the right time for IndyCar right now and, you know, the flexibility they that have.  I think the camera shots and the actions stuff – no.  With like my crash at Indy or the in-car stuff, it’d be very hard to tell that part of the story.  Or even just how they capture the speed and the size of the crowds – lots of different things throughout.  So, no, technology is definitely excelled in many areas and I think it does help tell the story better.  Could you have the same storylines – of course. But no, I think it’s a film, so you need to see it.

DF: What do you hope audiences take from the film and how can it continue to grow the sport?

Dixon: I think there’s many different directions.  I think, for me, there were definitely some key storylines that we see.  The family atmosphere, you know, our family, but then also Ganassi Racing and IndyCar in general, to the severity and rawness of the accidents, to the fatalities which maybe some people don’t really understand the risk that is on the line in some areas, or to even [Kate Gundlach] who played a pretty prominent part in the film, in a male dominated sport there’s lots of women that work in it.  A lot of people really don’t think that.  To the point that I came from a small country with very little funding.  If you dream big and you have a lot of people that help you, you can still make it to the big stage and you look at all the categories in the world at the top tier, maybe three or four series, maybe 100 drivers, that shows that it’s possible if you’ve got a great group of people around you to pull it off.  So, I don’t know, there’s lots of different things that I think will pull people in from maybe not even sports – maybe general sports people, that will help hopefully the sport to grow in the future.

DF: At the premiere, after your fellow drivers saw the film, what were their reactions?  How did they like it?

Dixon: That’s going to be the toughest crowd, right?  You know, because they’re immersed in it from day to day (laughs).  A lot of it they understand because they do it themselves every day but I think the way the story was told and what was captured, because even for Emma and I, when I first saw the video I’m like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that happened.’  Even the mornings and how early it starts, with the guy at Gasoline Alley wearing all of those lights, I was like, ‘Ah, that’s a really cool shot, I never knew anybody did that.’ to telling the story of Dan a little bit more and what the drivers risk, you know.  I spoke to [Alexander Rossi] afterward and he’s like, ‘Man, that’s really good, it’s not what I thought it was going to be but it made me think so much more about our sport in so many different areas.’  I think it’s enlightening in many areas and some stuff in our sport we probably don’t want to see too much of that, of the crashing and things like that, but I think it’s an important story to be told.

DF: Do you kind of kick yourself a little for not having it filmed this year, to have that cherry on top of when you won it all?

Dixon: I think it kind of goes full circle, because it ends and Emma is like, ‘Oh, I’ve got a really good feeling about next year.’  You know, they put in that last part with the music to say that we won the championship the following year, so I think it does go full circle.  Could they have added some more footage for that – maybe. I don’t know. That actually ties it up really nicely.  It shows that even when you do miss that the drive is still there and our team went on the following year to win the championship.

DF: Last one, you’ve got Le Mans in a couple of weeks.  You’ve had a busy few months, what are you going to do with some time off when that’s finished?

Dixon: Yeah, it’s been busy.  Last week was slammed, this week’s pretty crazy.  We did the premiere Monday, banquet Tuesday, I tested yesterday in the sports car in Atlanta and had Media Day here in Los Angeles and tomorrow we’ve got a Dallas preview for AT&T and all their employees out there and actually we get a little bit of a rest next week.  We’re heading to the U.K. for Emma’s birthday and then we start the premiere stuff, Australia and New Zealand and that kind of stuff.  It’s a good problem to have, man – I can’t complain. It’s busy but it’ll be fun.