From racetrack to rink, two hall-of-fame stars align on Belle Isle
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The Motor City. Hockeytown.
The importance of those two global monikers of Detroit were not lost on three-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon and NHL Hall of Famer Larry Murphy when the pair recently met on Belle Isle to discuss the similarities and differences of their two professional sports.
Both the driver for Chip Ganassi Racing and the former Detroit Red Wing praised Detroit fans for their keen knowledge and enthusiasm for auto racing and hockey. They also know the world is looking at Detroit year-round for leadership in each sport – and will be focused on the city even more during the upcoming Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, from May 29 to 31.
"Detroit is a big part of our series, it's a big part of the formula, the money that drives the sport," Dixon said. "And hopefully, you win on Sunday and sell cars on Monday."
"In the U.S.," Murphy added, Detroit "is probably the biggest hockey market and has a tremendous following. In terms of importance, for people here in Detroit, the auto industry is huge – and racing goes hand in hand with that."
Impressively, Dixon is fifth all-time in wins (36) in the Verizon IndyCar Series, trailing only A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti and Al Unser (39). Dixon won the series title in 2003, '08 and '13, further proof he is in it for the long run and not slowing down anytime soon. He won at Belle Isle in 2012, and his 36th career victory came this year at the Grand Prix of Long Beach in mid-April.
Murphy asked Dixon, age 35, how he has managed to maintain such successful longevity, a topic Murphy knows all too well himself. Skating onto the ice for 1,615 games, Murphy is eighth all-time in the NHL for games played. He's helped his team win the Stanley Cup four times – two in Pittsburgh and his last two as a Red Wing – before retiring in 2001 after a 21-year career.
Dixon answered that as he looks back, racing was always his dream, starting with his days as a youngster working in the garage on go-karts with his dad. Now he is on a short list with the all-time greatest racers.
"More importantly, I just love doing what I do," Dixon said. "I love to be able to wake up and say, 'I'm an IndyCar driver,' and do something I really love and enjoy. The aim is to just keep winning races, keep doing my job and then hopefully when it's all said and done, I can look back on stats and be happy with them."
Murphy noted that even he dealt with potential complacency as the years went on and success mounted, asking Dixon, "How do you avoid not letting the foot off the pedal, so to speak?"
"We go to every weekend expecting to win – we want to win," Dixon answered. "But you have to also be very open. Every weekend's a learning curve. Something's always new. You can't be complacent. If you become complacent in any way, you're going to get your butt kicked.
"In IndyCar racing, the competition is so tough now, so I hope that I don't lose it [the desire to win] but at some point I may, and that's probably the time to give it up. Right now I still have the fire and definitely want to win."
Murphy is an amateur racer himself and follows the sport with intensity. He knows how physical preparation is key, especially as any athlete ages. So with the only Verizon IndyCar Series doubleheader of the season coming up at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit, presented by Quicken Loans, he's curious about how Dixon trains and prepares for back-to-back races on a grueling road course like Belle Isle.
"If you win the first [Dual] then you know you're all right, and [you] go right into the second one and do the same," Dixon said, adding that he likes to train like a triathlete. "Even if you have a bad first race, you know you're immediately looking for redemption. With the doubleheader…this is the only one, the Dual in Detroit, so I love it. If we're going to be here, you might as well be racing. You might as well be in the car and putting on a show for the fans."
Dixon joked that being raised in New Zealand, the only kind of hockey he was exposed to was field hockey and that he has tried ice skating only a couple times. So he marvels at the speed and athleticism of pro hockey players and, ironically, asked Murphy about dealing with the lightning pace.
"The game is very fast," Murphy answered, "but when I was out there playing… I was able to train [my mind] so that it didn't seem so fast. And the better you were playing, it seemed like things appeared slower. But when you're struggling, everything seemed to happen fast."
Fans can get all the speed, sounds and smells they need and crave by coming out to Belle Isle and joining fans like Murphy and racers like Dixon, May 29 to 31, at the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix. Visit www.detroitgp.com for more details.
This story is provided by our sponsor, Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.