Race Report - Road America

As June was coming to an end, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda took us to Road America, one of only two tracks on the schedule that I had visited before. Up until this point our season was not going as we had hoped, but we – that’s me and the entire Afterburner Autosport team – were staying positive. We just didn’t quite have the pace to run up front. We decided that we would try some big changes to see if they would make a difference. We ended up struggling with reliability throughout the weekend but we came out with 12th and 10th-place finishes and the hard charger award for both races. More importantly, we had set the sixth fastest time in Race Two.

This was the best pace we’d shown all year and it was largely due to the changes we made as a team, so I can’t thank everyone enough for that.

Another highlight of the weekend was having my old Skip Barber Racing School friends come out to watch the races. We were able to relax by the lake, grill up some burgers on the barbecue and attempt to canoe out on the lake (unsuccessfully, I might add).

Mid-Season Update

It has been a very busy set of months over here at Dakota Dickerson Racing! First and foremost I would like to acknowledge those who have gotten us to where we are this year. Mazda Motorsports, Jeremy Shaw and the Team USA Scholarship, Cooper Tires, Skip Barber Racing School, Molecule Sports, and Crow Enterprizes have been crucial to our success this year.  If it weren’t for the opportunities given to us by the Team USA Scholarship and Mazda Motorsports I wouldn’t have much to write about today.

We started off the season with high-hopes, excited to race some great drivers from across the globe. Our first stop was Barber Motorsports Park for the official series test. It was a great learning experience and good way to get our feet wet before our first official race (which was just 3 days later). We could already tell the competition would be fierce, but that didn’t change our program. The tight streets of St. Petersburg were rough as we saw our best and worst result come out of the weekend. Engine issues throughout the weekend and contact in the last race put us a step back.

There was then a 6 week period between St. Petersburg and Barber Motorsports Park, the venue for Rounds 3&4, so what better to do than to work with a Mazda dealer! I went up to Huntington Beach Mazda for a cars and coffee event that brought out some of Southern California’s finest Mazda enthusiasts. The next stop was then over to AutoBahn Country Club for two private test days with the team. We made a lot of improvements and felt more comfortable with the car. Our last stop before heading out to Birmingham, AL was to the Long Beach Grand Prix. It was an action packed event both on and off track. That Thursday I was honored to join several of my fellow Team USA Scholarship recipients such as INDYCAR drivers Spencer Pigot, Josef Newgarden, and J.R. Hildebrand, as well as Mazda Prototype drivers Joel Miller and Tristan Nunez for the George Follmer tribute dinner put together by the RRDC (Road Racing Drivers Club), SafeisFast Race Driver Development, and the Team USA Scholarship. There were a number of incredible racing icons that attended the event and I will never forget all of the great stories and conversations I heard. The on track part of the weekend was great with the INDYCAR race running the entirety of the race under green while still have great battles. On the sports car side of racing, Mazda got its then best finish of 4th (now 3rd) of the year! What made it even better was that I was able to hang out with the team before and after the race in their trailer.

Arriving at Barber Motorsports Park, I was excited to just get on track. Because of the series test earlier in the year, I felt very comfortable with the car right out of the gate. We showed some progress, especially in the wet were we were within the Top 5 in practice, but just couldn’t seem to get it right in the dry, along with some wheel to wheel contact with another driver that sent us off track. Nevertheless, we were making strides and had a good idea as to what needed to be done in order to move forward. I also had the opportunity to take some special guests for a ride around the undulating circuit in a Mazda 3. I want to say I gave the Serra Mazda of Birmingham guys a good scare (see picture)… Another highlight of the weekend was working with the Road to Indy TV guys on putting together a short clip about me. We went out to go Trap Shooting and sat down to chat more about my personal life!

There wasn’t much time between our race at Barber Motorsports Park and Indianapolis GP but I did manage to fit in a Spec Miata race where we won both days and set a new track record. It felt great to get back in our Mazda sports car (except for the no down force part… I kind of like down force now).

Indy GP, arguably one of the most historic tracks on the schedule for the Cooper Tires USF200 Championship powered by Mazda. We arrived expecting rain in every session, and it stayed nice and sunny for all of the fans during the entirety of the weekend. A bit of a bobble in qualifying caused us to start in 13th position for the first race. We made it all the way up to position 8 before sliding back to 11th crossing the stripe. Our second race was filled with misfortune as a car in front of us spun, causing us to break the front nose (we had nowhere to go), then a car behind us hit us (he had nowhere to go), breaking our diffuser. All in all we were a lap down and I found myself in 20th with a broken finger which doesn’t sound fun at all, but I must say that trying to drive a car with a bent front end and no rear diffuser at 100+ mph mid corner is very exciting.

Again, there was not much time before our next race which just so happened to be my first oval race! Luckily I got a day of testing in at LaCrosse speedway before the race. Our test got delayed unfortunately as a badger that was quite fearless would not get off the track. It seems like more and more animals are starting to interfere with races. Nevertheless, we still got in some good track time and were directly off to Lucas Oil Raceway for Round 7.

We were fairly fast during practice but track conditions severely changed for qualifying which was the following day. After a near brush of the wall in qualifying we would start dead last for the race. We managed to get up to p11 on the start and worked our way up to p9 as we crossed the start/finish line. It was a great learning experience and we continued our improvement as we reached our 2nd top 10 finish of the year. I turned into a spectator that Saturday and Sunday for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 as well as the unveiling of the new USF17 car (if you haven’t seen it, be sure to look on the USF2000 website). The Indianapolis 500 was one of the best races I’ve watched in a while and ultimately came down to great strategy and fuel mileage. The atmosphere was amazing with 400,000 race fans gathering for racings greatest spectacle.

We are now well into the month of June and a lot has gone on so far (with lots more to come). We recently partnered with a non-profit organization called Shelter to Soldier. Their organization rescues dogs from animal shelters and pairs them with post 9/11 veterans who battle post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI). It is great to be a part of this organization so please be sure to watch out for our events later in the year. June 8-9 was also the series test at Mid-Ohio. The Mazda Road to Indy does a great job of getting us as much track time as possible. We had a total of 10 sessions and 6 hours of track time. Our best result came on the 2nd day where we finished practice 6 in position 3. We also finished our last session of the day inside the top 10 even after experiencing engine issues. To top off the month of June, I recently took part in the Danny Thomas St. Jude celebrity golf invitational in Detroit, MI. The event paired professional baseball, hockey, and football players, and news hosts with local supporters. All in all, we raised over $150,000, all of which went to support the children of St. Jude! I am now writing this from the airport and am on my way to Road America for Rounds 8 and 9. I am very much looking forward to competing on this iconic track along with running in front of the now over 100,000 fans that will be in attendance.

Thank you to Mazda, Cooper Tires, Team USA Scholarship, and all our other supporters for allowing us to compete in such a great series!

-Dakota
 

Race Report - Indy Grand Prix

History was all around us this past weekend at the Indianapolis GP. We arrived at the track Tuesday for our regular track walk but it seemed all but regular to me. It was surreal to actually be on the track, crossing the yard of bricks where legends from IndyCar and Formula One have been. The track setting was wonderful, with near perfect weather.

Indy's yard of bricks

Our first on track session was the following morning. I was feeling more and more comfortable during the 1 hour session but unfortunately it was littered with red flags and we actually only got around 20 minutes of track time. We ended the session p14 about 1.6 seconds off the pace. The following session was much better in terms of track time and I felt more comfortable on the circuit. We made some slight improvements to the balance of the car and we ended the session again p14, 1.1 seconds off of the pace.

The 2nd day brought us to the official practice sessions. The team and I had a game plan as to how to get further up the timing charts and we were making small improvement throughout the day, constantly learning more and more about what changes do what to the car, and how I can change my driving style to manipulate the handling. All in all we made some improvements ending the day in P11, 0.8 seconds down from p1.

Bring on the start of race day now! Qualifying kicked off in the early morning with very cool conditions. Our qualifying plan was a bit different than the rest of the field in order to have a better set of tires on which to race. We started off the session on our used practice tires to get a baseline ready on how the car was. We then put on our sticker tires to try and throw down a flying lap. Being a one car team, it was hard to find anyone who was willing to work with me in qualy so unfortunately the draft was nonexistent. Nevertheless, we kept our heads down and tried to make the best of our situation and ended qualifying in P13, 0.9 seconds off. Starting on the inside row for Race 1, I felt as though we had a slight advantage. We came off of the last corner from what seemed to be miles until we reached the green flag and we were off. We went into turn 1 mostly 3 abreast but we snaked our way through some cars and exited turn 1 in P9! It only took a couple of laps after that to see a full course yellow where we found ourselves now in P8. With about 20 minutes left in the race we saw the green flag for a second time. After some hard fought battles, we ended the race just outside the top 10 in position 11.

Race 2 started mid day on Saturday. This time we started position 10 (due to our 2nd fastest lap in qualy). Again, we found ourselves P9 coming out of turn 1. Unfortunately heading into turn 7, a car in front of us spun and we had nowhere to go (similar to the car behind me who ended up being the car under me). This was just about the end of our race as we went a lap down in pit lane during a long caution period that left only 10 minutes of green flag racing. On top of the large amounts of crash damage on the car, we also took a nice trip over to the infield medical center to check out a hand injury (nothing major, just a broken finger).

All in all, we made great improvements from Rounds 3&4 in terms of pace. There is still a lot of work to be done, but I will be working harder than any other driver out there to put my car up front. I can’t thank all of our supporters enough for making this race season possible. Also a very big shout out and thank you to Colin Queen and his dad (Colin Queen Racing), as well as Jim Jean, and Kyle Kuntze and Jake Craig (Molecule Sports) for coming out to watch our races!

All the Best,

Dakota

Race Report - Barber Motorsports Park

The undulating Barber Motorsports Park was a roller-coaster ride of a weekend for me. We came in with high hopes after a very successful test at Autobahn Country Club. The weekend started off a little bumpy after finding out that my teammate would not be participating in the races. We had to change our game plan a bit but we managed and were on track for our first session of the weekend.

Having already driven on this track from the series test days earlier in the year, I felt fairly comfortable in the car on the track almost immediately. We were out of the gate strong but as the day went on, our position on the timing charts seemed to slide further and further down. Barber is one of those tracks that is challenging in all aspects of racing. The setup is crucial with the amount of long duration corners the track has, as well as being able to put together that perfect lap.  As other teams were getting faster, we seemed to have hit a wall on our performance, up until the rain came. For one of our final practice sessions, the clouds opened up and I was driving in the wet for my first time in the USF2000 car. We managed p3 overall on the timing and were running with great pace throughout that practice session. This was a great boost to our morale going into the race days.

Not to our liking, the day remained completely dry on Friday for qualifying and Race 1. After a rough qualifying, we started Race 1 in P16. A very good first few corners found us a couple spots ahead of where we started, but a bit of side to side contact coming around turn 5 relegated us all the way to last coming around lap 1. It was a fight to come back through the field but we managed P17 in race one, not nearly what we were hoping for. We had a more clean start in race 2 and found ourselves in position 11 at one point until I had an off that moved us back into p13 where I remained for the rest of the race. All in all, Barber is something that we as a team need to learn from and move forward heading into the Indianapolis GP.
Thank you to all of our supporters and for everyone that stopped by our pit during the race weekend.


Dakota

 

2016 Long Beach Grand Prix

What an action packed weekend! Coming straight off a flight from Chicago, I drove to the Long Beach Grand Prix. The week kicked off Thursday with the Road Racing Drivers Club dinner to honor George Follmer, an F1, INDYCAR, NASCAR, Trans-Am, and Can-Am racing driver. I arrived a few hours early to help with setup, and I have to say, it is incredible how much work goes into putting on one of these events. Jeremy Shaw and Tamy Valkosky along with the Doug Mockett and Company crew did a stellar job getting everything organized for the event.

Come 7 p.m. it was time to take our seats and listen to some of the amazing stories that Mr. Follmer, Mr. Roger Penske, and Mr. Bobby Rahal had to offer. The room was filled with my racing idols. The likes of Parnelli Jones, Bryan Herta, Joel Miller, Arie Luyendyk, and Mike Hull were attending just to name a few, all of whom were accessible and willing to talk after the event had concluded. It was a very enjoyable experience that benefited the Team USA Scholarship and SafeisFast and as someone who has been a part of these programs, I can’t thank everyone enough those who attended and those who made this event possible.

If I had to describe Friday in 3 words, it would be Mazda, Mazda, and Mazda. I arrived at the track around 9 a.m. right after the No. 55 Mazda Prototype car put it in P1 in practice while the No. 70 car was tied for P3. It was a great showing for Mazda in the first on track session of the day. I was then fortunate enough to be brought into their pit to see the inner workings of what it takes to run the BEST prototype team in paddock (no, I am not biased in any way). It was an amazing experience and I thank Mr. Tremblay and all the guys at Mazda Motorsports for taking me in. In the middle of the day, I had an opportunity to sit down with some of our local media outlets that support our grass roots Mazda drivers. We were able to chat over lunch at the Hard Rock Café.

After this, I went to the convention center where the Mazda Factory drivers were briefly hanging out (what a coincidence…). They were playing around on Mazda’s virtual pit stop screen (check out Mazda Motorsports’ Facebook page for the shenanigans). Next stop was to visit something that is an interest of mine as a college student. A group of students participating in Formula SAE, a college level program that promotes careers and excellence in engineering as it encompasses all aspects of the automotive industry, had a booth set up. They were very passionate about the engineering aspect of the automobile and even build their own racecars. Seems like a pretty great program to me.

The following two days I was able to meet with friends and fellow racers and watched a few of the races. The INDYCAR qualifying was very exciting as it seemed like the entire field were within tenths of each other. Directly after qualifying was the start of the 100 minute IMSA race where the Mazda Prototype cars would start 3rd and 5th. It was a nail biter the entire race. Tom Long made a great start and did everything he could to fend off the pack, while Tristan Nunez worked his way up through the field. At one point, the pair of Mazdas were 1 and 2 which was extremely exciting. At the end of the day, the Mazda boys finished with two top 5 finishes and left the event with some serious pace.

Leading into Sunday, I watched an action-packed, white knuckled battle in the Pirelli World Challenge race. Lots of passing, lots of contact, and a great finish completed their race weekend. The final race of the weekend for me was the INDYCAR race. It was crazy to say at the end of the race there were no cautions for the entire 80 laps they were racing. I don’t want to spoil any results for those of you who haven’t watched the broadcast, but it had a mix of everything - a good start, passing, weird pit strategies, and a bit of drama at the end of the race just to add that final touch.

All in all it was a great, sun-filled weekend that I am extremely grateful that I was able to experience. Long Beach always brings out great racing and passionate fans and I can’t wait to head back next year.

Dakota