Intelligence Behind The Wheel- Chris Dyson

What follows is the first of four interviews we did during the Generac 500 at Road America. Throughout the four interviews you will find some common and some unique questions allowing you to compare and contrast the drivers in the ALMS LMP1 and LMP2 classes. 

Mecca of Speed: Dyson Racing is now in their second year with the Porsche RS Spyder. How has development progressed to close the gap between Dyson Racing and Team Penske?

Chris Dyson: I think we have made a big step up. Obviously, time with the car is the biggest asset. You have to keep in mind that Penske has an 18 month advantage in their development and they have been the development team for the Spyder.

Having said that, if you look at Sebring, we have done much more favorably relative to them and certainly relative to the Acuras. I think our form has been more consistent this year compared to 2007.

Mecca of Speed: In addition to driving you are also part of the management team for Dyson Racing. What are your responsibilities with the team outside of the cockpit?

Chris Dyson: During a race weekend my energy is focused on being behind the wheel to get the most out of the car and interface with the engineers.

Once we go back to the shop, working with management takes over. The beauty of this paddock is the number of owner/drivers in the series, many of whom who have done it successfully. That’s the challenge, which adds to the workload. It’s what my dad has done for years.

Mecca of Speed: In essence, it’s what you have known your whole life.

Chris Dyson: Yes, obviously our names are on the trucks. That entails a level of responsibility, which I think is important for the family to have- a ground level view of what is happening day to day.

We have a great management staff led by our team manager Mike White. Mike runs the day-to-day operations. The team takes direction from my dad and me.

Mecca of Speed: For the last couple of years you have been teamed with Guy Smith. When Dyson Racing puts a driving team together, do they compare driver’s styles looking for similarities to set the car up around?

Chris Dyson: We have always focused on getting the car optimized for a race; it doesn’t have a bearing on who is driving the car. One of the legacies of drivers like James Weaver and Price Cobb is that they could set up a car such that it was not limited to one particular driving style. The car had a good operating window on the limit and good in traffic.

We work to get basics set and not tailor to any driver’s particular style. I think if you ask any one of our drivers they will tell you our aim is to get a car that will work with anyone’s driving style. If you have that in sport car racing you will generally do well. You need a car that has a good operation window because of the variety of conditions you are going to see during a race weekend and throughout the season.

Mecca of Speed: This race at Road America is a four-hour event that transitions from day to night. Do you set up the car any differently compared to the standard 2:45 sprint race?

Chris Dyson: Not really. You have to look at the race in its entirety with regards to how the conditions might be at the end of the race compared to the beginning and with it being a longer race and the time of the day from start to finish. The track could be a little dynamic so you want to anticipate that to the extent that you can with setup on the car.

The series right now doesn’t allow for a difference between a sprint and endurance race mentality. Every race is a sprint. The cars now days are so reliable you have to approach every race as a sprint because the cars will last.

The points matter here as much as any other sprint race. You have to push hard from the outset and keep the pace the full race distance.

Mecca of Speed: Has Dyson considered making the trip to Le Mans, and if so would this put extra emphasis on the Petit Le Mans?

Chris Dyson: My father and I have competed there and all of our drivers have competed, but we have never gone over as a team. That has been primarily because we have been focused on the domestic championship.

Le Mans has a huge amount of attraction for us. We have been invited several times in the last 5-6 years. We have politely declined because our emphasis is on North America and Le Mans is a huge undertaking in its self.

Our eyes are open to it and I think if the right opportunity came along we would think hard about it because of the prestige and the notoriety around the race, but right now our focus is on North America.

Mecca of Speed: With Dyson Racing focused on the ALMS series, has the team or you personally looked at branching out into other series, or doing a properly prepared one-off for a marquee event such as Indy?

Chris Dyson: We have always looked to grow the team organically and what has limited us in the past has been our facilities. We have been in the same shop for the last 18 years and are looking forward to upgrade to our new facilities. We are looking to move into our new location over the winter. That will give us a better platform to consider doing other series, and doing them properly out of our own shop.

It will also give us the chance to peruse other business opportunities at other venues. Our eyes are wide open. The ALMS remains our first priority, but in this business you can never say never.

Mecca of Speed: Recently at Lime Rock you had the opportunity to go on track in the Spyder while your father drove the Porsche 962 to celebrate Dyson Racing 25th anniversary. Have you had the opportunity to climb behind the wheel of the 962 and experience the legend?

Chris Dyson: I drove the 962 for the first time at Sebring last November and the guys had a hard time pulling me out of the car. At the start we had a few problems with the fuel injectors. The engine is configured with two sets of injectors. After we figured out it was only the second set of injectors that was causing problems and once the boost of the turbo came on and the second set of injectors came on correctly, we were able to run.

We did an article for Porsche Excellence magazine, which was a comparison piece. It was really eye opening experience. As a kid growing up I saw the 962 race. I watch my dad and thought the cars were awesome.

When you look back on your youth you have a tendency to look at things and think they are bigger then the actually were, but the 962 is an instance where it exceeded my expectations.

Blasting down the back straightaway at Sebring with the car still pulling in fifth gear was really exciting. I had to remember that I was in a 1984 chassis that hadn’t been run in anger in several years. It’s easy to forget that when the boost is kicking in and the car is working so well.

Mecca of Speed: Your father doesn’t get behind the wheel to often, but do you see any opportunities through rallies or vintage racing to share a car again?

Chris Dyson: I’m not too enthusiastic about vintage racing. I’m not sure where my dad’s enthusiasm level is. We lost a very good friend, Bob Akin a couple of years ago at a vintage race. It’s still racing, it’s still dangerous, there are risks and you are in cars that are past their prime dates of operation.

Dad and I did quite a few races together and we had a great time doing it. I think he is at the end of his racing days. He has had some shoulder issues that have kept him out of the car the last few years.

If we can do another event together that would be great, but we have done enough together that I don’t think either one of us would be unhappy if we never drove together again.

Mecca of Speed: You have nothing left to prove, and you two have taken away some good memories from the sport.

Chris Dyson: Yes, we have some great memories. I did my first ever race in a prototype with my dad; we finished 1-2 at Daytona in the sports racing prototype class in 2002. It was the last race of the sports racing prototypes at Daytona. It was a great feeling to be standing with him in victory lane.

As much as you want to duplicate that feeling, it’s not the easiest thing to do, so we have great memories together. You can say there is never too much of a good thing, at the same time you can’t be greedy.

Mecca of Speed: In college you majored in history, is there a time you would like to have lived in to experience another time or place?

Chris Dyson: That is a great question. I studied some many periods of history. One of my favorite time periods is pre World War One, particularity Otto Von Bismarck and Germany was one of my focuses.

That really is a tough question. I love history and the past. I love living in the present, but for me the past is filled with so many interesting events it’s almost an impossible question to answer. I am still a passionate student of history and am constantly reading.

One of the upsides to my job as a racing driver is with all the traveling we do there is a lot of time to read and I tend to devour books.

Mecca of Speed: What are a couple of books that have really struck a chord with you?

Chris Dyson: I try and read the best books on certain topics. I just read Robert Caro’s book on Robert Moses, which was staggering. The scope of power and ambition that Robert Moses had, that was outstanding.

Robert Caro’s prose is like a fine wine when you are reading it.

I tend to intersperse fiction with my history- it depends on the mood I’m in. I tend to pick out books that are timeless in the sense that the topic of the book or the fiction is going to stand the test of time. I don’t like to read period type books that are of a current school of thought.

I try to make sure whatever book is in my hand; it’s my favorite one.

Mecca of Speed: Less videogames and more reading for everyone!

Chris Dyson: I think so. My mom was a reading specialist and I spent a lot of time in my room as a kid because I was misbehaving. Without a television in my room I wound up reading a lot of books.

That may be how prisoners feel in some respects, but they come out better for it and I think I did too.

I grew up always having a book in my hand. Reading is a gift and more kids out there should use it.

Mecca of Speed: A helmet is a driver’s signature, what is the story behind your design?

Chris Dyson: My helmet design is not purely my own. Price Cobb was one of my heroes growing up and when he raced with us he had a bland white helmet. It was after he left us and raced with Jaguar and then Mazda that he had the design that he has generously allowed to become mine.

I have been approached be a couple of really close observers of the sport who recognize it. It’s an obscure fact, but I’ve always loved the design.

Taking about helmet design, James Weaver always said it’s important to have a helmet that looks as good in black and white as it does in color photos and I think it stands up.

Mecca of Speed: You are an avid skier. What are a few of the places you like to ski?

Chris Dyson: My uncle has a place in Park City which has given me the opportunity to ski out there a few times. On the east coast I like to ski Stowe Mountain and Gore Mountain, both of which are a reasonable distance from my home in Poughkeepsie.

Mecca of Speed: Looking long term, do you see Dyson Racing going to a third generation some day?

Chris Dyson: To be entirely honest, that will be up to my offspring. Having done it myself, I can’t argue against going racing, but for my mom’s sake that would be the grandma for the third generation, she has endured enough. Hopefully my little boy will love golf and baseball just as much as I did.

I’m not going to force the kid into racing, it’s not fair. You see plenty of little league dads on the sidelines.

I’ve lived a full life, enjoyed my career in racing but I don’t feel the need to push anyone into this. It’s too serious a game to not allow a person to make his or her own choice to be here. That is one thing my dad was very concerned with, that I was doing this for me, and likewise I feel the same for any of my future kids.

Mecca of Speed: As a parent, that is an excellent approach.

Chris Dyson: I’m not a parent yet, but that is the way I’m approaching it because I’ve achieved a lot of what I set out to achieve. I don’t need to live vicariously through anyone else. They are going to have their own lives and I’m going to be happy with what ever they want to be.

Mecca of Speed: Do you have any pre-race rituals?

Chris Dyson: I like to eat fairly close to when I get in the car because there is nothing worse then getting hungry mid-stint. A good lunch or breakfast before I get in the car and then occasionally I’ll go and chill out in my RV if it’s at the track. Listen to some music until about mid-race, but no specific ritual.

Mecca of Speed: What is on your iPod top ten list?

Chris Dyson: It is all over the place. Lately I’ve been listening to some post-rock bands but otherwise normal music.

I’ve been listening to a band called Oslo, The Editors, and Interpol, there is a great band called Explosions in the Sky, Cigarros that is more atmospheric type rock. There are also the staples of classic rock including early Genesis. Any one of those bands is on my iPod and I’m happy to listen to them.

Mecca of Speed: Dyson Racing has the ability to keep staff and sponsors for long periods of time. Do you feel this organization has a family type approach that contributes to longevity of staff and sponsors?

Chris Dyson: I think for me personally, when you say family approach we have always been able to race hard, be competitive and our agenda has always been short. In that respect I hope to keep those values in the team. Winning races, winning championships and doing so in an honorable and dignified way. Also, to present ourselves in best fashion on all levels is something we want to continue with this organization every day.

Mecca of Speed: Thank you for your time and good luck.

Chris Dyson: Thank you and have a good day.

Content credit Chris Dyson and John Vatne. Photo credit Scott Rohloff and John Vatne.

8/20/2008