Dakota Dickerson: Nearing the Podium

Written by Team USA. Posted in Dakota Dickerson, Driver Blogs, Feature

Published on August 16, 2016 with No Comments

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – It’s been a little over a month since my last blog which covered our season up until the halfway point, and I have to say it feels great to write to all of you with some positive news.

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).

Jump ahead three weeks and we were in Toronto, Canada. This would be only my second time outside of the United States, the only other time being my trip over to the UK for the 25th anniversary of the Team USA Scholarship. The overall vibe was very similar to that of our opening weekend at the streets of St. Petersburg; it was very much a social event! The race week kicked off for us at the Sick Kids Children Hospital where we played some games and painted (toy) racecars! It was so much fun hanging out with such wonderful kids. Thursday brought us our track walk, the first time we noticed how bumpy and different the track was compared to the year prior – or so I was told! As the sun set, I found an excuse to put on some fancy clothes and walked over to the Green Flag Gala where the likes of Conor Daly and James Hinchcliffe along with fellow USF2000 drivers Garth Rickards and Jordan Lloyd could be found. It was super fun mingling around and chatting with so many people who love this sport (thank you Alycia for setting this up for me!).

Now on to the race days. The track was extremely challenging, and showed how unforgiving it was in the first practice session on Friday when three drivers smacked the wall. Luckily, no one was injured but we only got about three laps in, just enough to scrub our Cooper Tires! Practice Two went much smoother and found us in P6, continuing our momentum from Road America. We then followed that up with our best qualifying effort of the season, sixth place. It felt weird having only two rows of cars in front of me as we came to the green for Race One on Saturday but I kept my typical aggression and found myself in fourth position exiting Turn One. It was short-lived, however, as the Aussie Jordan Lloyd overtook me going into Turn Three. After some hard battling we finished in a solid seventh position, but I felt like we still had a bit more.

That evening I had a great opportunity to take my mind off the track as I had been invited to meet with some guests from a series sponsor, Allied Building Products. It was such a relaxing and fun event full of laughs! As we were having dinner I found out that the gentlemen sitting next to me would also be throwing the green flag for our race on Sunday. I tried as hard as I could to convince him to throw the green when I gave him “the signal” but he didn’t budge… and that is what I will blame my poor start for Sunday on! We started Race Two in sixth and exited Turn One in sixth – the first time we hadn’t gained a position coming out of the first turn all season. As the race went on we made a couple of passes and capitalized on others’ misfortune which saw us finish fourth. At one point we even had the fastest race lap! It felt so great to be near the front of the pack and the Afterburner guys had worked so hard to get us there… but now there was a strong desire to get our Mazda Soul Red car onto the podium.

After a short two-week break, we were back into the States for Rounds 12, 13 and 14 at Mid-Ohio, where we had a successful series test earlier in the year. We were in the top five for the three test sessions, which took place on Thursday, with the official practice session rounding out the day at 6:30 p.m. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite make it out to practice as we had a transmission failure. The guys worked hard to get the car back together before qualifying which took place Friday morning. I felt confident in our ability to stay among the top five for qualifying, along with the fact that we had an extra set of Cooper Tires (since we didn’t go out in practice). That really helped as we managed to pull out the third fastest lap time! This was crucial as it would put us in third position for the start of all three races. We were all so pumped and knew that the work and changes we’d put into the program were paying off.

Race One concluded Friday’s on track events. I was a bit nervous taking the green flag and was railed around the outside by Brazilian Victor Franzoni. I later went off in Turn Four, and the rest of the race was a hard-fought battle for fifth, our second top-five finish of the year.

Earlier in the week, an announcement came out that the newest crop of rising stars would gather to be interviewed for the Team USA Scholarship on Friday night at Mid-Ohio. This obviously brought back some great memories for me and I was thrilled to be invited to help out with the interview process. The night kicked off with a wonderful dinner and it was great being able to talk with a lot of the familiar faces who had been interviewing me just a year prior. Then it was time for the one-on-one interviews. I could tell how nervous the nominees were, and for a good reason. The Team USA Scholarship is a career-changing opportunity; it certainly was for me. I was, hopefully, able to ease the nominees’ stress and answer questions that they had. We mostly talked about what it’s like to be a Team USA Scholarship winner, and what to expect. After speaking with the nominees, I can say with confidence that Jeremy Shaw will have a hard decision to make, as usual. As the night concluded, everyone went back to their respective duties, preparing for the next day of on-track activities.

I was more confident for Saturday’s Race Two and more determined to remain where we belonged. We charged hard in the opening laps and battled our way around the twisting 2.258-mile road course. We came up a bit short but still earned our third consecutive top-five finish. Even though we were on an extremely strong run, it was eating away at me that we weren’t on the podium – yet so close at the same time. I had one more opportunity on Sunday – our third of the weekend – and once again we were out of the gate strong, holding our third position through Turns One and Two. As the race went on, though, the chances of a podium were slowly slipping away as we just didn’t quite have the pace. We ended the race in sixth, which was a little disappointing, but at the same time it was a great weekend for us, with very consistent finishes up near the front of the pack.

As we take a break before the finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, I can’t help but find myself constantly thinking about what we have accomplished this season. It has been one of the hardest fought years of my career, but being able to wear this Soul Red Mazda Scholarship suit has been such an honor. The Mazda scholarship itself is so much more than a free season of USF2000. It is an opportunity to become part of a family who will constantly go above and beyond to help you succeed. This next race weekend will be sad as it sees the conclusion of the 2016 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, but I will be working harder than anyone to get back into such a great program again in 2017. Thank you Mazda, Cooper Tires, Andersen Promotions, USF2000, Team USA Scholarship and to everyone who has made this all possible.

All the best,
Dakota

Share this Article