Scott Dixon's mechanic Blair Julian will be in the team pit at this weekend's Indycar season finale, just as he has for almost every single start Dixon has made in the States for nearly 20 years.
A small Polaroid of a sheep rests against the screen of a crucial race data laptop in Chip Ganassi Racing’s main trailer at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois.
Beneath the photo, a simple message, written in black felt pen, suggests: 'don’t be baaaa-shful'.
“Look at the stuff I’ve got to deal with from these bastards,” Blair Julian, the team’s chief mechanic, says with a grin, tossing the photo aside.
There’s surely few other Kiwis who would sympathize with Julian in Madison, an industrial cross-river suburb of St Louis, Missouri, though his team’s driver would be one.
Scott Dixon needs little introduction to Kiwi sports fans. A 37-year-old former Halberg Sportsperson of the Year, Dixon has won four Indycar titles and claimed the throne as the finest Kiwi racing driver since the great F1 generation of Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme and Chris Amon.
Dixon would finish second at the Bommarito Automotive 500 at Gateway. He’d claim the same result at the Grand Prix at Watkins Glen International in New York the following week to set up a thrilling Indycar season finale in Sonoma, California this weekend.
Dixon only sits three points behind championship leader Josef Newgarden. With double points on offer at the Sonoma Raceway, the Kiwi Indycar icon could snatch this year’s title on the last checkered flag.
Like he has for almost every single start Dixon has made in the States for nearly 20 years, including all 41 of his CART/Indycar race victories, Julian will be in the team pit for the season finale.
In many ways, the 42-year-old Taranaki mechanic is the unassuming, unknown face behind Dixon’s success.
Before RNZ spoke to him, Julian moved about the team trailer with purpose, offering quick, concise instructions for his crew with the day’s race just hours away.
Julian and brother Anton moved to Indianapolis in 1997 to take up crew jobs at Stefan Johansson Racing; a new Indy Lights team founded by a former Swedish F1 driver.
The following year, Dixon completed a test drive with the team. He’d drive for them in 1999 and win the Indy Lights crown the next season. Yet before he got on the track in the States, the Indycar icon found a home on the Julian brothers’ couch.
“I remember Blair picking me up at the Indianapolis Airport in 1998, before I went to a test,” Dixon says.
“We were cruising around in some parking lot in the snow, doing donuts. It’s funny how our lives would change.”
“Scott did his test at Sebring [in Florida] and then was on our couch for six months, I think,” Blair says. “We were three young guys in a new country with no wives or kids - or real responsibilities. A lot of good times, back in those days.”
Anton Julian would end up a crew chief with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, while Blair hitched his wagon to Dixon’s. The pair joined Chip Ganassi together, in 2002.
Like in Madison, Julian’s main jobs pre-race are interpreting team engineers' instructions on alterations to the car’s set-up while ensuring it passes technical inspections.
Once races start, Julian is the right front tire changer for Dixon – and a main relayer of technical information to his fellow Kiwi, via headset.
Since the duo first combined on the CART/Indycar circuit with PacWest in 2001, the chief mechanic says changes to the racing have been vast.
“When we first did the Indycar thing, the cars were more horsepower and less aerodynamically dependent,” he says.
“I don’t know if it was more raw driver talent, but it was less dependent on engineering, car configuration and the details of the car build. Now it has developed into a kind of speed chassis and engine… right down to the little details.
“To be competitive on a weekly basis now is impressive from a driver-skill standpoint that you’re able to go out there and still get it done with essentially the same equipment.”
With Julian in the pit, that’s what Dixon has achieved. Over the last decade, the Kiwi has finished out of the Indycar top three only once - with a sixth last year. 2017 has seen Dixon turn it around, but not without some hairy moments.
After qualifying for the Indy 500 with the fastest time in 21 years in May, Dixon was mugged at a fast food restaurant. Days later, he was involved in a horror crash that saw him escape with just a fractured ankle.
“To see Scott get out of the car, knowing he’s beat up but okay, is, at the end of the day, all that really matters,” Julian says.
Life for Indycar crews can be gruelling. After Saturday races, the Chip Ganassi crew will take the following day off, but be back working on the car on Monday.
“If you have a single mechanical issue on your car and you lose time in the process, it snowballs into a huge negative for a weekend,” Julian says.
“So there’s a lot of pressure on the crew to make sure the car is humming right, in terms of what specs the engineers are looking for - and what Scott is looking for.”
Unlike his brother, who has left the Indycar scene, Julian is likely to be around as long as Dixon. Julian, a staunch Spotswood College old boy, is now married with two kids and still lives in Indianapolis.
The reason he and Dixon have formed such a good team over the years goes beyond their professional skill sets, Julian says. No need to be bashful, mate; it’s their mate-ship that has helped put Dixon in the front of the chasing pack.
“We have a really tight knit unit going there,” Julian says. “You develop lifelong friendships, as I have with Scott.”
“It’s just cool to have that home comfort that’s really built in, on race-day,” Dixon adds.