One Interview With: Blair JulianINDYCAR
Chip Ganassi Racing and The American Legion will be conducting "One Interview With" Q&A's throughout the 2023 racing season. Read previous interviews with Chip Ganassi, two-time INDYCAR champion Alex Palou and driver of the No. 8 American Legion Honda, Linus Lundqvist.
Today's rendition features Blair Julian, who began working with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2002, now serving as a Team Manager after operating as Scott Dixon's crew chief for nearly a decade.
As a reminder, Be The One to:
- Ask veterans in your life how they are doing.
- Listen when a veteran needs to talk.
- Reach out when a veteran is struggling.
How did you first get into racing?
“When I was born in New Zealand, my father was racing and that was his passion and hobby. My mother was unselfishly supporting him, we would be at a racetrack every weekend in the summer. So, my two older brothers and I grew up around racetracks. It was just a part of our life that was there from the start. We loved it. Once my father retired from driving, my two brothers and I each got our own race cars and started racing on the local dirt track scene. I was offered the opportunity to travel to the USA to join Bettenhausen Motorsports in 1997 through one of my parent’s friends from my hometown in New Zealand. He had been working in the IndyCar series for some time and this was the open door I needed to get started in IndyCar. This opportunity offered me the chance to live in Indianapolis and travel with the team around America for the race season. We worked hard that summer and met a lot of great people, some are still very close friends of mine. This opportunity led to a job offer from Stefan Johansson, who used to drive for Bettenhausen Motorsports, the team that I was working for. I went home to New Zealand at the end of the 1997 season but then returned in 1998 and took the job with Stefan Johansson Motorsports, it was at the end of the 1998 season when Scott (Dixon) tested with Stefan’s. I have been lucky enough to work with Scott since that first test in Sebring in 1998. The rest is history."
What were your initial impressions when you jumped into INDYCAR with Chip Ganassi Racing? Now, 20-plus years later, what would you say are the common values shared by team members here?
“Scott and I were both at PacWest Racing, won the Indy Lights championship there in 2000 and then made the jump to INDYCAR the following year. Scott won his first IndyCar race in Nazareth in 2001. We started the 2002 season at Pac West, the team folded mid-season. Chip signed Scott to drive for his team with his first race in Milwaukee 2002. There were several people from PacWest who were interviewed to join CGR, but it wasn’t a clear-cut, package deal. It was not easy to get into Chip Ganassi Racing so it was a little nerve-wracking at the time. I interviewed with Mike Hull and eventually got the green light to join the team. I started at CGR in May 2002 so it was a bit intimidating coming into such a successful team, located in a brand-new building. The expectations were high, but I really appreciated the opportunity. I think the primary common value here would be dedication. Of course, the goals are to win races, and we have two goals each season: win the Indianapolis 500 and the INDYCAR championship. People work at different levels, different speeds and with different commitments here, but it’s about challenging people appropriately, working with a common goal and coming together as one team."
You’ve spent almost your entire INDYCAR career with Scott Dixon – and many as his Crew Chief. What are some key ingredients to his success that some people may not know about?
“First, his drive and commitment are remarkable to me. He trains incredibly hard and is extremely committed to his craft. But what I don’t think people realize about Scott is his ability to understand and keep track of what others are doing throughout the races. Whether it’s pit strategies, pace, tire, fuel mileage (most are aware of his fuel saving ability by now) or whatever it might be, his ability to not only manage his own car but the rest of the field, is mind-blowing. It’s incredible to see how he can process everything while still driving at that high of a level.”
Making the jump to Team Manager over the past couple of years, what has that journey been like, and what have been the biggest adjustments regarding your day-to-day life?
“It’s been interesting going from being part of a big team but concentrating primarily on one car and one group of parts and people, to now moving over to manage across all four (now 5) cars. It’s been a big adjustment and prioritization has been a key focus in this new role. There are so many more balls up in the air at one time and the focus still must be on communicating and executing to cover all the details. Then, there’s another aspect of the position, moving to the timing stand and learning the strategy side of the role. Of course, you speak to folks with plenty of experience as often as you can, but you still need to experience it, process things and react accordingly. There is a huge amount going on at any time."
From your perspective, what have been the biggest changes as it relates to INDYCAR racing over the past two decades? How has the team been able to make adjustments over time and keep the same level of championship performances?
“While the car itself hasn’t changed drastically, there have been systems, tools and technology that have been developed in the last 20 years and are now available to everyone. It’s about how the team, from engineering, mechanics and team management sift through that technology and figure out what you are going to implement and what direction you are going to go on a certain component development or simulation program. Each team picks their path based on what they believe will get the most bang for their buck, and they develop the direction they feel is most effective. I think the biggest change has been how teams are managing those resources. We do not test on-track as often as we used to, so it’s about finding other ways to develop your product off-track.”
What do you value the most about the team’s partnership with The American Legion? Is there a moment or an interaction that has stood out to you?
“It’s been eye-opening to learn more about the Be The One initiative and how The Legion is connecting and engaging with veterans, supporting folks who have sacrificed a lot for this country. The Indianapolis 500 certainly sticks out to me. The build-up pre-race is spectacular, you can feel the energy on race day. To see the recognition and respect the veterans receive in the pre-race festivities is very cool. When you’re on the grid and they play taps, you take in the moment and wonder what is going through the veterans’ minds, what those people have given and been through to get to this point as we prepare to start the biggest race in the world, it’s very special and one of my favorite moments in the year. But one moment in particular that stands out for me is from St. Petersburg at the start of the 2023 season. We supported a public event; we had The American Legion IndyCar driven by Alex Palou and the The American Legion Indy NXT car driven by Kyffin Simpson on display. We were able to see firsthand The American Legion mobile support unit set up and were also able to see the interaction with the vets and public. Following the St Pete race (which we won with Marcus Ericsson), Dave Berkenfield (retired Navy SEAL and CGR Team Manager) relayed to the team that a retired service member came to that event and requested help as he was struggling and was suicidal. That vet received support right then and there. That’s one of who knows how many people have been helped through this initiative and activation. Having that platform and community for people, it’s been a huge point of pride for me and our entire race team.”
Do you have a hobby outside of racing?
“Racing … just kidding. I have a couple of vintage cars that I like to drive and work on – I have a 1968 Mustang identical to the movie driven by Steve McQueen in Bullitt – I also have a 1970 Datsun 510 “project’ car I’m rebuilding to race. There is a bit of a cult following with the Datsun, as these cars raced in the Trans-Am 2.5 Liter Series back in the 1970’s and actually won that series. Peter Brock who was the engineer for Carroll Shelby and Shelby American with the Cobra program. When Cobra program ended, Peter ended up starting the Datsun Racing program. He developed this car which was a complete underdog and went out and won the championship. I’m building that car for vintage racing. I currently race a 1985 Lola T598 Sports 2000 in vintage events when time allows, which isn’t much. I enjoy the driving and working on these cars, but I try to keep in mind that I’m doing it for fun despite being so competitive.”
Is there a TV show or a movie that you can watch an endless number of times?
“I don’t know if it’s a specific show or movie, but I really enjoy content around survival in the wilderness, hunting, fishing. Anything documentary focused I enjoy, as you can learn while still relaxing. I always enjoy a good comedy or action movie, any military-based action, or movie that highlights some of these missions these folks have been through is very interesting to me."
If you could compete in any sport in the Olympics, which would it be and why?
“I think I would enjoy downhill skiing or giant slalom skiing. I like the idea of being on the edge, being on the limit the whole time. These days, curling could be more my speed."
What does your perfect off day look like?
“It’s different depending on the day and what we have going on in life at that time. It might be going out and grabbing a meal with my wife, It could be a sporting event with the kids and wife Emily. Then, there could be a day where I would just want to work on the yard at home.” I enjoy the outdoors, fishing with my son Luke, mountain biking and getting some longer rides on my road bike to help stay fit."
Source: Chip Ganassi Racing