IndyCar at Portland: Sometimes, racing comes down to luck

Shame on those of us who saw Scott Dixon disappear into a cloud of dust on Lap 1 of the Portland Grand Prix and thought his race was over.

How foolish. How absurd. After all, even casual followers should know Dixon is IndyCar’s MacGyver — able to escape seemingly any situation, even when it looks dire.

Dixon somehow — improbably, incredibly — salvaged a fifth-place finish on Sunday when his day looked screwed from the start. Not only that, he took advantage of untimely cautions and misplayed strategy that affected fellow title contender Alexander Rossi, allowing Dixon to actually extend his lead by three points — to 29 overall — going into the season finale.

These are the kind of things that only seem to happen to Dixon. If you described such a scenario to someone in IndyCar and didn’t attach a name, everyone would know you were referring to the driver of the No. 9 car.

“We got super lucky today,” Dixon said. “You’ve got to take those days.”

Drivers predicted a sketchy start to the race all week, and that’s exactly what happened. As part of a multi-car wreck on Lap 1, Dixon was shoved into the dirt and felt a significant impact — though he couldn’t see what he hit.

“I felt like I wanted to cry,” Dixon said of sitting there while the dust cleared.

He didn’t expect his left front wheel would still be attached when his vision returned, but there it was. And as it turned out, Dixon had the presence of mind to pull the clutch while the crash was occurring — allowing him to keep the engine fired.

While others left on a hook, Dixon somehow put it in reverse, told the safety truck to move and drove away.

“I couldn’t believe the thing was still going,” he said. “I knew it was going to be a pretty lucky day from that point on.”

But that wasn’t immediately evident, because he was tagged for a speeding penalty midway through his comeback and saw all the gains erased.

“I thought on that point, we were definitely on the out,” he said. “Crazy, crazy day.”

Again, though, it’s foolish to count out Scott Dixon. So when his team stuck to a two-stop strategy (the same as race winner Takuma Sato) and Rossi made three, Dixon got the track position needed to extend his points lead.

“Huge day for us points-wise,” Dixon said, then added with no apparent sense of irony: “This might be our lucky day.”

Meanwhile, Rossi looked a bit stunned in the aftermath of his good day gone bad. He had a faster car than Dixon, but was done in by circumstances not of his own doing.

Rossi quickly dismissed the suggestion the damage was minimized by losing only three points to Dixon heading into Sonoma.

“That’s a nice way of putting it,” he said. “It was a terrible day.”

Should NASCAR come to Portland? Short answer: No

With a large crowd of enthusiastic race fans in Oregon for today’s Portland Grand Prix — the first major-league race in the Pacific Northwest in over a decade — some of you have been asking a great question: Should NASCAR race at Portland as well?

I’m admittedly biased because I live in Portland. And obviously, I have a heavy interest in NASCAR since that’s where I spend most of my time. So you might think I’d be waving my arms and saying, “HEY NASCAR! CHECK THIS PLACE OUT!”

But actually, I don’t think it would be a good idea for NASCAR to visit Portland International Raceway.

The track itself could probably put on a good show. It’s very short for a road course (1.96 miles) and has two long straightaways, which would favor NASCAR-style racing.

But the facility would have to get some major upgrades to meet the typical NASCAR standards.

There are no garages at Portland. Lower series like Xfinity and Trucks occasionally work from behind their haulers or under awnings, but Cup never does.

But I don’t even think Portland would be great for a Truck race (even though the series previously raced here).

Pit road, from what I can tell, isn’t long enough for a full NASCAR field and doesn’t have much room to expand. The safety setup — concrete walls, short runoff areas and low fences — look like a track which last hosted a major race more than a decade ago (which is actually the case here). And there’s hardly any on-site parking for fans — not to mention a lack of permanent bathroom/concessions structures.

The track is run by the City of Portland’s parks department, and it’s basically like racing through a nature preserve. It’s beautiful. And the asphalt surface itself is in fantastic shape.

But there’s just not a lot of the infrastructure NASCAR officials, teams, fans and media are accustomed to.

It works better for IndyCar, which races at several street circuits and has more experience showing up to places and setting up what they need to put on a successful race (hospitality chalets, race control, etc.).

That said, this event is shaping up to be a mega hit for IndyCar, so it’s understandable if NASCAR would want to race at an established circuit like Portland. But more of an investment would be required before that happens.

Welcome to Portland: IndyCar weekend visitors guide

The racing-starved Pacific Northwest is hosting a major-league event this weekend when IndyCar rolls into Portland International Raceway for the Portland Grand Prix.

As relatively new Portland residents who have fallen in love with the city and region, my wife Sarah and I are hoping out-of-town visitors have a chance to experience some of the things we love about Portland.

Here’s a brief guide to some of our favorites for those coming into town for the IndyCar race.

OVERVIEW: Portland’s charm is in its neighborhoods/districts and not so much downtown, which is dealing with an increasing homeless population. For those staying in the downtown area, the Pearl District (NW quadrant of the city) is a gem and has tons of excellent dining and drinking options. If you want to see the true soul of Portland, make sure to visit a district like Alberta (NE), Mississippi (NE) or Hawthorne (SE). Northwest 23rd St. is another great area to walk/dine/drink/people-watch.


— The International Rose Test Garden peaks in June, but there are still some blooms on the bushes through mid-September. It’s a great place to spend a quiet 30-60 minutes walking around and looking at the various colors.

— If you have a car, Multnomah Falls (a 45-minute drive from Portland) is quite impressive and has a parking area literally in the middle of the interstate.

— If you’re lucky enough to be here on a clear day, views of Mt. Hood from the city are stunning. To reach the best vantage point, drive up to Pittock Mansion (free) and check out the scene overlooking downtown and the mountain in the distance.

— The Oregon Coast is only an hour and a half away! For a sampling of the coast, drive to Cannon Beach and check out Haystack Rock, then take a stroll along the cliffs of Ecola State Park.


Honestly, you’re not going to go wrong with a restaurant in Portland. If it has four stars or more on Yelp in this picky, foodie town, it definitely will not disappoint.

Even after being here more than a year and trying to get to many new places, we’ve barely scratched the surface. There’s something for every taste.

That said, some of the favorites we’ve visited are the modern tapas-style Tasty n Sons in NE Portland (or its sister restaurant, Tasty n Alder in SW) and Toro Bravo (same concept and creator as the other two), the fast-casual-but-excellent Grassa (locations in NW and SW), Por Que No for tacos (locations in NE and SE) and our favorite breakfast/brunch spot, Tin Shed on Alberta (NE) — though many locals swear by the brunch at Screen Door.

If you want a real Portlandia-type experience, check out a hipster bar called the Bye and Bye that serves only vegan food (my favorite meal is the BBQ Brussel Bowl).

Also, Portland is known for its abundance of food carts (like food trucks except they don’t move) and you may find a food cart pod you like.


Portland is a beer mecca (more than 70 breweries here!), so there’s likely a brewpub near wherever you’re staying. My favorite (and probably the most popular) is Deschutes (Pearl District), though you could also consider 10 Barrel, Bridgeport, Widmer Brothers, Stormbreaker…the list goes on. We honestly haven’t been to more than 10 percent of the breweries, so you may have to look elsewhere for an expert opinion.


— The donut battle typically comes down to Voodoo Donuts (tourist hotspot, way more famous with its crazy toppings) or Blue Star (unique flavor combinations like Blueberry Bourbon Basil). Locals would tell you to go to Blue Star (several locations throughout city).

— Want ice cream? Well, it’s going to be tough to beat Salt and Straw, which has the craziest flavors we’ve ever tasted. If you go, be prepared to wait in line — but don’t forget to ask for as many samples as you want (they encourage it). If you want an alternative, Ruby Jewel has custom ice cream sandwiches (you pick the ice cream flavor and the cookies that go around it).

— Are you a pie person? Random Order Bakery on Alberta has slices of pie that are out of this world. That’s not to take anything away from the mouth-watering Lauretta Jean’s, though.


Did you really think we were going to forget the coffee? Though many of the coffee shops here can be a little pretentious (and intimidating for those who aren’t coffee experts), there are some world-class places to go. After all, it rains here like eight months out of the year — so cozy coffee houses are a must.

Like the food, it’s one of those “you’re not going to go wrong” situations, but our favorites include Cup and Bar (NE), Sisters Coffee (NW), Barista (several locations), Ristretto Roasters (several locations) and Case Study (Alberta).

In all honesty, though, a lot of people might look at you funny if you came to Portland and didn’t visit Stumptown, since that’s the famous one (and you wouldn’t be disappointed).


— Into farmers markets? There’s an amazing one on Saturday mornings at Portland State University. We go every chance we get.

— Our favorite bookstore (and the biggest one we’ve ever seen) is Powell’s in the Pearl District. You’ll be blown away if you like books.

— Want to bike? Grab a Biketown bike share and ride down to the Tom McCall Waterfront Park and do a loop to the other side of the river on the Eastbank Esplanade.

Post-Michigan Podcast with Portland-area NASCAR fans

For this week’s post-race podcast, I was joined by several of the race fans who watched the Michigan race with me at a local sports bar near my new home in Oregon. The fans gave their impressions of the Michigan race and also gave their picks for the championship favorite at this point of the season.