Chris Dyson’s road to becoming a regular on the USAC Silver Crown circuit is quite unique. Born into road racing heritage as the son of Sports Car racer and owner Rob Dyson, Chris eventually found his way to the top, capturing a pair of American Le Mans Series titles - the LMP675 driver's title in 2003 and the LMP1 championship in 2011.
All these years later, the versatile Pleasant Valley, New York racer finds himself behind the wheel of a USAC Silver Crown car, something that may seem light years away from competing at Sebring International Raceway, which he did as recently as two weeks ago, finishing second in the Trans Am season opener on the 3.74-mile road course.
But the jump between the two different racing disciplines may not seem as daunting considering all of Dyson’s early kart racing during his teenage years came on dirt oval tracks in his native northeast. It's where he formed his personal connection with oval racing, the direction his racing compass has taken him in recent years as he prepares to make his Silver Crown pavement debut this weekend, March 22-23 at Memphis International Raceway for the “Memphis 100.”
Jumping back and forth between a Trans Am car and a Silver Crown car can be a challenge, but Dyson is quick to point out the similarities in each series are present, especially considering Silver Crown racing, for all intents and purposes, is the “endurance” series of USAC’s open wheel series, commonly running 100 laps.
“(Silver Crown) cars have always intrigued me,” Dyson pointed out. “I love oval racing and one of the central appeals of Silver Crown racing is the races are long. You have to look after the car and the track changing. I think that all of those things line up with the disciplines that I've done in road racing. Although it’s certainly is a different circuit configuration, you're using the same skill set. For me to see a lot of the great heroes coming up when I was a kid - some of those guys are still racing - I think it's fantastic just to be out there on the track with them.”
Although a Trans Am car has relatively no outwardly similarities to a Crown car, Dyson has found common ground between the two.
“The biggest commonality between both cars is that they have more power than grip,” Dyson acknowledged. “The throttle control that you need in one absolutely correlates to the other. The need to look after your tires is another shared trait. In the case of both series, you're starting a race and there's not going to be a pit stop, and you start the race with a full load of fuel. The way that the cars change over the course of a race is similarly dramatic.”
Though Dyson’s background is heavily known for road racing, his love of oval racing is clearly evident. He's always retained interest in USAC racing from near and afar, both attending races in-person and watching on TV from his New York home. He knew one day he was going to have the chance to wheel a Silver Crown car. That time arrived last season when he made three starts on each of the traditional one-mile dirt ovals and continues into 2019.
“I've always looked at Silver Crown as something I wanted to do in my career before I stopped racing,” Dyson admitted. “I never had the opportunity, mainly because of the schedules that I've been running. The races are fantastic, and I’m absolutely thrilled to compete in the events, the historic venues and the quality of the circuits. It’s very well promoted. You feel like you’re a part of American racing's heritage. It’s the top division for USAC and has been for a very long time.”
One interesting aspect of Dyson’s Silver Crown career thus far is that he first got his feet wet, so to speak, in this discipline on the dirt rather than the pavement, occasionally running a sprint car and midget USAC Western events for Cory Kruseman’s team a few years back. This weekend’s “Memphis 100” will mark Dyson’s debut on the hardtop in the Silver Crown car, just one year removed from his first series’ start. Once Dyson and crew chief Sean Michael dipped a toe in the waters last year, it wasn’t long before the pair jumped in with both feet and have plans to field a car at all 12 Silver Crown events in 2019 with Dyson planning to drive in the majority of events.
“I wanted to see how it went and, as it turns out, Sean and I really like the racing,” Dyson said. “There are a lot of folks who told me that I’d enjoy the pavement racing. Bob East had the capacity to build us a new car; we were able to get our hands on some good engines from TSR and we were able to put it together pretty seamlessly. It just so happens there's not very many conflicts with my racing schedule so we can fit it in.”
Although a multi-time champ in ALMS and a quick study in the Silver Crown cars with finishes of 16th, 13thand 13thin his first three Silver Crown dirt races during 2018, Dyson readily admits a lot of work remains ahead of him to get to where he feels he wants to be competitive-wise.
“I’ve got a lot to learn,” Dyson reasoned. “It's a brand-new car and a brand-new program for us, so we've got realistic expectations. I'd like to make solid progress and learn how to drive these tracks and compete as much as we can. There's a lot of very good specialists who are in the field on both asphalt and dirt. The key is to get around those guys, learn as much as we can, keep the car in one piece and just make progress every single weekend.
On-track action at Memphis International Raceway gets underway on Friday, March 22, with pits opening at 10am Central, leading into a practice which begins at noon.
On Saturday, March 23, the pits open at 8am, with practice sessions running from 10-10:30am and 11-11:30am. Fatheadz Eyewear Qualifying hits the track at 11:45am. An autograph session in the main concourse is set for 12:30 to 1:15pm. Driver intros are slated for 2pm with the green flag for the “Memphis 100” set to fly at 2:20pm.
Tickets can be purchased at https://tickets.thefoat.com/MIRTickets/USAC+Silver+Crown+Champ+Car+Series+Memphis+100/tickets/event-35343/. Adult General Admission tickets are $25. Kids 12 and under General Admission tickets are $5. Single-day pit passes are $40. A two-day pit pass is $70.
The “Memphis 100” will be streamed LIVE on http://www.FloRacing.com.