Run-Busting Dixon Hoping To Double Up in 2011

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, December 14 2010

Larry Dixon cruised to the 2010 Top Fuel championship. Next year, he'll have a teammate. (Photos courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

Driving without a wing man, Larry Dixon put the brakes on Tony Schumacher’s incredible six-year run as NHRA Top Fuel world champion last month.

That’s not to suggest Dixon single-handedly took down the three-team juggernaut fielded by Don Schumacher Racing. In addition to his own bad self, Dixon’s drive to a third title was orchestrated by crew chief Jason McCulloch and celebrated manager/tuner Alan Johnson.

Dixon’s second full season with Al-Anabi Racing – the team owned by His Highness Sheik Khalid Al Thani of Qatar – produced a record 12 wins in as many final rounds, a career-best 62 round victories and a 102-point margin over runner-up Schumacher.

Despite those staggering stats, Al-Anabi is not standing pat this offseason or in 2011. Management announced in mid-September that it would shut down its Funny Car operation at season’s end and move driver Del Worsham into Top Fuel as Dixon’s teammate. While not a change that Dixon specifically campaigned for, it’s one he readily has embraced.

“I’m not part of the decision-making process,” Dixon said during a recent teleconference. “I can tell you, all the years that I’ve raced, I’ve never had a teammate in the same category.  And I’ve raced a lot of people that have had teammates, you know – the Schumacher team, for one, the (Connie) Kalitta team in the past. You see how much it helps their teams and improves

Alan Johnson is adjusting his driver lineup for next season.

their teams.  So I’m not…I certainly wasn’t against it when the idea and the announcement came earlier this year.  We’ll see how it plays out.  But I think more information would always be a great thing.”

As noted, Dixon won his Full Throttle Drag Racing Series titles in 2002 and 2003 driving solo for NHRA legend Don “The Snake” Prudhomme. Tony Schumacher, son of team-owner Don, won an unprecedented six consecutive Top Fuel championship from 2004-2009 to complement his first title in 1999. DRS’s three-car 2010 stable of Schumacher (6 wins), Cory McClenathan (3) and Antron Brown (1) finished 2-3-4, respectively, in the final Countdown to 1 playoff standings.

Earlier this month, McClenathan was replaced by Spencer Massey, the 2009 NHRA Rookie of the Year, as driver of the Prestone/FRAM Dragster beginning in 2011. Schumacher will return in the U.S. Army Dragster while Brown is set in the Mac Tools Dragster. The only other series regular to win a national event in 2010 was Doug Kalitta, who finished sixth for his uncle’s Kalitta Motorsports, which also fields David Grubnic in Top Fuel.

Worsham, meanwhile, went winless in 2010 after posting three victories in Al-Anabi’s Funny Car in 2009. Worsham’s won-loss record in his Toyota Camry-bodied flopper dipped to 20-22 (.476) en route to a sixth-place finish in the class that crowned John Force as world champion for a record 15th time.  But Worsham, 40, is hardly a Top Fuel rookie, having competed in the class on a limited basis from 1993-95 albeit without a win.

Dixon believes Worsham, the 1991 NHRA Rookie of the Year, will be an asset to his team on several fronts. “Well, first of all, I think just the basic thing that would help is data, information,” said Dixon, 44, the 1995 NHRA Rookie of the Year. “Just more runs, runs every session.  You know, we’ll get twice as many test dates now.  They put a cap on our test days.  So now all of a sudden, we’ll get double.

“You’re competing against teams like DSR and the Force team (John Force Racing in Funny Car). Force hasn’t – this year had three cars, last year had four cars. I mean, that’s 16 test days during the season, when you’ve got four, and that’s tough to compete with.  If you want to go out and try something, you’ve got to make one of those test days count.

“And then just the given qualifying sessions. Even on race day, if you’ve got two setups that are the same and you’ve got one team, you know, running the ship with Alan Johnson managing

Del Worsham will not be in an Al-Anabi Funny Car in 2011.

it, you would hope that it would improve your team.  I’ve seen where it’s improved the Force team and the Schumacher team.  And if you want to be able to compete at their level for long periods of time, you almost have to do that to be able to stay up there.

“So that is what I think the hope is for with Del running a Top Fuel car. That’s yet to be seen. You see how it plays out and go from there. I’m sure that’s what Sheik Khalid and Alan would be looking at.”

The Sheik and Johnson certainly have no reason to tamper with the chemistry between Dixon and McCulloch. Dixon, who wrapped up the title during the season-ending Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif., dominated the National Hot Rod Association’s regular season by winning nine of 17 races. He completed the regular season with a 280-point lead heading into the first race of the six-event Countdown to 1 playoffs.

Dixon, who began the Countdown with a 30-point lead, went on to victory in three of six Countdown races while visiting the winner’s circle at 12 of 23 events overall.  Dixon’s 12 wins were the most in his career, eclipsing the nine he posted in 2002. He is the first professional driver in NHRA history to go undefeated in final rounds during a season.  Dixon’s 12 final rounds and 12-win total were more than any driver in the four professional NHRA Full Throttle Series classes.

Dixon won seven of eight races in which he was the No. 1 qualifier, boosting him to 29-1 in eliminations when competing as the No. 1 qualifier in 2010. Overall, Dixon qualified among the top three at 19 of 23 races. Dixon’s average qualifying position was 2.52, but his average Countdown qualifying position was 2.0. He was the No. 1 qualifier eight times this season and 48 times in his career, placing him ninth on NHRA’s all-time No. 1 qualifiers list for all classes. Prudhomme, Dixon’s mentor, is eighth with 52 No. 1s.

Dixon also advanced to at least the semifinals in 17 of 23 events in 2010. He recorded his career-best elapsed time to 1,000-feet of 3.772-seconds at Houston Raceway Park in Baytown and his career-best speed to 1,000-feet at 324.36 mph at O’Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis.

For the third consecutive season, the fates of Dixon and Schumacher were intertwined. Dixon now leads the NHRA’s all-time Top Fuel final-round appearances list with 104; Schumacher is second with 103.

Dixon’s 62 round-wins are second only to Schumacher’s 76 rounds in 2008. Dixon is fourth on the NHRA’s career round-wins list with 599 – one round-win away from joining Force, Kenny Bernstein and Warren Johnson as the only Full Throttle Series drivers to win 600.

Dixon also is second on NHRA’s all-time Top Fuel winner’s list with 60 victories, a group topped by Schumacher’s 67 victories. Dixon is seventh on NHRA’s all-time career victories list for all professional categories, five behind four-time Pro Stock world champion Greg Anderson’s 65 in sixth place.

Dixon raced runnerup point-finisher Schumacher in eliminations 11 times this season. Dixon won the season series, 8-3, sweeping each of the last six meetings. In 10 of their 11 showdowns, the winning driver went on to claim the event.  Dixon also was 7-0 against third-place finisher Cory Mac this season. The longtime rivals met in four final rounds, with Dixon winning all four.

Dixon, who lost the 2009 title by two points to Schumacher, noted that “The Sarge” kept a pre-race promise after relinquishing his title at Auto Club Raceway.

“We were getting ready for, I guess it was the semifinal, and he came by the staging lanes and said, ‘Congrats and good job’ and all of that,” Dixon said. “So he’s definitely… he’s a man of his word.  We’re friends away from the racetrack.  He’s definitely a champion.  He knows what it takes to win one of these and how hard it is to win one. He’s, you know, he’s still a seven-time champ.”

Dixon, who spent 20 seasons with Snake Racing as a crew member and driver, said he is proud of what Al-Anabi Racing has accomplished during its brief history.

“You know, when you think back to 2009, just being a start-up team and to get to the point where we could win 12 events, 12 out of 12 final rounds, those kinds of numbers are unbelievable,” Dixon said. “The other thing that I think about is the fact that our car wasn’t the best car in those final rounds.  We were certainly able to be beaten, and we just happened to be a little bit better than the competition on those given runs, just a little bit better was all. We had tire-smoking races and pedal contests and shaking the tires and just doing all kinds of crazy stuff, and we were still able to get those wins.”

Dixon acknowledged that Al-Anabi has raced from Day One under the scrutiny and pressure associated with The Sheik’s seemingly unlimited budget and the tuning prowess of Johnson, who guided Schumacher to five of his Top Fuel world championships (2004-08) as well as three (1997-98 and 2000) with Gary Scelzi.

“I think that winning any championship in any category, regardless of the people, is a very cool thing to do,” Dixon said. “And I feel, on my end of things, it means so much and it’s just a huge accomplishment.  And anybody who wins one, you know, in any category certainly is deserving of it.  It’s very, very hard to win one of these things because you have to be good throughout the season.

“The playoffs change it up a little bit.  You definitely have to shine during those last six events, but you can’t be chopped liver those first 18, 17 races.  So it’s very important, and I just – I’m very – still honored about it. There’s no givens.

“You could have the most talent – look at the New York Yankees, where money’s not an object – and they didn’t win the World Series.  They weren’t even in the World Series.  So it doesn’t buy you anything.  You still have to have that – and it still has to be a team to be able to get it done day-in and day-out.  And I’m proud to be a part of this.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, December 14 2010
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