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Dixon Departs; Al-Anabi Shake-Up Continues

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, December 13 2011

Larry Dixon is out at Al-Anabi Racing. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Larry Dixon has followed Del Worsham out the door at Alan Johnson Racing, leaving the Al-Anabi Racing team that has won the last two National Hot Rod Association Top Fuel world championships temporarily – and shockingly – without any drivers for the 2012 season.

The subject of rumors in various media during the last week, Dixon’s abrupt departure was confirmed in a news release Monday night which stated Alan Johnson Racing and Dixon “have agreed to a mutual separation.” Team-owner Johnson manages the two-car Top Fuel operation of Al-Anabi Racing for His Highness Sheik Khalid Al Thani of Qatar.

Dixon joined Al-Anabi Racing when it was founded in 2009. Dixon finished second, first and fourth during his three-season tenure at Al-Anabi Racing, winning 19 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series national events.

The release stated the reasons leading to the mutual decision were “private team matters.” The statement cryptically added that no further information would be provided, and no interviews would be granted.

“Larry has been an integral member of Al-Anabi Racing for the past three seasons,” Johnson said in the release. “He was instrumental in our successes, including winning our first NHRA Full Throttle championship in 2010. He represented Al-Anabi Racing, Full Throttle and the NHRA as a great champion.

“As difficult as some decisions can be, there are times when they become necessary but can be best for everyone involved. I am proud to have raced with Larry, and I have great respect for his driving ability. I know I speak for everyone at Al-Anabi Racing when I wish him all the best.”

Johnson has won 14 NHRA championships, including the back-to-back titles bagged by Dixon and Worsham in 2010-11. Dixon added his 2010 world championship with Al-Anabi to the titles he won in 2002 and 2003 with Don Prudhomme Racing, the team formerly owned by NHRA Funny Car and Top Fuel legend Don “The Snake” Prudhomme.

Dixon’s Al-Anabi team clearly was the class of Top Fuel in 2010, posting a 12-0 final-round record that remains an NHRA first. His 62 round-wins that season tied for fifth-best all-time, and second-best in Top Fuel. Additionally, the team advanced to at least the semifinals in 17 of 23 races and qualified in the top three at 19 events. Dixon won the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals for a fourth time in 2010, and qualified No. 1 at eight events.

“I enjoyed my three seasons driving the Al-Anabi Top Fuel car,” Dixon said in the release. “We had a lot of wins and definitely the highlight was the NHRA Full Throttle championship last year. I have many fond memories of working with Alan, (crew chief) Jason (McCulloch) and our crew, but I am anxious to see what the future has in store for me. I want to thank Sheikh Khalid, Alan and everyone at AJR for my time there and wish them all the best.”

A 45-year-old native of Van Nuys, Calif., Dixon won two events in 2011 to raise his career total to 62, good for 12th on the all-time NHRA list. Dixon, the 1995 NHRA Rookie of the Year, posted a 38-20 won/loss record while qualifying for all 22 races with crew chief McCulloch in 2011. In a bit of irony, when Dixon earned his NHRA Top Fuel license at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway in 1994, Worsham signed-off on the paperwork.

Worsham, meanwhile, unexpectedly announced his retirement on Nov. 21, one week after being feted as the 2011 Top Fuel world champion. On Nov. 30, Worsham joined Kalitta Motorsports in the role as crew chief for Alexis DeJoria and the Tequila Patrón Toyota Camry Funny Car team.

A 41-yearold resident of Villa Park, Calif., Worsham paced the Top Fuel standings for most of the 16-event regular season before surrendering the lead early in the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Worsham rebounded to claim his first world championship by winning the season’s final two events. Winner of a series-leading eight races in 2011, Worsham finished 58 points ahead of native Texan Spencer Massey, who was competing in his first season for Don Schumacher Racing in the Prestone/FRAM dragster.

Worsham posted a 53-14 won/loss record in 2011 and closed-out his driving career with 33 career victories, tied with four other drivers for 30th on the all-time NHRA list.

The release stated “additional announcements will be forthcoming” on filling the two vacancies at Al-Anabi Racing, which operates out of multiple locations in the United States and Qatar. The team’s Brownsburg, Ind., location is the domestic base for His Highness Sheik Khalid Al Thani, a drag racing aficionado whose participation in NHRA is designed to promote the domestic and international awareness of motorsports in his native Qatar.

Chief among the top free-agents on the market is Brandon Bernstein, who was left without a ride when father Kenny Bernstein, a six-time NHRA world champion, announced his retirement as team-owner on Nov. 15.

Before the launch of Al-Anabi Racing in 2009, Johnson forged a reputation as one of the most innovative tuners in NHRA Top Fuel racing. Johnson concluded his career as crew chief after earning five consecutive championships with Tony Schumacher and the U.S. Army Dragster at DSR, which he joined during the 2003 season.

While serving as team-owner and crew chief, Johnson guided fellow-Californian Gary Scelzi to three NHRA world championships in the Team Winston Top Fuel dragster. During the early 1990s, Johnson and his late brother, Blaine, dominated the Top Alcohol Dragster class in Sportsman racing, winning four consecutive championships and five straight NHRA divisional titles.

Johnson owns and operates Alan Johnson Performance Engineering in Santa Maria, Calif., specializing in building cylinder heads for automobile, motorcycle and boat-racing teams.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, December 13 2011
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