As part of its 60th anniversary celebration, NHRA recently released 60 moments that fans will debate throughout the year and ultimately rank in order of their favorite moments by season's end. Defending Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon wastes little time in ranking his favorite moment from the Kragen O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals, which will kick off the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season Feb. 24-27 at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
“Probably my first Winternationals win in 1998,” Dixon said. “It's a race my dad won (Larry Dixon Sr., 1970), and winning that race was definitely on my priority list. We won it that year with my dad there to see it so that made it even better. I even got a picture from the winner's circle with my dad, so that's still one of my top memories.”
The emotional win was the first of four Winternationals victories for the Van Nuys, Calif., native, who enters the race this year as the defending Top Fuel winner. He was joined in the winner's circle last year by John Force in Funny Car and Mike Edwards in Pro Stock. Dixon says winning the NHRA's traditional season-opener at his home track never gets old.
“It ranks as high up as the U.S. Nationals,” said Dixon, who also claimed Winternationals victories in 2002 and 2003. “It's the season opener, and it brings back a lot of memories for me as a kid growing up going to that race. You get to see all of the new cars, new drivers and new paint schemes, so it's a fun start to the season.”
Adding even more fun to the start of this season for Dixon is the fact that he will be joined by teammate Del Worsham in the Top Fuel category. The goal for the Al-Anabi Racing team is to gain more runs, which in turn gives the team more valuable data to work from when making their tuning decisions. Worsham, who raced briefly in Top Fuel in the early 1990s, is a veteran of Funny Car competition and drove the Al-Anabi Racing Toyota Camry last season.
“I'm sure the hope and plan is that it makes our team, and when I say our team, I mean the Al-Anabi Team, the strongest and best team,” Dixon said. “That's the hope and the intent. As much as I've looked up to Del racing during the years, now I get to race with him in the same category. I hope Del and I can meet in the finals every week.
"The edge you hope to have is the increased data. With two Al-Anabi cars racing in the same conditions in the same sessions in qualifying and on race day, you hope you're able to improve the cars by having more shots at the racetrack on every session on every day. It should double the amount of information for Alan, (team manager Alan Johnson), Jason (Dixon crew chief Jason McCulloch), and Brian (Worsham crew chief Brian Husen) throughout the season. With the way the testing rules are, this should also help us keep up with some of the other multi-car efforts.”
Those multi-car efforts include the three-car team from Schumacher Racing that features seven-time champ Tony Schumacher in the U.S. Army dragster, proven threat Antron Brown in the Matco Tools dragster and the 2009 Auto Club Road to the Future Award winner Spencer Massey, who will pilot the Prestone/FRAM dragster. Dixon says there are plenty of others in the 7,000 horsepower category to be wary of, too, including last year's Winternationals runner-up Doug Kalitta, Copart dragster ace Brandon Bernstein, GEICO Powersports driver Morgan Lucas and Lucas Oil dragster driver Shawn Langdon, among others.
“Every team…you can run down the whole top 10, and every team has worked hard over the winter to make improvements, and we're no different,” Dixon said. “Every team that finished in the top 10 last year is a threat to win races. If you can win races, you can win championships, so the Top Fuel talent pool is a deep one.”
With the NHRA celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2011, current drivers will have plenty of time to reflect on the heroes who led them to choose a career in the cockpit. Dixon, who drove initially for Don “The Snake” Prudhomme before moving to the Al-Anabi team after the 2008 season, says he could still be turning wrenches as part of the crew had it not been for some critical mentoring by NHRA legend Roland Leong.
“I've been fortunate to get advice from a lot of people who are considered NHRA legends over the year, but it would be tough to single out any one piece of advice,” Dixon said. “I've tried to learn as much as I can from as many sources as I can to be the best driver I can be for the Al-Anabi team. But if I had to single out one, it would have to be Roland Leong. When I was crewing, he was the guy who gave me guidance and advice about turning my crewing career into a driving career. If he hadn't kicked me in the rear end, I may not have moved forward.”
Pro qualifying sessions at Pomona are scheduled for 1 p.m. on Feb. 24-25 and at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 26. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 27.