How do you stop Larry Dixon and the Al-Anabi/Alan Johnson Racing team? If other Top Fuel teams knew, Dixon wouldn't have won more than half of the races last year, but as the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing season looms, some vanquished rivals see his grasp on the class loosening.
“They just had one of those years,” says Tony Schumacher, who's had a few of “those” years himself. “Alan Johnson's a great crew chief and Dixon did a hell of a job – that's undisputed – but you have to get the breaks, and they got excellent breaks right when they really needed them.”
Outscoring everyone in both the regular season and the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs, Dixon compiled the best final-round record in drag racing history (12-0). Schumacher, who, in 2008, enjoyed the only better season in Top Fuel history (15 wins, 18 finals), won six races this year and Cory McClenathan three. Perennial contenders Doug Kalitta and Antron Brown each won one. Nobody else won any.
“I always said I wanted to drive until I was 50, but if I were turning 50 this year, would I really give all this up?” asks Dixon, 44. “Kinda doubt it. This is what people dream about all their lives. Last year was a hundred-year-storm kind of a season.”
So what will Schumacher, dethroned last year after a six-year reign atop the NHRA standings, do differently to wrest that championship back? “Nothing,” says The Sarge. “They didn't run faster than we did last year, so it's not like I'm afraid to race them. I look forward to it. I think a lot of different people can win it this year – not just me and Dixon.”
Brown concurs. “The fields are getting closer, and a whole bunch of different people are going to win this year,” he predicts. “It's going to be a free-for-all. I think a lot of people lost to Al-Anabi when they could have beat them because they screwed up right when Dixon smoked the tires. People let them dictate how they race. It's that persona the team has, like you're just not going to beat them.”
Is Dixon in other drivers' heads, like Jimmie Johnson is said to be in NASCAR drivers' heads? Brown thinks so. “You have to race him like you race every other competitor, but people don't,” he says. “They go up there against Dixon and drop their pants. They get all wicked up, try to be Superman, put some Hail Mary setup in the car that makes it down the track twice in 10 tries, and press too hard. Tony knows what I'm talking about – he had that same advantage for six years. When he won 15 races that one year, five or six times he probably shouldn't even have been in the final, but he got handed a few free rounds along the way because people were afraid of him and changed the way they raced.
“You get greedy. I know – we had the car to beat last year at Topeka, and I red-lighted while Dixon smoked the tires because I was trying to annihilate him instead of just beat him.”