INDIANAPOLIS – official series release — NHRA photo —
Three-time Top Fuel world champion Larry Dixon’s fascination with the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals began more than 40 years ago. In fact, he had no trouble coming up with his first memory of the race, and the aura surrounding it, and it remains perfectly clear four decades later.
“Coming here with my dad in our family Top Fuel car,” Dixon said. “We towed from California in a station wagon in a pull-along trailer with a Top Fuel car and it took three days to get there. My dad went to the semifinals a few times in that event and those were highlights in his career. That’s a big deal because everybody ran that race and it made it that much more special. There are so many things that go into this event.”
Dixon, a four-time winner at the world’s most prestigious drag race, has not missed a trip to venerable Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis since coming for the first time in 1972. Getting to the event before he started competing in it was a “by any means necessary” measure just to be part the biggest race of the year on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series circuit.
Competing in the event for the first time since 2011, Dixon, who lives just miles from the track these days, has even more appreciation to race at this weekend’s 61st annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in his 10,000-horsepower C&J Energy Services dragster.
“When you drive down the side roads along the race track, there‘s so many memories of what this place means to me,” said Dixon, who has 62 career wins. “It’s a big deal to me. This race means more. For me, not racing a full year since 2011, the races that I’m thinking about this year was obviously the Winternationals, going to Gainesville, Englishtown and now I have another shot at Indianapolis with a great-running race car. Hopefully we can take advantage of it.”
Richie Crampton (Top Fuel), Alexis DeJoria (Funny Car), Shane Gray (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the $2 million race. The event, which has provided drag racing’s biggest stage for six decades, is the final race of the NHRA regular season, giving drivers one last chance to qualify for the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
Dixon’s first season with the Bob Vandergriff Racing team has been an unequivocal success even as the longtime Top Fuel standout looks for his first win of the season. He currently sits fourth in the loaded Top Fuel points standings, meaning his spot in the Countdown to the Championship is secure, and he has advanced to five final rounds.
With the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals counting as a points-and-a-half race, Dixon could easily move into the third position heading into NHRA’s six-race playoffs. But the points-and-a-half scenario is another reason why Dixon views Indy as such a massive event. In that regard, he also knows it is important to not the magnitude of the weekend take over.
“I keep my blinders on for the whole week,” Dixon said. “I really keep my head down and not think about it too much until that first qualifier on Friday night. It’s still a four-day weekend at that point and I don’t want to wear myself out before that first qualifier.”
The first of five qualifying sessions starts Friday and Dixon’s vast knowledge and experience will be heavily relied upon with the bulk of a young team experiencing Indy on a large scale for the first time.
But Dixon has been thoroughly impressed with how his team, led by crew chiefs Mike Guger and Joe Barlam, has come together all year, leading him to believe the best is yet to come in 2015.
“On race day in Seattle, we had a couple mechanical failures but the car was running so good,” Dixon said. “We got to take that car to Brainerd and I ran my career-best E.T. and I know we’ve got a really good car in warm weather and a really good car in cool weather. The team is coming together and the playoffs are coming at a perfect time for us. We’ve been learning and refining, and just preparing ourselves to hopefully make a run at a championship. It’s money time now.”
That’s often brought out the best in Dixon, who would love nothing more than to win the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals for a fifth time. Standing in his way is a host of stars, including reigning world champion, current points leader and nine-time Indy winner Tony Schumacher, four-time season winners Richie Crampton and Antron Brown, Doug Kalitta, J.R. Todd, Brittany Force and Shawn Langdon.
Clay Millican and Dave Connolly are both trying to sneak into the final spot, as they sit 124 and 134 points out of the 10th spot. Steve Torrence is just three points ahead in ninth as the stage is set for an epic weekend of competition in the class.
“For anybody that’s been in the sport for any number of years, this is the ultimate race, period,” Dixon said. “I could think of no other race that’s bigger or means more. It means the world to me to even compete in it.”
CREDIT: National Hot Rod Association