Larry Dixon is at a crossroads, but not in his racing career. No, his investment in racing shop spaces in Brownsburg, Indiana near those of John Force, Tony Stewart and Don Schumacher has given him a secondary vocation as a leasing agent. But that’s not the 50W racing oil that flows through his veins, nor the CH3NO2 (nitromethane) that gets him going each morning. It’s the plan he’s implemented to get back into NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing that has him moving forward, that occupies much of his thoughts and actions. We spoke with Larry last week while on a campaign every bit as important to him now as any of his previous NHRA Top Fuel championships – to find sponsorship for a team of his own.
Dragzine.com (DZ): When was the last time you weren’t racing?
Larry Dixon (LD): That was 1988 when I sat out without a job at the track. I was with Frank Bradley, before I started working for (Don) Prudhomme. I was renting a room for about $300 a month; now times are different and I’m married with three kids.
DZ: Are the racing shop spaces you own productive? How long can you afford to be away from drag racing?
LD: Actually, things are going very well. I mentioned the other day that as long as the teams that are leasing my shop space continue racing, I may need to find somewhere else to lease once my fuel team comes together. The economic downturn we experienced in 2008 was as bad as it was, and every year since then it got a little better. So it isn’t a matter of having to race to support my family as all my buildings are full.
DZ: How are you keeping busy in the interim, while you’re waiting to get back on track?
LD: Besides keeping track of the real estate, starting a team takes a tremendous amount of planning and strategizing. I also have my kids involved in sports, and there are practices almost every night. What most people don’t realize is that I’m traveling more than I ever have, going to a lot of races and meetings with potential sponsors. I’ve only missed two races this season, and I’ve continued to have a presence at the track and in the media.
DZ: How would you characterize who you are, and what you’re doing?
LD: I try to stay focused, and remember that like a lot of other people out there, I’m just a guy looking for a very specialized kind of job.
DZ: What are you missing most about being away from the sport? Are you getting the feeling that you’re not keeping up with the technology?
LD: I miss driving most of all. The technology isn’t a great concern, as NHRA has stabilized the rules, and we know what to expect so at this point we’re only seeing incremental changes in ETs. The people I’m looking to hire are in the sport and still out there every week, active and competing with other teams. I’ve always believed that you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with, and I hope that when the time comes I will have all the right people in place.
I’ve worked with some of the best crew chiefs in the business, and being able to call and have them help assemble the team is a great relief. After all, everyone wants to be aligned with a winner and our plan is to compete for the 2013 NHRA Top Fuel championship – not just go rounds.
DZ: Let’s talk about what you’re doing to stay sharp, mentally and physically particularly because some people don’t think of drivers as athletes.
LD: (Laughs) Well, there are some guys in racing that could hardly be called athletes, and they just go from race to race and drive the car. I do think that over time, their numbers are decreasing. Physically, what I’m doing involves three different programs – I do cardio to burn calories, I lift Kettlebells which is lots of repetitions to improve muscle tone, and then I have a trainer in town that runs me through a series of circuits to increase my agility and quickness.
Mentally, I call upon vision coaches to assist me. They work on my hand – eye coordination, and also eye exercises to focus on the task at hand. I was pretty good on the old
‘tree’, where you could look inside the bulb and actually see it coming on. We’ve been using the LED lights since 2003, and they just turn on, so any advantage with the old bulbs are gone. However, I still manage to keep myself in the Top 5 in reaction time among active Top Fuel drivers.
DZ: We’ve noticed the number of holeshot wins among fuel drivers this season. How important is it to drill the tree, to leave on your opponent? Do you feel it’s even more important than having enough horsepower to drive around them on the top end?
LD: With the track shortened to 1000’, every time sequence is that much more critical. We have one less sequence from 1000’ to 1320’ than we did previously, so as a driver you have to do everything you can to help your cause. There are definite advantages to drilling the tree. Driving around someone is getting harder and harder to do because the NHRA hasn’t changed our package for awhile, and our setups are becoming much closer to each others. With no new technology being allowed, what it has done is allow the back of the pack to slowly creep up. When that happened, it equalized the competition, and it means that anyone that qualifies has a chance of winning.
DZ: What has created the situation where you feel the time is right to field your own team? Is this the same scenario that presented itself after you left Don Prudhomme’s team?
LD: I’ve always looked towards ownership, and you’re correct – I was considering starting a team of my own after being a part of ‘Snake’s’ for so long, but that’s when I got a call from Alan Johnson to drive for him and Al-Anabi Racing. There I collected my third Top Fuel championship, finished two points away from a fourth, and added 19 more wins to my total of 62, so my time with Al-Anabi was very rewarding. But things change, and we both agreed to separate.
DZ: What makes you want to go out, put everything on the line and compete for a fourth championship?
LD: It’s not only a desire to compete, but to compare myself with the best and to continue to excel. When I was coming up as a young driver, I looked at (the late) Scott Kalitta, Gary Scelzi, and Kenny Bernstein. Kenny Bernstein and I haven’t been the best of friends, but I learned a lot by watching him on and off the track, his fitness regimen and dedication to winning. When Kenny was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega earlier this month, I made a point to be there and to thank him for showing me what it takes to be a winner. For the better part of 10 years, my closest rival and chief competitor has been Tony Schumacher, and if nothing else he was the person I wanted to out-qualify or beat in that round.
From watching his pioneering drag racing father, to modifying and racing his own cars, then on to crewing for legendary Don ‘the Snake’ Prudhomme before becoming his driver of choice, Larry has no doubt already secured his own place in drag racing history, but this isn’t the end. No, it’s just the start of another chapter in a tale yet to be completed of one of the most dynamic, driven champions to compete in a ‘long’ drag car.