A 15-inch-tall, 13-pound bronze plaque featuring Larry Dixon’s likeness is permanently on display at the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America museum at Daytona International Speedway.
That Gabriel Vinas sculpture is a palpable reminder of the glory years of the early 2000s, when Dixon and Tony Schumacher waged their epic NHRA Top Fuel battles for the better part of a decade. It’s tangible evidence that Dixon, a 2021 inductee of the Hall, won three championships (2002, 2003, 2010) and 62 races (second only all-time to Schumacher’s 85 and tied for seventh with Pro Stock’s Jeg Coughlin in the sport’s 70-plus-year history).
Those who saw Dixon qualify No. 1 on 53 occasions and win 678 elimination rounds, including the 2003 Western Swing sweep, should cherish their memories. Dixon said he doesn’t think he’ll add much to that body of work. He hasn’t raced full-time since 2015, and economics unfortunately hint that isn’t likely to change.
“I’d say there’s a 90-percent chance that probably won’t happen – not because I don’t love the sport or love driving or love racing Top Fuel cars. It’s just the dollars and cents: getting the proper funding, trying to come up with a company that you can sell the sport to for what it costs to do it and then be able to show a solid return on their investment,” Dixon said.
“At one point in time, it made a lot of sense. You saw companies like Budweiser and Miller and Skoal and just so many companies. It’s gotten very expensive, and everyone’s watching their dollars and cents. Some guys are doing it. You see a lot of new teams coming up. It’s not that I don’t love the sport. It’s just the hard, cold facts,” he said. “It’s the reason you don’t see Don Prudhomme out there, or Kenny Bernstein out there, or Alan Johnson having his own team, or Bob Vandergriff. You can go on and on. A lot of people love the sport. I haven’t figured it out, as far as paying for it yet.”
But Dixon hasn’t disappeared. He still match races at U.S. 131 Motorsports Park (at Martin, Mich.) and Cordova (Ill.) Dragway (and, if border restrictions are relaxed, at Canada’s Grand Bend Motorsports Park in Ontario), with his own Top Fuel dragster. He keeps busy with his NitroX2 two-seater exhibition dragster, sharing his 10,000-horsepower thrill of bolting down a dragstrip with non-racers. “That kind of gives me a little bit of a fix, as well,” he said. “It’s still a Top Fuel car. It still runs good. It still makes a ton of power.”
He also serves as an instructor and ambassador for Doug Herbert’s B.R.A.K.E.S. program that teaches high-schoolers how to operate a car safely. This January, he traveled to Australia once again to race for Rapisarda Autosport International, a team he has competed for there and in the U.S. off and on.
“I hadn’t lined up for anybody in a real points-paying event since, gosh, 2016,” Dixon said. “I love driving Top Fuel cars. I’m so far away from doing things to keep my name out there. It’s never been about that. It’s been about the love of the sport. I was a car guy before I was a crew guy, before being a driver or anything. Just having fun with cars.”
Earlier this month, he revived a part of what he would call his “car-guy experience.” While he didn’t win any trophies and wasn’t trying to, he participated in his third Summit Racing Equipment Midwest Drags “drag-n-drive” event presented by Mickey Thompson Tires. The four-day journey began near Cincinnati, at Cleves, Ohio’s Edgewater Sports Park, and coursed through Northern Indiana’s U.S. 41 Dragstrip at Morocco and Dragway 42 at West Salem, Ohio, before concluding back at Edgewater.
For Dixon, it was a happy, relaxing return to drag racing, with all the camaraderie and all the joy and the auto-tech magnificence that drew him to the sport in the first place.
I’m not competing for a win. I have a terrible car to compete for wins. I’m a second and a half off for a win.
“I’ve done it a couple of times, in 2016 and 2017. Then life will start to get in the way of some things. It’s an optional event. So, when it works out, it’s great,” he said. “It’s definitely for fun. From my standpoint, it doesn’t have to do with racing. It’s time only. I mean, you might be paired up with somebody, but everybody’s just trying to get a time slip. And you end up with a week average.
“I’m not competing for a win. I have a terrible car to compete for wins. I’m a second and a half off for a win,” he said of his 1966 Chevy Nova. “I liken it to an Ironman Triathlon, but it’s for car guys. There’s people that do Ironmans and they’re all about winning the event. And they’re positioned and conditioned and all of that to do that. Then there’s the rest of the field that are doing it to try to accomplish it. That would be me. That’d fit me to a T. I’m doing it to hang out with a whole bunch of other car guys for a week.”
Making runs down the various dragstrips is the focal point of the event, but Dixon clearly enjoyed the socializing and sense of teamwork of it all, too. Even with gas costing $6 a gallon to do it, making friends along the way was a bonus for him.
“People are moving, but you get to catch up in the staging lanes or at the checkpoints. The checkpoints, in this case, are at the end of the day,” Dixon said. “The checkpoint on Tuesday was at Walt’s Hot Rod Shop [at Brownsburg, Ind.].” Owner Walt Herr, Dixon said, “was on my crew at Prudhomme’s and did the clutch. I’ve been friends with Walt and did Drag Weeks with Walt. So you go there and catch up with him and other guys.
“The checkpoint on Thursday was at Pro-Filer [Performance Parts at New Carlisle, Ohio]. They’re pretty strong in the industry, mostly on the sportsman side: big-block Chevys, cylinder heads, and the like. The foundry is owned by Ray Franks, who used to race Pro Stock,” he said. So I met up with them and got a tour of their facility. And, again, you end up talking with other people.”
Maybe the most feel-good part of the entire exercise was the basic practice of people helping one another for the simple satisfaction of it.
“I didn’t have any trouble this year. But if you break down or you run into trouble and you need help, you can call upon the other participants, and they will help you out,” Dixon said. “This year, on the way to Walt’s, there was a guy that had a Chevy II that broke the rear-end gear. I stopped and helped him, got his car to Walt’s, got him another gear set, and got him squared away. You just pitch in and help your fellow car guy, because there’s been times they’ve helped you.”
That fellow turned out to be Corey Bohl, who won the B/Gasser trophy with his ’67 Nova. So Dixon played a part in Bohl’s successful journey.
“I met him when he was broke down on the side of the road with the driveshaft dragging behind his car. I pulled over and helped him. He ended up winning his class. It was neat to see that,” Dixon said.
But Dixon stressed that such kindness is endemic to motorsports, especially drag racing.
He said, “I can remember going to the races with my dad, and somebody would loan you a set of tires, a blower, or whatever to help you run. Even in my day, when I first started driving for Snake [Prudhomme], we crashed a car before Pomona, and Connie Kalitta flew a new car from Murf’s [McKinney’s] out to the West Coast. People help each other. When I ran my own car, Scott Palmer helped me, and the Laganas. So you do whatever you can to help your fellow car guy out and try to settle it on the track.
“There were 120 entries, and I promise you if you talk to every one of them, they’re going to have a story about how they needed help or how they helped somebody else. I don’t feel like what I’m doing is uncommon,” he said. “Amongst the people that were in the event, I was doing what everyone else would do. It’s very common.”
I love driving Top Fuel cars. I’m so far away from doing things to keep my name out there. It’s never been about that. It’s been about the love of the sport.
He said Herr shared a similar story with him: “Somebody needed a power valve. He didn’t have one. There was a guy at his shop who said, ‘Oh – the place down the street has one. The guy ran down and bought a power valve for this other guy and gave it to him. He said, ‘What do I owe you for it?’ He said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ That’s what goes on.
“That group of people is awesome. That’d be the group of people I’d want to go into battle with. They’re going to do everything they can for you, and you’re going to do the same for them,” Dixon said.
The 23-year Indiana resident, a Los Angeles transplant, said that thoughtfulness is characteristic of the Midwest. “One of the things that excited me about moving from Southern California to the Midwest was that Midwest hospitality, people saying please, people saying thank you. You see a lot of that around here. It makes it easy to live here through the winter, being surrounded by like-minded people. I’d rather have lower prices, lower cost of living, greener grass, and people saying please and thank you.”
He still loves his hometown of Van Nuys, just like he still loves the notion of being competitive in a Top Fuel dragster. His life isn’t worse today. It’s just different, and he has accepted that.
“The teams that I got to compete on, it takes an awful lot to compete at the level for a championship. I’m a long ways away from being able to do that. So I don’t get too caught up in missing it,” Dixon said.