For the last 13 seasons, Gateway Int’l Raceway has been Larry Dixon’s own personal Bermuda Triangle on the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series circuit.
His racing history at the multipurpose motorsports complex just across the Mississippi River from the famed St. Louis Arch is at best an unexplained mystery.
Dixon’s highly decorated NHRA Top Fuel career includes 51 victories and two world-championship titles. His name is in the record book for a significant accomplishment at every track on the NHRA schedule except one.
Dixon has never won, posted a runner-up finish, or claimed a No. 1 qualifying position at GIR. In fact, his best finish there is a semifinal effort. He has qualified No. 2 once, but his average qualifying position is seventh. He posted a rare DNQ in 2002, the year he won his first series crown. His 13-year winning percentage at GIR is a mind-blowing .478 (11-12).
For stats geeks, palm readers, and highly superstitious people, this is really neat stuff.
For Dixon, who has always been great at keeping a proper perspective, GIR is just another track that he needs to conquer. He’ll try once more at the 14th annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, April 30-May 2. Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Del Worsham (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending winners of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event, which will be televised on ESPN2HD.
“Dale Earnhardt went to Daytona a bunch of times before he won the Daytona 500,” Dixon said. “He didn’t give up, and the Al-Anabi team won’t either.”
Dixon refuses to get all caught up in the mystical analysis of why he hasn’t hoisted a Wally in GIR’s winner’s circle. Or why he has never visited the track’s media center for a post-race interview.
That’s not his department. His specialty is driving a race car, and he knows he has a very good one in his Jason McCulloch-tuned Al-Anabi Racing dragster that has posted back-to-back wins, in Houston and Las Vegas, at the last two NHRA Full Throttle Series events.
Could this season finally be Dixon’s time to shine at GIR?
“It’s not at all frustrating not to have won in St. Louis,” Dixon said. “I don’t feel like I’ve had bad luck there or anything; it’s just that one thing or another has gone wrong to prevent us from winning there. We’ll go into St. Louis, do our best, and try to close the deal.”
Not only does he head to GIR riding a two-race winning streak, but he also comes into the seventh race of the season as the series leader. He moved one point ahead of longtime rival and good buddy Cory McClenathan in the points standings with his Las Vegas victory. Seven-time defending world champ Tony Schumacher, a resurgent Doug Kalitta, and a very hungry Brown are some of the others who have indicated that they intend to be major players in the championship hunt this fall.
“The Top Fuel points battle isn’t just one or two teams,” Dixon said. “There are several very good cars that are in the mix so far this season, and it’s exciting to be one of them. We have to play hard every round; there are no easy rounds … you have to be prepared for a battle every time you go to the starting line.”
At the last two races, Dixon moved into the points lead by taking out leader McClenathan in head-to-head meetings. In Houston, Dixon beat McClenathan in the semifinals, and in Vegas, the two faced off in the final round. Dixon expects to see a lot more of his old friend this year, given that McClenathan’s Fram dragster has performed like the world’s quickest bracket car all season.
“I like racing Cory, and Cory likes racing me … he’s told me that,” Dixon said. “Nobody plays any games. We go up there and do our thing. We both do our best on the line, and we let the cars do the talking. It’s just nice to race somebody like that that you have a lot of respect for. He’s one of the guys I looked at when I started driving. Both of us are fighting for a championship this year, so it’s fun to be a part of that.”
In Funny Car, 14-time world champ John Force has turned back the clock to post three victories and lead the standings in the 7,000-horsepower category in his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang. Matt Hagan may not have earned rookie of the year honors last year, but the sophomore driver is turning heads in his DieHard Dodge Charger this season with strong performances, including his first career victory in Houston. Other pre-race favorites include defending series champ Robert Hight, who is hoping to turn his season around in the Auto Club Mustang, and Ashley Force Hood, who has moved to third in the points standings after a slow start in her Castrol GTX Mustang.
Defending world champ Mike Edwards has continued his domination in Pro Stock this season and opened a big lead in the points standings with four wins in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP. Allen Johnson, Greg Anderson, Jason Line, Greg Stanfield, and Ron Krisher are a few of the other favorites in the 200-mph class.
Series leader Hector Arana is going for back-to-back world titles aboard his Lucas Oil Buell in Pro Stock Motorcycle competition; however, the Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team of Houston winner Andrew Hines and Gainesville winner Krawiec are hot on his trail. Others to watch in the two-wheel division include Charlotte winner Matt Smith, Karen Stoffer, Craig Treble, and Michael Phillips.
• SCHEDULE: Full Throttle Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3:15 and 5:45 p.m. April 30 and 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. May 1. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. May 2.
• TICKETS: Tickets are available for the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals. For tickets, call Gateway Int’l Raceway, 866-35-SPEED (77333), or log on to www.gatewayraceway.com.
• ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 9 p.m. ET Saturday, May 1. ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise NHRA Race Day presented by Lucas Oil, a 30-minute pre-race show, at 10 a.m. ET Sunday, May 2. ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage at 7 p.m. ET Sunday, May 2.
• LUCAS OIL SERIES: The AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals also will feature competition in four categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series earn their racing stripes. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 9 a.m. April 30. Lucas Oil Series eliminations begin at 8:30 a.m. May 1.
• GET SCREENED AMERICA PRO MOD SERIES: NHRA’s newest touring series will make its third start of the season at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals. The series features some of the world’s-fastest unique doorslammer cars, with an eclectic mix of vintage and late-model body styles, in quarter-mile competition.