Larry Dixon Jr. has won an NHRA Top Fuel championship by a whopping 330 points over his closest rival and lost another by merely two points.
He has soared in the standings and literally soared as high as the scoreboards at Gainesville, Fla., when his dragster snapped in two in a violent 2015 crash that cracked a couple of vertebrae. Fifteen years before that, at Memphis, he was airlifted to a hospital, unconscious and with a broken leg following a ghastly accident that actually jarred one eyeball from its socket.
He has won three championships yet suddenly found himself empty-handed and forced to learn the most basic step to winning titles: finding funding to operate the race car. And he has been sidelined for lack of sponsorship, even banned for awhile by the sanctioning body in a dispute about his exhibition dragster. And he has been entangled with an antitrust lawsuit he filed in April 2019 against the NHRA.
Dixon overcame throat cancer in 2015 and has supported wife Ali since July through her own breast cancer ordeal.
Maybe the biggest shock of all in his career came this past week, on the eve of a new year that hinted at hope over a pandemic and at brighter circumstances for him and his family. Larry Dixon learned he had been selected for induction to the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.
“You are now a member of what is probably the most elite and distinguished group ever assembled in American motorsports history,” Motorsports Hall of Fame of America president George Levy said in a congratulatory letter to Dixon.
Dixon said, “It’s quite an honor. I don’t have a lot of words for it yet, because it hasn’t quite all sunk in,” he said of the news he received Dec. 31. “It’s very humbling, and I’m very flattered. I didn’t even know I could be or was in the running for it. So it really caught me by surprise. I’m very proud but still humbled and flattered by the nomination. Those are the words that keep coming back to me, because it’s a bit of a shock, I guess.
“I was told there are only 30-some drag racers in the Hall, and I could probably think of 30 that would be on my hero list that aren’t in the hall. So that is humbling for me,” he said.
“It’s quite an honor. I don’t have a lot of words for it yet.”
Levy said the organization will announce the full list of 2021 inductees sometime this month.
Out of respect for the Hall and the other honorees, Dixon kept the names of his Class of 2021 colleagues a secret. However, he said, “I’m really proud of the class I’m with.”
The plan is to honor the 2020 class this March 15-16 in a pandemic-postponed ceremony and to celebrate the 2021 class September 29 at M1 Concourse at Pontiac, Mich. The day before, Dixon will unveil a statue bearing his likeness that eventually will be on permanent display at the Hall of Fame Museum at Daytona Beach, Fla.
“I’ve been to Daytona, took the tour, went to the museum, and made a lap around the track in the tour bus. I’m a motorsports fan, and certainly to end up down there for this, of course,” Dixon, 54, of suburban Indianapolis, said. “We try to go to Florida a couple of times a year, just to thaw out. So that’ll give us just another excuse to go to Florida.”
News of his selection shouldn’t have been all that startling to Dixon. With 62 victories, he’s second only in the Top Fuel class to 82-time winner Tony Schumacher. Those 62 Wally trophies put him fifth among all pro NHRA racers and 10th overall in the series’ 70-year history.
Dixon earned back-to-back championships in 2002 and 2003 and again in 2010. His three crowns match those of legends Don Garlits and Shirley Muldowney, Gary Scelzi, Antron Brown, and current Top Fuel king Steve Torrence.
On his way to his second title, he swept the grueling Western Swing through Denver, Seattle, and Sonoma, Calif., that features non-stop activity in three far-flung venues with wildly different conditions. And to date, Dixon has 678 elimination round-wins, 10th among all NHRA drivers ever. Since he was named the NHRA’s rookie of the year in 2015, Dixon has driven for team owners Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, Alan Johnson, the Dote Family, and Australia’s Rapisarda Autosport International.
Dixon said the news of his selection “hasn’t taken over my life because we took off this (past) weekend. I might be a soon-to-be Hall of Famer, but I’m still a dad, so we were scouting colleges.” Daughter Alanna is planning to be an oncologist, and the family most recently visited Notre Dame and the University of Michigan. “She’s very driven. I’m really excited to see how she cuts through life,” Dixon said. He and Ali also are parents to sons Donovan, an Ivy Tech student, and Luke, who will enter high school this year.
“I don’t know what my life would be like without drag racing. My dad raced. So as far back as I can remember, we were always going to the drag races. That’s just part of my life. I don’t really know a life without it. I think I’ve literally spent every year of my life at a dragstrip, at some point every year,” Dixon said. “It’d be strange to not have drag racing. I met my wife out there. We have kids. I don’t know what my life would be like without it.”
The NHRA has lifted its indefinite suspension of Dixon, and he has renewed his Top Fuel license. However, he said he doesn’t have any imminent plans to return to competition when the season opens in mid-March at Gainesville, Fla. “If it happens, great. If it doesn’t that’s OK,” he said.
“Slap me if I ever complain. I’ve got it good.”
“I think that’s all dollar-driven, sponsorship,” he said. “Gosh, it’s hard enough to find funding to go racing, let alone in the middle of a pandemic. You’ve seen a lot of teams across the board have to adjust for this. So if it happened it would be great, but if it didn’t, I’m not going to hang myself. I’m carrying on. I’m having a lot of fun with the two-seater (the two-seat Top Fuel dragster he built for giving high-speed thrill rides to the adventurous.) And I apparently seem to stay busy without it.
“When I go and run match races with the single-seater and I’m sitting in the car and back up from the burnout and am rolling up to stage the car . . . I love that! I absolutely love being in that car. And going down the racetrack, I really, really love it,” Dixon said. “But you know, there’s a lot of people who love their sport and for one reason or another can’t continue on. So it’s not from lack of desire. It’s lack of opportunities.
“Do I miss it? Yeah, in that moment. But I don’t want to be a guy that piecemeals something together and goes out there and thinks that I’m doing something, because that isn’t how I was raised,” Dixon, whose father Larry Dixon Sr. also raced in Top Fuel, said. “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. I’ve got a lot of things—my family, that two-seat car—that more than take care of me from a satisfaction standpoint.”
The two-seat program, surprisingly, has brought him new clients in the past few months.
“With the pandemic, I thought that everything would get shut down, and some of the events that we were booked into did get shut down because of not allowing spectators. But on the other side of it, I had other people who had an epiphany, of sorts—they wanted to do a ride and they wanted to do it in 2020, do it while they can,” he said. “So I ended up running that car way more than I ever thought I would—and had a blast . . . made some great memories for some people. So from that standpoint, it’s going OK. We’re not running it enough to put food on the table or anything like that—or pay for college. But at least it’s taking care of itself, which I at least hoped it would do.”
Back in 2013, Dixon was on his own and struggling through the paces of funding his own team. But he said, “Slap me if I ever complain. I’ve got it good. Compared to what so many other people are going through, this isn’t that hard. I’m thankful for all the opportunities I have.”
Eight years later, as a newly selected member of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, he would say the same thing.
Do you have a favorite Larry Dixon moment? Share in the comments section below.
Source: Read Full Article