DIXON HOPES SPELL OVER OLD BRIDGE TOWNSHIP STAYS STRONG AS NHRA POWERade SERIES ARRIVES IN NEW JERSEY ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. -- When Larry Dixon was 12 years old, he told race officials he was 14 just so he could get into the pits at Old ...
DIXON HOPES SPELL OVER OLD BRIDGE TOWNSHIP STAYS STRONG AS NHRA POWERade SERIES ARRIVES IN NEW JERSEY
ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. -- When Larry Dixon was 12 years old, he told race officials he was 14 just so he could get into the pits at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.
It was against the rules for anyone younger than 14 to enter that area, he said. By that time, Dixon had already known for eight years he wanted to be a professional NHRA driver. Eight years of daydreaming about the car he'd have; eight years of sneaking off to read auto magazines while his mom shopped for groceries. Eight years of wanting to be his father. It didn't seem like the time for patience.
Soon he was old enough for an entry-level job on Don "the Snake" Prudhomme's crew. And when the series swung to Englishtown, only three crew members were allowed on the starting line at a time -- so Dixon collected data. Camcorder in hand, he watched from the grandstands.
Now he's in one of the most powerful seats in the sport.
Dixon and the rest of the elite drivers of the NHRA POWERade Series come to Old Bridge Township Raceway Park for the 39th annual Lucas Oil NHRA SuperNationals, June 19-22. It's the 11th of 24 races in the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship. Dixon has driven his U.S. Smokeless Tobacco dragster to the winner's circle three of the last four times at the track he used to sneak into. He's been to the final round in Englishtown every year for the last six seasons, an NHRA Top Fuel record.
"Ever since I was four or five years old I wanted to race Top Fuel cars just like my dad (Larry Dixon Sr.)," Dixon said. "But I knew he did it for a hobby. He did it for the pure enjoyment of the sport, but there were other guys that were doing it and making a living doing it. The way I saw it, it kept them from having 'real' jobs. They just raced for a living -- how cool would that be? It would be like a guy loving golf and making that his profession."
If golf carts went 330 mph.
Dixon made his professional driving debut in 1995. That first year yielded four wins and the rookie of the year award. He's had plenty of success since then, with two world championship titles to his credit (2002-'03), and he's never finished lower than eighth in the points. That's a pretty powerful statement in a sport so competitive.
There's no doubt he's carried on his father's legacy, and ever since Larry himself became a father, he's almost always won the national event scheduled on Father's Day. First in Columbus, where he won 2001-'03 after his first son Donovan was born in November 2000, and then when that event date was moved to Englishtown (2004-'05, '07). Now, although the race is no longer held on Father's Day, Dixon's charm over the New Jersey track seemed to hold strong. Larry and his wife Alison now have three children: Donovan, Darien and Alanna.
"I really enjoy running at Englishtown," Dixon said. "Achieving success there is certainly icing on the cake. For me, it's one of the more important races on the schedule because it's been on the tour for such a long time that, to me, it's one of the events I read about as a kid. There's a lot of history there. I remember reading about (Don) Garlits and (Don) Prudhomme running there, and now I'm able to run on the same track they did. I think that's the coolest thing."
Dixon is primed to make the 2008 Countdown to the Championship playoffs, but there are plenty of drivers who would gladly take his spot. Five-time and defending NHRA POWERade Series world champion Tony Schumacher is on the march again with four event wins already this year in his U.S. Army dragster. Top Fuel rookie Antron Brown sits second in the points behind Schumacher after 10 events, with Dixon in third with one win so far in 2008.
Tim Wilkerson -- an independent driver/owner who shares information with Dixon's Prudhomme-owned team -- has been the surprise in Funny Car with two wins and the points lead coming into Englishtown. Ashley Force is in the No. 2 spot, with Cruz Pedregon and Ashley's father John No.'s 3 and 4, respectively, at the regular season's midway point. Despite two massive explosions in which he was uninjured, Tony Pedregon is fifth in the point standings heading into New Jersey.
In Pro Stock, Kurt Johnson took the points lead with a win in Chicago, while Jeg Coughlin, Jason Line, Greg Anderson and Mike Edwards round out the top five so far this year.
Andrew Hines, Matt Smith, Chip Ellis, Matt Guidera and Chris Rivas are the top five in points after 10 events, with former Old Bridge Township Raceway Park track manager Eddie Krawiec in seventh.
* SCHEDULE: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3 and 6 p.m. on Friday, June 20. Qualifying continues at noon and 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 21 and final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 22.
* TICKETS: Tickets are available for the Lucas Oil NHRA SuperNationals. Call (732) 446-7800 or check ticketmaster.com.
* ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise one hour of qualifying highlights at 4:30 p.m., one hour of qualifying highlights at 7 p.m., and two hours of qualifying highlights at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute pre-race show, at 11 a.m. (ET) on Sunday, June 22. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise the race beginning at 8 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, June 22.
* LUCAS OIL SERIES: The Lucas Oil NHRA SuperNationals also will feature competition in seven categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series, where the future stars of the NHRA POWERade Series earn their racing stripes. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 10:15 a.m. on June 19 and continues on Friday, with eliminations starting on June 21 at 10:15 a.m.