JOLIET, Ill. - OK, so he's not holding the No. 1 position in the Top Fuel point standings. But don't count two-time defending NHRA POWERade Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon and the Miller Lite team out just yet. Summer is right around the corner and...
JOLIET, Ill. - OK, so he's not holding the No. 1 position in the Top Fuel point standings. But don't count two-time defending NHRA POWERade Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon and the Miller Lite team out just yet. Summer is right around the corner and they are looking forward to the heat.
"Are things as great as they have been in the last two years? Obviously not," said Dixon, who holds eighth place after the first seven events of 2004. "But are things as bad as they have ever been? Obviously not. We are still top 10 in points. I can see first place from where we are. It's out there, but I can still see it.
"We're OK because there is a lot of racing left and I know (crew chief Dick) LaHaie knows how to run in the summer and we have more races in the summer this year than ever before. I am looking forward to every race we go to."
One of the races Dixon is anxious to compete at is the seventh annual NHRA Route 66 Nationals, May 20-23, at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill. Tony Schumacher, Whit Bazemore, Kurt Johnson and Angelle Savoie are the defending winners of the $1.8 million race. It is the eighth of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
In the first seven events of the season Dixon has posted three first round losses - three times the amount of opening-round losses he suffered in 2003. His best performance of the season so far was a runner-up finish at Las Vegas in April. Schumacher leads the points and the category with four wins. Brandon Bernstein, second in points, has two victories. Cory McClenathan has one win.
"I think that we have to get our car performing more consistently at a higher level," Dixon said. "Dick LaHaie has proven he can get a car down a race track but there are a few teams that have raised the bar and we're playing a little bit of catch up right now."
LaHaie won the 1987 Top Fuel championship as a driver before he tuned Scott Kalitta to a pair of Top Fuel titles in 1994-'95. In 2002 he guided the Miller Lite team to a wire-to-wire championship and gave up the points lead just once in 2003 en route to their second consecutive title. Dixon said the team has to help LaHaie win more rounds.
"We're trying to help him just by doing the best job we can do, whether it's working on the car or driving the car," Dixon said. "We need to do the best we can so he can reach his full potential. Before the two year-run we had recently, all of his championship runs were earned by climbing back into first place. He has more experience making a comeback than from running out in front. But now he's proven he can do it either way."
Dixon has never finished outside the top 10 in points and knows there have been seasons when he has finished outside the top five without a win (1997), nonetheless a championship.
"I wouldn't say we were frustrated, but I would say that being on the run for two and a half years lets you know you have the potential to do great things," Dixon said. "So you set your standards a little higher after doing that. After going through the first five or six year of my career, I have nothing to be frustrated about."
Dixon was the runner-up at the spring and fall events at Route 66 Raceway in 2003 and is looking forward to making four winning runs on Sunday when the team heads back to the Chicago area.
"There are a couple of things I am looking forward to about racing in Joliet," Dixon said. "The new and improved surface should let teams run even quicker on the track that is already the quickest on the planet. It's capable of being even quicker, and I look forward to that. The other thing is that we get so much support from our local Miller people. It makes you feel good."