LARRY DIXON SR./JR. 2006 NHRA WINTERNATIONALS Q&A VISTA, Calif. (Feb. 6, 2006) -- One of the great distinctions of the motor sports world, and particularly the sport of NHRA drag racing, is the family-oriented nature that has encompassed the ...
LARRY DIXON SR./JR. 2006 NHRA WINTERNATIONALS Q&A
VISTA, Calif. (Feb. 6, 2006) -- One of the great distinctions of the motor sports world, and particularly the sport of NHRA drag racing, is the family-oriented nature that has encompassed the quarter-mile racing community since the early days of hot rodding. Husbands and wives, fathers and sons and even fathers and daughters have competed together and against each other making a tremendous impact in the high-speed, 300-mph world of NHRA drag racing.
Of the 23 national events on the NHRA POWERade circuit, a few races standout and are the coveted races for any drag racer to win. A "Wally" trophy from the Winternationals happens to be one of those that earn a special place on any drag racers mantel. In the previous 45 years of the historic season-opener near Los Angeles, only two-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon has won the Winters Top Fuel title in consecutive seasons (2002-03). The three-time Winternationals winner claimed his first win at Pomona Raceway in 1998, 28 years after his father, Larry Sr., scored a surprising Winternationals victory, outrunning the likes of Don Prudhomme and James Warren. The Dixon's were the first father-son duo to have won the prestigious NHRA ! kick-off event in drag racing's premier category, Top Fuel (Connie Kalitta -- 1967, Scott Kalitta -- 2005).
While the younger Dixon has made quite a name for himself conquering concrete and asphalt quarter-mile strips since winning NHRA Rookie of the Year honors in 1995 to the tune of 38 career victories, the Senior Dixon was one of the few drag racers that was able to retire from driving and stay away from the sport he so dearly loved. While he still plays around in his alcohol-powered fuel altered, Dixon, 66, left the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley and now lives just minutes from his son near Indianapolis where he and wife, Syd, operate Kustom Kraft, a silversmith business. In this Q&A, Larry Dixon Sr. talks about his recent battle with throat cancer, his victory at the 1970 Winternationals and what he's been up to since retiring from driving in 1979, while Larry Jr., 39, chimes in on the days of ! yore when he traveled the country with his dad the Top Fuel racer and how special it was to dedicate his 2005 U.S. Nationals triumph to his father.
Q: Larry Sr., how's your health?
LARRY DIXON SR.: Well, right now, it's pretty good. I just got through with the chemo and radiation and everything, and I got all the medication straightened out. I never really panicked thinking I was going to die or anything. I knew I'd come through it. Everything is real good. I'm ready to go racing again. I never, ever smoked and I got throat cancer. I think I'm going to be all right.
Q: For all the long-time drag racing fans, what have you been up to since retiring from driving in 1979?
DIXON SR.: I kind of figured I don't need cars because I was racing every week for so long. I got burned out on it. I didn't get National DRAGSTER any more. Then I tried shooting. I collected guns and reloaders. I got one of those Dirty Harry guns, you know a 44 Magnum. You've got to have a lot of horsepower. I did that for awhile and it was ok, but that was what I wanted. I tried square dancing. That was a whole lot of fun. In the meantime, I had a '55 Chevrolet in the garage that need fixing up. I was in the garage on a nice summer night and I knew I had to get back to cars, but I just didn't want to burn myself out on it. Me and the kid did what we had to do! to get a house and started from there and it snowballed. We did the engine and the whole thing and I figured that if I'm going to race, I'm not going to do it every week. I'll try and be not so competitive and just kind of have fun with it when I do race.
I got into the nostalgia thing with the Goodguys, and we raced those things and they're just a ball. They really put on a good show with the front-engine dragsters and the cars I used to drive. The rule is that you can't have larger than a 12-inch tire, and they make a lot more horsepower than what we had in the 70s. The kid said, "You're not going to drive one of those things. I'm not going to let you." I told him he was right.
We moved to Indy about a year and-a-half ago and they don't have any nostalgia races. The only Goodguys race they have is once a year at Indy. I'm about 20 minutes from there. There are some other guys trying to put something together so we can have nostalgia events back here. That would be nice.
I work for my wife (Syd). She's got a silversmith business, Kustom Kraft. Our shop is a little small, but we're going to probably move into one of Larry's spots in the building he rents.
Q: Did or do you miss driving?
DIXON SR.: When I was racing, I last drove for Larry Minor, so I didn't have to work on them any longer. I finally was able to do it the professional way. They flew me to the races and then I went with the car, like my son does it, and he loves it. I'm a hometown guy. I like to be at home. So, I really didn't like that too much. He fired me anyway because he was going to get a deal going with Gary Beck. Gary Beck had quite a few sponsorships he could bring in and I was like this is a good time to quit. A couple people called me about driving for them and I just wanted to hang out, so that's what I did.
Q: Why did you decide to relocate to the Indianapolis area last year?
DIXON SR.: We moved to Paso Robles (Calif.) about 11 years ago. I was still doing a little racing and Syd inherited this business, it had jewelry and rings and earrings. It's mainly a mail order deal. So, we figured we could live anywhere, so we moved to Paso. We finally wanted to get out of California. We always talked about it. Went out to dinner on Valentine's Day and she looked at me and said, "Why don't we just sell everything and move to Indy?" We got to talking about it and that's what we decided to do. The property values really started booming there. Low and behold, after we decided to move, a developer kn! ocked on our door and we didn't even have to put a for sale sign out. We sold the house and booked the flight to come back here and we lucked out and found the house we wanted the first time and we didn't have to make several trips. One thing led to another and it was real good for us, so we just went with it. I might not have moved to Indianapolis if Larry wasn't here with his wife (Allison) and the grandbabies (Donovan and Alanna).
Q: I would assume your Winternationals win in 1970 has to be your greatest racing moment, what do you remember about that win?
DIXON SR.: When you do something really easy, I don't think it's a good thing. I was driving for some guys and the car was a competitive car and we were doing pretty good, and then me and my wife at the time (Pat) decided to build a car. We got it done about a week before the Winternationals. So, we went out to Orange County (International Raceway) so I could license it. We didn't get there in time to be in competition. So, the first time we were in competition was at the Winternationals. At the time, they did the tech'ing across the street and it takes all day. I don't know what got into me, but I admired th! e Mongoose (Tom McEwen) for his big talking and backing it up, and I told everybody, "I'm going to win the thing."
Well, we go out there and I think in the second round it burned a piston, so we had to put another engine in there. So, we went up for the next round and we win that thing, and the next round and we win that thing. Finally, we're down to me and Tony Nancy and I'm thinking that isn't bad. Low and behold, we went up there and I got around him too. Naturally, I'm thinking this works for me. We'll just go out there build us a new car and win all the time. I found out, that isn't how you do it. It was really neat having my son there since he's a big drag racer now. He was concerned because I had oil on my goggles. He wiped my goggles off. He thought I had grease all in my eyes. It was kind of a neat deal.
Q: Larry Jr., you've won the Winters three times (1998, 2002-03). When you won the race for the first time in 1998 did it mean more since you're dad won the race 28 years earlier?
LARRY DIXON JR.: I think it was very cool to have been able to have won the same race my dad won. For me, being a kid that grew up in the sport, where the big races of the day were Pomona, Columbus, Gainesville, Englishtown and Indy, having an opportunity to win at a very storied and history-filled race track was very special. It made it neater that we both won the same race.
Q: Your dad gave you his 1970 Winternationals trophy after winning the race. Why did you give him your 1998 Winternationals "Wally" trophy?
DIXON JR.: It wasn't anything that was planned like when I grow up I'm going to win the Winternationals and give the trophy to my dad. He doesn't travel to a lot of the races. It's very hard to win a race period, let alone have it be a race that he's at. He gave me that trophy then, so I thought it would be fitting for me to give him that one in 1998.
Q: What do you remember most fro being around your dad's Top Fuel cars in the 1970s?
DIXON JR.: As a kid, it seemed like people had Top Fuel cars like they have Super Gas cars today. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley and there were probably a dozen teams just in the Valley and now there aren't any, but there are plenty of guys in the Valley with Super Gas cars. It was way more common to have a Top Fuel car back then. It was like that all across the country. As a kid growing up, it rolled into what I really wanted to do. When I got older I wanted to be able to race because all these other people were racing Top Fuel cars.
Q: Do you have a favorite memory or a few memories that stand out from traveling the country with him?
DIXON JR.: I remember that my dad had a 12-week tour set up through the Northwest and across Canada and for me to be able to go, I had to take two months of school off. The teacher let me take the time off because she thought it would be very educational and a worthwhile experience. That was one thing I thought was neat from growing up. I had all my schoolwork with me and mailed it in once a week. She passed me too. I still haven't been back to that part of Canada since, but I still have all those memories from the trip.
Another thing I remember, my dad was the seventh guy to run under six-seconds in a Top Fuel car, and he did it with a stock-block Chevrolet engine. That was a really big deal since most of the guys had the traditional Hemi and something that, as a family, we were really proud of.
Q: Most kids grow up wanting to be an astronaut, doctor or pilot. You grew up wanting to be a Top Fuel driver. Now that you're entering your 12th season as a driver, what's it like to have realized your childhood dream since most don't?
DIXON JR.: I feel very fortunate to have been able to do that. It's one thing to be able to do it and another thing to be successful like we have. We've had a great run. First, hooking up with Larry Minor, who my dad drove for. Then driving John Mitchell's A/FD and especially Don Prudhomme. So far, it's been fun. I'm not looking to end the ride just yet.
Q: Larry Sr., what was it like to witness your son win the U.S. Nationals last September?
DIXON SR.: I'm one of those guys that when I go out to the races and I don't have my car there to race, I spend 20 minutes and go then home. And now, the television coverage is so good. I catch his interviews and see the other guys and all the races on TV. So, I don't go out there a lot. One time, we went out to the Winternationals and he won that thing (1998). He gave me the trophy and I said, "No, this is yours." And he was like, "You gave me yours, so I'm giving you mine." At the '70 Winternationals, I gave my trophy to him. So, he said, "I'll trade ya," and we did. So, that was cool.
The last one at Indy, I was in the middle of all the radiation and chemo and didn't feel worth a darn and he wanted me out there. I figured that's the least I could do. He's my son and he's racing 20 minutes away, so I better go out there. NHRA had a nice covered area about the 1,000-foot area and because they wanted me out of the sun and we got to sit up there. We went out there and watched him win every round and it was like, wow! It was a complete surprise to me that he dedicated his win to his ailing dad. That just blew me away and I was really glad I went then.
Q: Did it make the U.S. Nationals win any sweeter to have your dad there with you since he had only seen you win one other race?
DIXON JR.: It was great because, for one, knowing all the years that he competed at Indy, and he knows how big Indy is being a drag racer. And, to have him there, especially with him going through all the chemo and radiation, I couldn't have asked for anything more than that. It was a great memory.