Gainesville: Dixon wins

GAINESVILLE, FL (Apr. 21) -- Larry Dixon and Don Prudhomme's Miller Lite Top Fuel Team overcame unexpected hot and humid weather conditions to win their the first race of the 2001 season and second of his career at Gainesville Raceway to move into...

GAINESVILLE, FL (Apr. 21) -- Larry Dixon and Don Prudhomme's Miller Lite Top Fuel Team overcame unexpected hot and humid weather conditions to win their the first race of the 2001 season and second of his career at Gainesville Raceway to move into second place in the Winston points race at the re-scheduled 32nd Annual Mac Tools Gatornationals.

Dixon and Crew Chief Dick LaHaie returned to the rain-delayed Gatornationals as the No. 2 seed with their best qualifying lap of 4.588 seconds at 316 mph recorded on March 17. That pass came under cool conditions and would not assist theteam in their quest for their first win of the year as the new found weather nullified everything they had learned during qualifying. The Miller Lite Team's challenging first round would see them meet up with No. 15 seeded Bobby Baldwin, marking the third time in the last five races that the two drivers have met in the opening round.

Dixon used the second quickest pass of the opening round of Top Fuel action (4.642 seconds at 316.23 mph) to keep an undefeated career mark (5-0) against Baldwin (9.942 at 90.92 mph). His eighth elimination round win of the season earned Dixon a meeting with No. 10 seed David Grubnic in the second round after Grubnic upset No. 7 Darrell Russell. Dixon used a slight advantage at the starting line (.496 - .514)and some LaHaie horsepower as the Miller Lite Dragster's time of 4.669 seconds at 311.77 mph proved to be low elapsed time of the round and moved past "Aussie Dave's" effort of 4.802 seconds at 303.78 mph. The semifinals saw Dixon meet No. 11 seed Tony Schumacher for the first time this season and the 12th time ofthe Snake Racing pilot's seven-year career. The Miller Lite Team again posted the lowest elapsed time of the session as Dixon's lap of 4.636 seconds at 314.63 mph defeated Schumacher's pass of 4.726 seconds at 308.35 mph. The win improved Dixon's career mark to 5 wins and 7 losses against the driver of the Army Dragster. Dixon's semifinal victory also earned the right to advance to his 26th final round andhis sixth final round meeting with Scelzi overall.

It was also a rematch of the final round between Dixon and Scelzi at Memphis last season (Oct. 8, 2000) when it appeared that Dixon was well onhis way to victory before suffering an accident near the finish line which required a small pin to be placed in his left ankle and resulted in the runnerup finish.

In the finals it would be the LaHaie-tuned Miller Lite car that again posted the lowest elapsed time with a fourth consecutive 4.6 second run (4.642, 4.669, 4.636, 4.661). While Dixon did not leave the starting line with the advantage (.491-.479), he motored on to a winning lap of 4.661 seconds at 313.95 mph to defeat Scelzi's pass of 4.727 seconds at an identical speed of 313.95 mph. With the win Dixon now hasa career mark of 2 wins and 1 loss in three career final rounds at Gainesville Raceway. He won his first Gators title over Blaine Johnson in 1995 and lost his second final round to Kenny Bernsteinin 1998.

"This was a big deal, a huge deal to win today for so many different reason," said Dixon. "First off, the Gatornationals is one of the biggest events on our NHRA circuit. It is one of the most established races just like the Summernationals and Winternationals, so to win at one of the oldest and most prestigious races, especially ones that my dad used to race at, makes it extra special. Second, beating (Gary) Scelzi in the finals has been one of the hardest things for me to accomplish in my career. I couldn't ask for more. There is no better team out there right now than that of the Johnson's. They have won three out of the last four Winston Championships, so to beat them in the finals lets you know that you didn't back into the win and that makes it even more sweet. And last, to head into the Miller Sales Conference this week with a championship trophy, well I couldn't have seen it go more according to plan."

The win was actually nothing like what the team had planned though. "We had no idea how things would come out for us on raceday," said Dixon. "You just need to go with what they give you and see what happens. We weren't trying to run in the 4.50s today, we just wanted to run mid to low 4.60s and see what happened. Everybody on the Miller Lite team did their jobs today and did an excellent job. It's just like the NHL playoffs. If your goalie plays well, but you have no offense, your team will lose. Well, today we all did our jobs and we came out on top. We were all hitting and we got the win."

"I have lots of great memories here at Gainesville from when I first drove a (alcohol) dragster in 1990, to the time when I got licensed in Snake's car in 1994," recalls Dixon. "Then, the next year in 1995 we came out and beat the Johnson's team. It's not like I have any kind of home court advantage here, but I love this place. I am not taking anything away from the other tracks, but to win at a place like Gainesville makes it all the more special."

Saturday's victory moved Dixon up from third to second place in the NHRA Winston Top Fuel points standings. He now has a total of 399 points and sits just five points behind leader Mike Dunn (404). Next stop for Dixon and Prudhomme is a brief stop at the Miller Brewing Company National Sales Conference in Milwaukee (April 24-26) before they rejoin the Miller Lite Teamat the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway (April 27-29).

-Snake Racing

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Kenny Bernstein , Tony Schumacher , David Grubnic , Don Prudhomme , Dick LaHaie