Gateway: Dixon final qualifying

MADISON, IL (June 23) - Larry Dixon and the Don Prudhomme Racing Miller Lite Dragster overcame a hot track as well as an exploding left rear tire Saturday as they held on to the No. 2 qualifying position for Sunday's elimination rounds at the 5th...

MADISON, IL (June 23) - Larry Dixon and the Don Prudhomme Racing Miller Lite Dragster overcame a hot track as well as an exploding left rear tire Saturday as they held on to the No. 2 qualifying position for Sunday's elimination rounds at the 5th Annual Sears Craftsman Nationals. 

Dixon entered the final day of qualifying at Gateway International Raceway as the No.2 seed with his lap of 4.572 seconds at 318.32 mph recorded on Friday.  Saturday's track conditions returned to true form as the heat slowed many of the Top Fuelers including Dixon who's tires broke loose in the first session, resulting in a run of 11.424 seconds at 74.94 mph.  Dixon rebounded nicely in his final qualifying effort of the weekend as the late session belonged to crewchief Dick LaHaie.  Learning from the day's earlier pass, LaHaie tuned Dixon to low elapsed time of the final session with a lap of 4.641 seconds at 313.95 mph to solidify his No. 2 position andget good data for Sunday's opening round match with No. 15 seed Luigi Novelli.

"For us, the conditions have drastically changed from yesterday," said Dixon.  "This is more like the St. Louis that were used to.  During the day, it's hot, the track is greasy, and it's just real difficult to get down the racetrack.  You gotta rearrange your goals and that's what we did, trying to regain the consistency we had in Columbus.  Once we saw that we didn't have the same track as yesterday after our first run, we regrouped and ended up being quicker that last session.  We were only one of a few cars to get down the race track, so from that standpoint I would hope that we're pleased." 

But the final pass was more than the typical, consistent Dick LaHaie warm-weather tune up.  After crossing the finish line, the 36-inch left-rear Goodyear tire on the Miller Lite Dragster unexpectedly exploded, causing a shower of sparks and debris.  Dixon slowed the car down and climbed out from behind the wheel unharmed.  It marked the first time Dixon was involved in such an incident since his serious accident in Memphis last season (Oct. 8, 2000).

"It felt like a decent run, it went on down there and just felt like a normal run," said Dixon.  "I stepped off the throttle down there, hit the parachute and I hear a 'pop' and the car goes sideways a little bit and that point you know it's a tire and you're just trying to keep it off the wall and hope that the tire doesn't take the wing out because at that point, that's your lifeline.  If the wing comes off the car, it'll spin the car around backwards, you're in the wall and it'll take your car and roll it up into a ball.  But the chute came out, I held the car straight, the wing stayed on the car and held the car down so it was just a matter of trying to get it stopped as fast as I could so it didn't grind down on the frame rail and damage the chassis beyond the point of repair."

Although it may have looked serious, Dixon does not expect a huge workload on the Miller Lite Team to get the No. 91 car back in shape for Sunday.  "Minor work," said Dixon.  "I told LaHaie that this is kind of a good omen and he said 'What?'"  I told him how I used to watch (LaHaie's former driver Scott) Kalitta and all the tires I used to watch him blow and then go out and win the championship.  So it's a good sign, at least I am taking it that way."

Today's incident did not give Dixon any strange flashbacks to his Memphis accident. "You don't have time," said Dixon. "You are going 313 miles an hour on that run and you don't have time to think about nothing except saving your own tail and saving the car."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Don Prudhomme , Dick LaHaie , Luigi Novelli