Indianapolis: Larry Dixon finals report

CLAREMONT, IND (Sept. 3) - It was a storybook weekend for Larry Dixon, crew chief Dick LaHaie and team owner/hall of fame driver Don "Snake" Prudhomme as the Snake Racing Miller Lite Top Fuel team won Monday's 47th Mac Tools U.S. Nationals and ...

CLAREMONT, IND (Sept. 3) - It was a storybook weekend for Larry Dixon, crew chief Dick LaHaie and team owner/hall of fame driver Don "Snake" Prudhomme as the Snake Racing Miller Lite Top Fuel team won Monday's 47th Mac Tools U.S. Nationals and extended their lead in the NHRA Winston points race.

For Dixon the Labor Day win was his second career victory at the U.S. Nationals, the most prestigious and sought after title on the NHRA circuit. For Prudhomme, it was his ninth trip to the winner's circle at Indianapolis Raceway Park (7 as a driver, 2 as a team owner) and his 75th win overall, including 49 wins as a driver and 26 as a team owner (15 - Dixon, 10 - Ron Capps, 1 - Tommy Johnson Jr.).

But perhaps the biggest and most surprising statistic was that Monday's win was the first time that LaHaie had experienced an Indianapolis victory in a career that has spanned over 30 years either as a driver or as a crew chief. The closest LaHaie had ever come to winning the marquee event was a pair of runner up finishes while driving in 1987 and again in 1989.

"Anyone who has ever went drag racing has wanted to win Indy," said LaHaie. "(Having never won before) wasn't something that I laid awake at night thinking about not doing, but it just helps my resume so that when Snake lets me go, I can at least say that I won Indy," he joked. "Between Don, Larry and Ed McCulloch (Snake Racing Funny Car crew chief & 6-time Indy winner), they have won this race 14 times, so it feels real good."

Dixon shared in LaHaie's excitement. "This is Indy, this is huge," said Dixon. "You're a kid growing up in drag racing and this is the one that you want to win. My dad raced in Top Fuel but was never fully on the tour, but we would always tow back and go to Indy because everybody that was somebody came to this race. If you did well at this race then you were one of the best in the country. My dad never won this race, but it let me know the importance. From the beginning of time there were no other races besides Indy. There was no Arizona or Atlanta and all that, it was just Indy. So for the guys that had been racing for a long time - Snake, LaHaie, Ed McCulloch - this is it. (Don) Garlits and Shirley (Muldowney) didn't come back to race at Atlanta, they came here to race Indy because it means something to everybody."

Dixon found it hard to draw a comparison between Monday's win and his first Indy win in 1995. "Snake's last year driving back in 1994, I thought we had a car that could win this race," he recalled commenting on his time working as one of Prudhomme's crewmembers. "We had a driveline failure and that was it. That was Snake's last chance to win as a driver and I remember I felt terrible because you know how much it means to everybody. So to be able to come back the next year (1995) when I happened to be in the car and to win, it was sweet. But then you go winless at this race for five or six years and it lets you know how hard it is to win this event."

Dixon claimed his second Indy title with authority as LaHaie tuned the Miller Lite Dragster to four consecutive elimination rounds of low elapsed time. "The way our car ran today, it was very dominant," said Dixon. "It was no different than two weeks ago when we won Brainerd (August 19, 2001). Yesterday during qualifying we were low every round and every round on race day we were low elapsed time, so it was just absolutely strong."

When asked about comparing his driver's success at Indy to that of his own, Prudhomme was quick to comment. "It's not really fair to compare because he's driving a better car than I was," laughed Prudhomme. "But hey, if I was driving Larry's car, I would haul ass and don't ever forget that! Seriously, it's great to see him win because what really matters is what is happening right now. The Miller team fighting for a championship, the great quality of the car that he's driving, that's what is important. Nobody's counting our wins, we just want to win the championship."

Dixon started down the path to Victory Lane as the No. 4 qualifier and a first round win over Bruce Litton - his 19th consecutive opening round victory marking the longest current streak in Top Fuel. His lap of 4.605 seconds at 317.49 mph bettered Litton's (4.833 seconds at 312.64) and improved his career mark to 2 wins and no losses over the fellow Indianapolis-based pilot.

In the second round, Dixon squared off against 2001 NHRA Rookie of the Year candidate Darrell Russell for the fifth time this season. Dixon's lap of 4.594 seconds at 317.27 mph was his quickest of the day, moving him past Russell (4.662 secs. at 316.15 mph) and on to a career mark of 5 wins and no losses against Joe Amato's driver. It also sent Dixon to the semifinal round for the 14th time out of 18 races this season and a vital pairing against Kenny Bernstein in a meeting that would determine the leader in the Top Fuel points chase. The Miller Lite Dragster would get the best of its rival as Dixon used a time of 4.628 seconds at 317.05 mph to dispose of the "red" car (4.712 seconds at 308.85) to increase his points lead.

"Snake felt better about winning that round than I did, and obviously everybody at Miller feels great beating that red car, but all that did was give us an opportunity to get to the final round and maybe win the race. All week long, Kenny has been talking about points and all this stuff. Well, I wanted to win this race. I could care less about points this weekend because this is Indy and if you win the race, you get all the points. You only count points when you're not winning. There are six races left and we are only two rounds ahead of him. It could flip-flop next week. We don't have a John Force (type) lead where you are 400 points ahead of the next guy. You have to win every week to stay ahead. Our backs are against the wall. It's not like we have this big, comfortable lead. We have got to work hard every single week. If Winston was cutting the (championship) checks this week, then that would be great, but they're not so we have got to do well for six more races."

Dixon's final round appearance was his seventh of the year, the most final rounds he has reached in a season over his seven-year driving career. His winning lap of 4.609 seconds at 315.93 mph gave Dixon his second final round win over Mike Dunn (5.149 seconds at 199.79 mph) in four career finals against the New York Yankees driver. The win was Dixon's fifth of the season and his 15th career win in 31 career finals. It marks the most wins in a single season for Dixon and moves him past LaHaie into ninth place all-time on the NHRA Top Fuel wins list. He now has a total of 1,527 points and enjoys a 45-point lead over second place Bernstein (1,482).

The Miller Lite Team will regroup during the NHRA's off week and return to action at the 17th Annual Keystone Nationals (Sept. 14-16) at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Penn.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Bruce Litton , Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Kenny Bernstein , John Force , Joe Amato , Dick LaHaie , Tommy Johnson Jr.