Larry Dixon begins 2002 test season in Phoenix

From The Snake Pit Incremental numbers promising for Larry Dixon and Miller Lite Team during 2002 Time Trials in Phoenix CHANDLER, AZ (Jan. 18) For the second consecutive year Larry Dixon and Don Prudhomme Racing's Miller Lite Top Fuel team ...

From The Snake Pit
Incremental numbers promising for Larry Dixon and Miller Lite Team during 2002 Time Trials in Phoenix

CHANDLER, AZ (Jan. 18) For the second consecutive year Larry Dixon and Don Prudhomme Racing's Miller Lite Top Fuel team entered pre-season testing at Firebird International Raceway after coming off a career-best effort during the previous NHRA Drag Racing season.

Dixon's second place finish in the 2001 points race capped one of the best seasons ever for a driver as his 2,007points ranked second most in NHRA Top Fuel history. Dixon, crew chief Dick LaHaie, and the team have regrouped over the past two months and appear to be ready to pick up right where they left off as their first passes of the pre-season show marked improvement and promise for the upcoming 2002 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, which begins with the 42nd Annual K&N Filters Winternationals at Pomona, California on Feb. 7.

Arriving in the Phoenix area on Wednesday, Dixon and the Miller Lite team used their first few days to set up, get organized, and overcome some unexpected surprises. While the lack of any Safety Safari staff kept the team off the track on Thursday, some parts issues played a majorf actor in keeping Dixon off the track on Friday.

"We had some new equipment, some cam shafts that were machined wrong and couldn't get any lubrication to the overhead in the engine and it would burn the push rods out," said LaHaie. "We warmed the car up on Thursday and when we warmed it up on Friday to get ready to run, it had enough running time on it without lubrication where it burnt the push rods up and rocker arm adjusters. So, we had to disassemble that engine and try to find out why it was doing what it was doing. When we found the problem, all our engines that were put together had cam shafts that had the same problem. We took them over to a local machine shop, Jim Stewart's Dynamic Machines, and machined the camshafts the way they needed to be to get the oil to the overhead, and that kept us from getting on the racetrack until Saturday morning."

The Miller Lite team then waited for the mercury to rise as the temperature in the desert had been dipping into the high 30s in the early mornings. By 1:00 PM Saturday, the thermometer was reading in the balmy 50s and Dixon was ready to make his first lap of the 2002 season.

The first pass down F.I.R.'s right lane proved to be a good starting point for the team as Dixon saw the Miller Lite Dragster lift the front end off the asphalt and recorded an impressive 60-foot time (.848 seconds) before a planned shut-off near half track. By the time Dixon reached the finish line, the scoreboard showed a lap of 5.094 seconds at 186.02 mph. The run made quite an impression on Dixon who had not been behind the wheel of the 6,500-horsepower dragster since last November.

"It felt nice to be back in the car again," said Dixon. "Last year when we came to testing I had pretty much just had my surgery done (pin removed from left ankle following Oct. 2000 accident in Memphis) and I am not going to say that I was apprehensive then, but I just kind of felt out of place a little bit getting into the car. This year, this winter has been a good winter for me because I have been able to have a normal workout schedule, I have taken up racquetball, and have really been exercising. I am in much better shape than I was last winter. With my son Donovan being born last year, this year it was more about business. I was able to take care of myself more, so that I am in way better shape when I am in the car. Talking about the car, we had a lot of time to prepare over the winter and it made coming here and testing not that big of a deal for me to get back into the car."

In spite of not having been in the car for two months, the eight-year veteran driver did not feel anything unusual about his first five-G launch of the new year. "I didn't really notice anything," said Dixon. "I guess maybe your body gets used to G-forces. The intention for our first run was that if it felt good enough, run it out to half track and shut it off. It did feel good, it rattled the tires a little bit but the numbers showed that it would run maybe a 4.60 flat high 4.50 at 270 mph. I think that all the testing we did with the equipment, all the new parts that we are running thisyear, testing it last year helped us tremendously going into testing. Yeah, we are starting off with all this new stuff, but we have quite a few runs on it and that's helping us. So, we are at that point that we can run it to half track and have it be alright without burning it up or dropping cylinders or doing all the things that might happen when you have an entirely different engine combination."

The only other run of the day for the Miller Lite team came in the left lane and saw Dixon stay on the throttle up to the 1,000-foot mark before lifting with an .838 second 60-foot time and an elapsed time of 4.62 seconds at 276.07 mph.

"Our plan was to run to three-quarter track and shut off and the car went out and ran pretty good," said Dixon. "That lane has got something about it that actually steers the car, so it tried to steer me toward the guard rail and then I had to correct and it still wouldn't come back and then I really had to correct and got it back in the groove. Fortunately the track is tight enough everywhere from the spray and compound that it never got the tires loose. But when you are steering the car like that, you are losing time. I clicked off at 1,000 foot and it ran a 4.62 at 270 mph, so it was a pretty good run. To have those kind of numbers this early in testing, for me it's exciting. At some point in time it means the numbers are going to be turned up and I am optimistic that we are going to have a pretty good hot rod this season."

Dixon and the Miller Lite team plan to remain in Arizona and continue testing until as late as Wednesday, Jan.22.

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Don Prudhomme , Dick LaHaie