MADISON, Ill. - Talk about your turning points. When Larry Dixon and the Miller Lite team rolled into the Sears Craftsman Nationals in 2002, they had all but sealed the Top Fuel championship. Dixon had snagged seven victories in the first 11 races...
MADISON, Ill. - Talk about your turning points. When Larry Dixon and the Miller Lite team rolled into the Sears Craftsman Nationals in 2002, they had all but sealed the Top Fuel championship. Dixon had snagged seven victories in the first 11 races of the season. He was the points leader and then some.
Dixon seemed all but unstoppable. Then the Miller Lite team did the unthinkable -- they did not qualify for the race. Dixon was out of the cockpit on Sunday for the first time in nearly three years of competition. To make matters worse, rival and No. 2 in the standings, Kenny Bernstein, went on to win the race, closing the gap by more than 100 points.
Dixon is certain the team will do everything they can to avoid a repeat performance during the seventh annual Sears Craftsman NHRA Nationals, June 27-29, at Gateway International Raceway. Bernstein, John Force, Jeg Coughlin and Angelle Savoie are the defending winners of the $1.8 million race. It is the 12th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.
"My all-time favorite race is at Indianapolis Raceway Park because of all of the history associated with that event," Dixon said. "I didn't qualify for that race in 1999, but that doesn't make me afraid to race there. I still love it. I've also won there twice. It is just one of the deals of racing.
"Am I worried about coming back to St. Louis because we didn't qualify there last year? Absolutely not. We are going to go there and do what we know how to do. If we do our job, we will qualify and it will be fine. If we can't qualify in four passes again, we don't deserve to be in the show, just like last year."
Dixon may not have qualified at all 23 national events, but he did finish in the No. 1 spot of the NHRA POWERade Top Fuel standings. Dixon won nine races in 14 final round appearances en route to the top spot in the final standings. It was Dixon's first professional championship, and first Top Fuel championship for team owner Don Prudhomme.
"Obviously it felt great to finally win the POWERade title," said Dixon. "I am thoroughly proud of the team and how we achieved the championship. With the amount of races we won, no one can say that we were lucky enough to fall into the title. I am very proud of what we accomplished and I think this year we are taking some of the experiences, both good and bad, and we are applying it to the 2003 season.
"We are trying to go out and do well at every event. Our game plan is to win every race, but no one can do that. We just want to do well enough and win as many races as possible and at the end of the year, that will help you win another championship."
The Sears Craftsman Nationals was not a kind race for the Miller Lite team in 2002, but Dixon already has a positive outlook on the summer race in St. Louis this season.
"The conditions are going to be entirely different than last year now that we are racing after 5 p.m. every day," said Dixon, who has five victories this season and brings a 268 point lead into the event. "I expect that this format will be more enjoyable for the race teams and the fans. We should be able to put some good numbers on the board and I think everyone, especially the fans, will like that."