From The Snake Pit Larry Dixon VISTA, Calif. (Feb. 4, 2004) -- Ten years ago, Larry Dixon was a baby-faced, 27 year-old veteran crew member performing cylinder head duties on Don Prudhomme's Skoal Bandit Top Fuel dragster. In a few short...
From The Snake Pit Larry Dixon
VISTA, Calif. (Feb. 4, 2004) -- Ten years ago, Larry Dixon was a baby-faced, 27 year-old veteran crew member performing cylinder head duties on Don Prudhomme's Skoal Bandit Top Fuel dragster. In a few short months, Dixon would fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming an NHRA Top Fuel driver after the Snake named Dixon as his replacement for one of the most coveted seats in the sport. In 1995, Dixon proved Prudhomme's eye for talent as he raced to four victories en route to the NHRA Rookie of the Year award. Now, one of the most decorated drivers in drag racing, Dixon embarks on season No. 10 as driver of the Prudhomme-owned Miller Lite dragster as he aims for a third consecutive NHRA POWERade Top Fuel championship.
Q: Did you ever imagine you'd be a two-time NHRA Top Fuel champion?
DIXON: Not at all. I don't think I ever set my goals that high. As a kid growing up I just wanted an opportunity to race and to be able to make a living doing it. It just came together. Snake believed in me and put together a great package with Miller and Dick LaHaie. It's more than I ever thought I would have gotten out of life.
Q: What is the most important factor to building a championship race team?
DIXON: The same as any other professional sports team. Winning teams have the least amount of distractions. They have a really tight group of people working towards the same common goal. I really believe keeping the distractions to a minimum is key. I look at other forms of sports and that always seems to be a key factor. We have a common goal and we're all focused in the same direction, and we've been able to carry that for a couple years.
Q: Will it be difficult if you don't defend your title in 2004?
DIXON: The championship always goes to the team that wins the most rounds and is the most prepared. I think everybody on our team works hard towards keeping that goal. Time will tell if we're prepared or not. I don't think there is anything owed to us. You've got to go out and work hard for every round win.
Q: How important is Dick LaHaie to the team?
DIXON: How important has Phil Jackson been to the success of the Lakers? He's very important.
Q: How crucial is stability among the team members?
DIXON: I think it's an extremely important factor to have your team together. It goes back to having distractions. When you all stay together for a period of time you're not training people or feeling out different personalities. You don't have to find out what someone's mechanical abilities are. All those factors are already a known commodity. I've seen teams win championships and have their entire team quit the next day because they weren't happy. Being happy is very important. We won our second championship last season and we have our entire team coming back to try and defend our title again. I'm very proud of that.
Q: What changes will the team make this season?
DIXON: Really, just fine-tuning. The same things we've done the past couple of seasons. We've worked on the engine and clutch. We'll try and pick up the performance and consistency of the car and go back out there. I think what we had last season wasn't a bad package so it isn't like we have to re-engineer the wheel. We just have to fine-tune. We are going to work on the clutch setup. The Funny Car teams are going to the set-back blower, we're not. We're going to go to an updated cylinder head, manifold, and supercharger package. We'll change some things in the clutch, but no set-back blowers for us at the moment.
Q: Are you buying into the thought that 2004 will be the toughest year ever?
DIXON: I don't think I've ever raced in Top Fuel when it hasn't been competitive. There are quite a few teams capable of winning the championship. (Connie) Kalitta has three cars and (Tony) Schumacher and (Brandon) Bernstein and several others will be in the mix. You just have to go out there and see how it plays out. To say it will be more competitive than any other year, I don't know about that. Every year is competitive to me.
Q: Will you campaign the same car that you raced to the championship last season?
DIXON: We're going to test with the same car, but we have a new car ready.
Q: Is it exciting to have a chance to equal Joe Amato's feat of three consecutive Top Fuel championships?
DIXON: The biggest thing on my mind is to qualify for the K&N Filters Winternationals at Pomona. I'm not looking at championships or anything like that. Time will tell how you rate against the rest of the competition. I'll let everyone else worry about championships. I'm going to worry about qualifying at Pomona.
Q: What is your relationship like with team owner Don "the Snake" Prudhomme?
DIXON: Snake has been everything to me. Look at where I was when I started with the company in 1988 and where I'm at now. I mean, he's shown me just about everything on and off the race track. You just try to absorb as much as you can from someone who has won as many races and championships as he has. Career wise, he's been the greatest thing that's happened to me.
Q: What are your thoughts on your rivalry with the Bernsteins?
DIXON: Because we're sponsored by competing breweries there is always competition. When we were both fighting for ninth or 10th place, nobody really cared except the two companies. But since we've been fighting for first or second place, it's grabbed the media's attention. I enjoy racing them. They are a good team and when you beat them it's something to be proud of.
Q: Do you think the sport is making positive strides?
DIXON: I think so. From where we were 15 or 20 years ago, our sport has progressed tremendously and it's definitely going forward in a positive direction. You know, I'm just the guy that gets shot out of the cannon; I'm not the ring master.
Q: Did you ever think you'd be driving a Top Fuel dragster for 10 years?
DIXON: I never thought I'd live this long. It sounds funny because I still think of myself as a kid. When you've been driving in the top category for 10 years, you're obviously not a kid any more. You know, I'm married now and I've got two kids. That let's you know you're getting older.
Q: What is it like driving to each race in your motor coach?
DIXON: The advantage is I have my family with me all the time. When your daughter takes her first steps or says her first words and your son is going through potty training, I'm not missing any of those things. I feel blessed to have my family with me at work. I've got the best of both worlds; racing and being around my family.
Q: Do you feel like you're living a dream?
DIXON: No question. How many kids that grow up wanting to be an astronaut actually get to be an astronaut? This is something I've wanted to do ever since I was a little kid. I'm living the dream. I'm doing what I've always wanted to do ever since I was a little kid. I'm very lucky. I've been able to make a living at something I love to do.