Larry Dixon plots NHRA Top Fuel return
Larry Dixon has never been one to let anything stand in his way of capturing an NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing winner’s trophy. That’s how he leads his life: 300mph all the way. Three times an NHRA Top Fuel titleholder, Dixon lost his ride with Bob Vandergriff Racing at the end of last year, a group that closed shop earlier this year after losing its sponsor in death.
As he was racing towards fourth place in the final championship standings during 2015 Mello Yello NHRA campaign, Dixon also battled throat cancer – unbeknown to most everyone around him. The winner of 62 Top Fuel Wally trophies, No. 2 on the all-time list, Dixon also survived an astounding crash at the 2015 Gainesville Gatornationals, where he broke his T-4 and t-5 vertebrae, yet still managed to return to the track a couple of hours after that qualifying crash.
A man who appears to have more lives than any cat, Larry Dixon, now 49 years old, is working to get back on track; as we all know, while vertebrae may heal and cancer can be defeated, there really is no cure for racing. To satisfy his addiction, Dixon is in the midst of starting his own team, Larry Dixon Racing, with the aim of rejoining the NHRA Top Fuel wars as soon as he possibly can.
Gathering race cars, suitable equipment in Brownsburg, Ind. and keeping in shape by competing in Australia’s vibrant drag racing scene, Dixon raced to a Top Fuel victory in Australia this past June, driving a Rapisarda dragster to the win at Willowbank Raceway, competing in the City Ipswich Australian Winternationals near Brisbane. While he’d already taken the Australian national elapsed time record, this win gave the venerable competitor the country’s speed record as well.
“For the last year of my life, with cancer, a broken back and then losing my ride, everything that’s happened, winning races like we did in Australia makes all that pain go away,” Dixon said. “I’m finally 100 percent healthy now and I’m excited to go racing again. I’m so very anxious to get in a car and get after it!”
To that effect he’s put together proper equipment in his Brownsburg shop and is sure he can be competitive “out of the gate. There is a lot of excitement being generated in the drag racing world, especially in Top Fuel,” Dixon stated. “With the great TV package in place and sellout [NHRA] crowds, I don’t think the timing could be any better than now to show that right marketing partner what we can do on and off the track.”
Dixon fully understands marketing from his time working with Don “The Snake” Prudhomme. Their more recent sponsorship came from a smokeless tobacco company, which meant marketing to younger patrons at the drag races was difficult. He learned to dance around the prohibition on that type of advertising and learned how to market to different facets of the race-going public.
Growing up in the sport hasn’t hurt, either. The Southern California-bred son of s Top Fuel champion, Larry Dixon Sr, who cornered NHRA’s Division 7’s dragster category, the elder Dixon also gained fame when he won the 1970 NHRA Winternationals. Like many second generation racers, Dixon grew up at the track and assisted his father from an early age as they campaigned a family-owned dragster.
Later working as a mechanic for Larry Minor and Prudhomme before starting his Top Fuel driving career in 1995 with Snake, Dixon was “Rookie of the Year” and captured the first of his four Chevrolet Performance U. S. Nationals titles – quite a rookie feat.
“I’ve spent my entire life in this sport and I’m not ready to walk away just yet,” Dixon admitted. “I feel like I’m just getting started.”
In a form of racing where neither age, sex nor gender have any bearing in being successful, Dixon is ready to resume a truly successful career. With several key associates, Dixon has been collecting race cars, engines, blowers, integral parts, transporters and pit equipment as they formulate the plan to to begin Dixon’s Top Fuel operation. All that’s really left is to find an essential partner to make their latest dream a reality.
No doubt when Larry Dixon returns to the track, success will follow.
Words and Photos By Anne Proffit