NHRA: 3-time Top Fuel champ Larry Dixon making most of career resurgence

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Larry Dixon is making up for lost time – in VERY fast way, that is – as in the neighborhood of 320-plus mph and less than four seconds.

Dixon went from being on top of the drag racing world, with 62 national event race wins and three NHRA Top Fuel championships, to incredulously becoming a man without a full-time ride after the 2011 season.

It appeared that his career was all but over until veteran Top Fuel driver and team owner Bob Vandergriff gave Dixon a part-time Top Fuel ride last season.

Dixon’s performance was enough to convince Vandergriff to do something he had contemplated for a while – to step out from behind the wheel and focus solely on team ownership – making Dixon his hand-picked replacement on a full-time basis for the 2015 season.

To say the least, Dixon, 48, has not disappointed.

“I definitely think we’re going in the right direction,” Dixon said in an NHRA media release. “After Gainesville (walked away from a spectacular crash — see video above), we were 12th (in points) and now we’re in sixth and the car is running well.

“I ran a career-best E.T. and speed (this past Sunday at Topeka) and I think we have a top five car. I would like to think that we’re in a great spot to compete for a championship.”

While Dixon’s Bob Vandergriff Racing teammate Dave Connolly, a former standout in the Pro Stock ranks, has struggled at times in his first season in Top Fuel (13th in the standings), Dixon is definitely impressing in his 10,000-horsepower C&J Energy Services dragster.

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Larry Dixon has reached two final rounds this season, including Houston. (Photo courtesy NHRA)

While he hasn’t won a race in the first eight on the 24-event national schedule, Dixon has twice motored his way into the finals this season, including this past Sunday at Topeka, as well as a few weeks earlier at Houston (photo). He also has a semi-final finish in a third race.

“There is a lot of newness and you have to try to get in that groove to run every week,” Dixon said of a crew that includes several first-time members, including crew chief Mike Guger. “The (Gainesville) accident set us back.

“The car was running well before that happened. But a lot of credit goes to Bob for making sure we have everything it takes to bounce back. He bought the new car and got it ready, and Bob gives us everything we need, as far as parts and people, to compete week in and week out so a lot of credit goes to him.

“I think everyone on the team has something to offer. We were able to bounce back from (the crash) and we’ve gone in the right path since then.”

The next race on the schedule is next weekend’s Toyota Summernationals, June 4-7, at one of the sport’s most legendary facilities, Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J.

Dixon is ready to continue making up for all the lost time before his career was revived by Vandergriff.

“Ever since I was a kid I wanted to race Top Fuel cars,” Dixon said. “I had the opportunity for a long time and I wasn’t sure if I would get another opportunity again.

“The opportunity with Bob and his team came up and I’m trying to take full advantage.”

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Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”