He beat cancer, broken back; now Larry Dixon ready to return to racing and winning

(Photos courtesy Larry Dixon Racing)
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If there ever was a word that best describes drag racer Larry Dixon, it’s “resilient.”

Example No. 1: Last season, the three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion and second-winningest driver in Top Fuel history (62 wins) returned to full-time racing and finished fourth in the overall standings.

That, in spite of fighting throat cancer throughout the season – a battle he has since won – as well as a horrific wreck in the Gatornationals (photo below) where he had an impact of 109g and broke his T-4 and T-5 vertebrae.

Dixon Gators Crash 2015
Dixon’s horrific crash at Gainesville in 2015.

Still, despite season-long pain, Dixon mustered on in the afore-mentioned resilient fashion.

Example No. 2: Once last season ended, Dixon lost his financial backing despite his lofty fourth-place showing. For the second time, it appeared his career had hit a brick wall once again.

Not so. Dixon didn’t let adversity get the best of him. Rather, he started from scratch, building a new Top Fuel organization.

He knew it was going to take time and every penny he could raise – lots of both, that is – not to mention money out of his own pocket, but Larry Dixon Racing was born.

While he’s still working on returning to the NHRA circuit – eyeing 2017 for a hoped-for full-time comeback – Dixon proved in June that he hasn’t lost a split-second of drive, determination and, yes, resiliency.

Dixon took his Rapisarda-sponsored Top Fuel dragster on the road – all the way to Australia and the Ipswich Australian Winternationals (remember, June is winter down under) near Brisbane.

Even though Willowbank Raceway is a quarter-mile – compared to the 1,000-foot drag strips NHRA Top Fuelers and Funny Cars race upon in the United States and Canada – Dixon drove like he did in his prime.

Not only did he ultimately wind up winning the race, he also set the Australian National Elapsed Time Record to go along with the National Speed Record he had already earned (and continues to own) in a previous visit to the country.

“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 in a media release.

Larry Dixon head shot

Eight races remain on the NHRA schedule this season. The legendary U.S. Nationals are in two weeks, right in Dixon’s Brownsburg, Indiana backyard. But because he’s still searching for sponsorship, it’s uncertain whether he’ll still make any NHRA events as a competitor before the end of the season.

But that’s not stopping Dixon from amassing dragster frames, engines, trailers, superchargers and other equipment for his Top Fuel operation. If and when he gets the funding he needs, he wants to be ready to go from a performance standpoint.

“I’m finally 100 percent healthy now and I’m excited to go racing again,” Dixon said. “I’m so anxious to get in a car and get after it!

“We have put together the equipment which could be very competitive right out of the gate. There is a lot of excitement being generated in the drag racing world, especially in Top Fuel.

“With the great TV packages in place and sellout 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, who turns 50 in October, is essentially a lifer in the drag racing world. His father was a local Top Fuel driver of renown in Southern California and won the 1970 NHRA Winternationals.

Larry started his own career first by helping his father’s racing operation, and then became a mechanic for Larry Minor and Don “Snake” Prudhomme. He excelled so much that when Prudhomme stepped out of a race car for the final time at the end of the 1994 season, he didn’t have far to look for his hand-picked successor: his protégé, Dixon.

Dixon didn’t disappoint, earning NHRA Rookie of the Year honors in 1995 and would eventually not only become a multi-champion, he’d also wind up winning the U.S. Nationals four times.

While he’d love to be racing in this year’s U.S. Nationals in two weeks, there’s always next year. But you can bet Dixon will be there as a spectator. It’s in his blood, his genes. That’s resiliency for you.

“I’ve have spent my entire life in this sport and I’m not ready to walk away just yet,” admitted Dixon. “I feel like I’m just getting started!”

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NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
McLaren Racing
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As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.

Midseason, McLaren acquired the assets of the Mercedes-EQ team as they were already on their way to winning a second consecutive championship. With those assets in place and coming off a successful debut in the Extreme E series, James is set to usher in a new era in electric car racing.

Last week’s announcement that Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast behind the wheel of the NEOM McLaren Formula E team was the last piece of the puzzle.

McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.

In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.

“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.

“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”

 

James McLaren Formula E
The NEOM Mclaren Racing Formula E team was created through the acquisition of last year’s championship car from Mercedes-EQ. – McLaren Racing

Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.

Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.

When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.

“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.

“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.

“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”

No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.

On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.

In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.

“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.

“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.

“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”

James McLaren Formula E
Jake Hughes and Rene Rast were chosen for their ability to drive fast and execute the necessary strategy for energy management. – McLaren Racing

Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.

“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”

With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.

“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.

“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.

“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”