Pass the word: Larry Dixon shows NHRA he’s quick and fast as ever

Photos: Getty Images (featured photo) and Larry Dixon Racing (crash at Gainesville

Drag racing is like riding a bike: once you learn what to do, you never forget.

You strap in behind the wheel, roll to the starting line, wait for the green “go” light, mash the gas pedal to the floor – and then hold on for one heck of a thrill ride most times.

That’s why it’s not surprising to see what three-time NHRA Top Fuel champ Larry Dixon did this past weekend at the Dodge NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pa.

Dixon made his season debut and showed that as he closes in on 50 years old on Oct. 23 – I still remember meeting him when he was in his early 20s, working for legendary drag racer Don “Snake” Prudhomme – he still knows how to wheel a dragster down a dragstrip.

For a guy who hasn’t raced on the NHRA circuit for nearly a year, it was very clear this weekend that Dixon hadn’t lost anything or missed a beat.

Dixon and his Rapisarda Autosport-sponsored dragster qualified an impressive No. 5 in the one and only qualifying effort on Saturday (the other three weekend qualifying rounds were cancelled due to rain).

Dixon’s qualifying run was stout indeed: 3.791 seconds at 325.77 mph.

But then, would you expect anything less from the second-winningest driver in Top Fuel history (62 wins and 679 round wins)?

I’d love to say Dixon then went on to win Sunday’s race, but alas, he fell a bit short, falling to Brittany Force in the first round of eliminations.

Like just five feet short, as Force’s margin of victory was a nearly blink-of-the-eye 0.0094 seconds.

Dixon had a better reaction time (0.052 to Force’s 0.075) and was faster (326.71 mph to Force’s 324.20 mph), but Force’s dragster was just a little quicker (3.728 seconds to Dixon’s 3.760 seconds) as they reached the finish line.

But if you’re a long-time drag racing fan, particularly a Dixon fan, what he did Sunday was a win even if he didn’t advance to the second round.

Especially after what he endured to get there.

The California native, who has since resettled in Indiana, raced full-time in 2015 for Bob Vandergriff Racing, his first full-time NHRA Top Fuel season since 2011.

Unfortunately, Dixon lost his ride after that one-year stint, replaced by Leah Pritchett, who brought along a full sponsorship from Quaker State for the 2016 season (which eventually ended earlier this season when Vandergriff closed his organization).

That Dixon finished fourth last season – his best showing since winning his third Top Fuel championship in 2010 – was not surprising.

This was, after all, Larry Dixon – one of the greatest drivers to ever race down a 1,000-foot dragstrip.

But few people also knew last season, until the word leaked out eventually, that Dixon raced for much of the season not only fighting throat cancer (which he has since beaten), he also continued to race after breaking his T-4 and T-5 vertebrae in a wreck early on at Gainesville, Florida.

Larry Dixon suffered fractures of the T-4 and T-5 vertebrae when he crashed in March 2015 at Gainesville, Florida. Still, he continued racing through the remainder season in constant pain, never missing a race.

Dixon hit the wall at an impact of 109g. He should have been sidelined for much, if not the entire remainder of the season, but there he was the following race, ready to go despite being in tremendous pain that he’d endure for the remainder of 2015.

In a way, not racing this season until this past weekend may have been difficult for the ultra-competitive Dixon – but it also was a blessing in disguise.

It allowed him to get fully healed from both his cancer and back battles. And if there was any doubt that how Dixon would perform once he returned to the dragstrip – when, not if – he more than answered that this past weekend.

In addition to getting fully healthy, Dixon has spent much of 2016 dreaming – but in a good way. He’s dreamed of putting together a new team for 2017, to return full-time to the Top Fuel circuit under the Larry Dixon Racing banner.

And this past weekend was one heck of a great dress rehearsal that he hopefully will see that dream realized starting next February in the season-opening race at Pomona, Calif.

While this past weekend was his 2016 NHRA debut, Dixon decided to take a trip down under this past June to Australia.

But instead of bringing his swimsuit and sunscreen, he packed his dragster and took Australia by storm, not as a tourist but as a driver.

And in the typical fashion of a three-time NHRA champ and winner of 62 NHRA national events, Dixon didn’t just go over to the land of koala bears and shrimp on the Barbie to compete, he went there to win.

And that’s exactly what he did, flat out dominating the Ipswich Australian Winternationals near Brisbane – and setting the Australian National Elapsed Time Record for good measure.

That new ET mark goes along quite nicely with the Australian National Speed Record he earned (and continues to own) in a previous trip there.

I wrote a story about Dixon for MotorSportsTalk on August 18, detailing his plans to come back and race next season.

One of the things he said was rather poignant:

“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.

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

He did just that this past weekend, like he had never left. And the sport is so much better for what happened Saturday and Sunday – and what will happen even more when he hopefully comes back full-time in 2017.

What he said in that story nearly two months ago was only further enhanced this past weekend.

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

And I for one can’t wait to see that. The NHRA is a better, more competitive and more popular sport with Larry Dixon back behind the wheel. Will his 63rd win be not too far behind?

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Texas starting lineup: Felix Rosenqvist back on pole; Scott Dixon qualifies second


FORT WORTH, Texas — For the second consecutive year, Felix Rosenqvist will lead the NTT IndyCar Series starting lineup to the green flag at Texas Motor Speedway.

The Arrow McLaren driver is hoping the third time will be the charm at the 1.5-mile oval, where he has run extremely well but has only a career-best 12th in five starts.

“We’ve always been good here, but this is a whole different confidence level compared to last year,” Rosenqvist told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “Let’s try to wrap it up (Sunday).”

In 2020, Rosenqvist was competing for a podium when he crashed with 10 laps remaining at Texas.

QUALIFYING RESULTS: Click here for speeds from Saturday’s time trials

INDYCAR AT TEXASSchedule, start times, how to watch on NBC, Peacock

Last year, he started first on an oval for the first time in his career but finished 21st because of a broken halfshaft.

“It’s definitely one of my favorite tracks, and naturally, I’ve always been OK here,” Rosenqvist said. “It was the first oval that made sense to me. Every year I’m building on that. But looking at the results, they don’t represent the speed I normally have.

“I don’t want to jinx anything, but I hope tomorrow is going to go a bit better and some luck our way would be nice. It’s been feeling super good. Arrow McLaren has been mega every session, so just keep it rolling.”

Arrow McLaren qualified all three of its Chevrolets in the top five, building on a second for Pato O’Ward and fourth for Alexander Rossi in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The March 5 season opener was a disappointing start for Rosenqvist who was squeezed into the wall by Scott Dixon on the first lap.

Dixon, a five-time winner at Texas, will start second Sunday, followed by Rossi and Josef Newgarden. O’Ward will start fifth alongside Takuma Sato, who will start on the outside of the third row in his Chip Ganassi Racing debut.

During nearly four hours of practice and qualifying (including a special high-line session), Saturday’s lone incident involved Conor Daly.

The Ed Carpenter Racing driver spun three times but stayed off the wall and in the frontstretch grass. Aside from a front wing change and new tires, there was no damage to his No. 20 Dallara-Chevrolet during the incident midway through the 30-minute session in which drivers were limited to the high line.

“I hadn’t really had a moment before, but it snapped really aggressively,” Daly told NBC Sports after final practice. “Not ideal, but I do know my way around correcting a spin it seems like. I drove NASCAR last weekend and that seemed to help a little bit. I drove in the dirt a lot in USAC Midgets and seemed to be able to save something but not ideal or what we wanted to have happen.”

Daly will start 25th of 28 cars alongside teammate Rinus VeeKay in Row 13. Carpenter qualified 18th.

“Our three of our cars were clearly looking for something. Mechanical grip is for sure what we need. Qualifying we actually expected to be a lot better, but we found an issue there. We’ll see what happens. This race can change a lot. I’m confident in the team to hopefully figure some things out for tomorrow.”

Here’s the IndyCar starting lineup for Sunday’s PPG 375 at Texas Motor Speedway (qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, engine and speed):


1. (6) Felix Rosenqvist, Dallara-Chevy, 220.264 mph
2. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 219.972


3. (7) Alexander Rossi, Dallara-Chevy, 219.960
4. (2) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Chevy, 219.801


5. (5) Pato O’Ward, Dallara-Chevy, 219.619
6. (11) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 219.508


7. (10) Alex Palou, Dallara-Honda, 219.480
8. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 219.355


9. (18) David Malukas, Dallara-Honda, 219.256
10. (26) Colton Herta, Dallara-Honda, 219.184


11. (28) Romain Grosjean, Dallara-Honda, 219.165
12. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco, Dallara-Honda, 219.146

ROW 7 

13. (55) Benjamin Pedersen, Dallara-Chevy, 219.100
14. (14) Santino Ferrucci, Dallara-Chevy, 218.892


15. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Dallara-Chevy, 218.765
16. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Dallara-Honda, 218.698


17. (77) Callum Ilott, Dallara-Chevy, 218.427
18. (33) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 218.375

ROW 10

19. (78) Agustin Canapino, Dallara-Chevy, 218.367
20. (27) Kyle Kirkwood, Dallara-Honda, 218.227

ROW 11

21. (06) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 218.196
22. (60) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 218.103

ROW 12

23. (51) Sting Ray Robb, Dallara-Honda, 217.676
24. (15) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 217.611

ROW 13

25. (20) Conor Daly, Dallara-Chevy, 217.457
26. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Dallara-Chevy, 216.880

ROW 14

27. (45) Christian Lundgaard, Dallara-Honda, 216.210
28. (30) Jack Harvey, Dallara-Honda, 216.103