Dixon gets it done quickly

Updated: March 19, 2009, 12:43 AM ET

NHRA: Dixon and Al-Anabi Racing break through at Gatornationals

Many of Larry Dixon's watershed moments in NHRA drag racing have come at historic Gainesville Raceway. Eighteen years ago he attended Frank Hawley's driving school at the Florida track and first climbed into an alcohol dragster. Three years later, in 1994, he got his Top Fuel license there.

The national record at the time was 4.74 seconds at a quarter-mile; his license-earning time was 4.76. Call it a preview of a driving career that would see Dixon go on to score four national wins in a 1995 rookie season, back-to-back series titles in 2002-03 and 43 total wins over 14 years in Don Prudhomme's dragsters.

This season, of course, Dixon is not with Snake Racing but instead is piloting the flagship ride for Alan Johnson's new Al-Anabi Racing team. Most figured the new group wouldn't take long to start a Wally collection, between eight-time champion Johnson and several crewmen from Tony Schumacher's perennial champ team, and sure enough the first win came in the third event of the Full Throttle season -- at Gainesville and the 40th annual Gatornationals.

Dixon was the fastest through two days of qualifying and, on race day, laid down sub-3.9-second passes at 1,000 feet in three of four runs, including the final, to win his fourth Gatornationals title, tying Joe Amato for the most in Top Fuel history.

"To have won four times at this place, at a place that I grew up wanting to compete at, let alone be able to win at, I'm as honored to win at this facility as I am being with this team," Dixon said.

Al-Anabi Racing didn't have a shop four months ago, but quickly put together cars for Dixon and Funny Car driver Del Worsham (coincidentally, the driver who signed Dixon's Top Fuel license 15 years ago). The dragster failed to qualify at the season opener at Pomona, Calif., although the rain-shortened event allowed for only one qualifying pass, hardly enough to judge any team.

The second race date, at Phoenix, was a better sign of what was developing between Dixon, crew chief Jason McCulloch and the team, as Dixon qualified No. 1 and advanced to the semifinals before a $50 cable broke and kept the team from challenging for a spot in the final round.

At Gainesville, it all came together. With another top qualifying spot and no bad luck in eliminations, the ballyhooed new bunch got its win.

"It's obviously just a wonderful experience for us, starting this as late in the year as we did and having this group of the guys do all they did over the winter -- it's a tribute to how well these guys have worked together," Johnson said.

It's not as easy as it would appear, Dixon said, putting together a virtual all-star team with plenty of funding and just expecting the wins to be automatic.

"It's hard to win these races, especially with a brand-new team," said Dixon, now third in TF points. "They can have all the notes they want from last season, but you don't have the same parts that you had last season, you don't have the same blowers, you don't have the same clutch disks. Anyone who runs a fuel car will tell you, each one of those parts has its own personality; you have to learn it and understand it and kind of find its personality.

"They've been able to do that. In the third race out, I'm amazed to watch them do what they do. They do it like clockwork."

It finally paid off at Gainesville, a place that continues to reward Dixon.

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.


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