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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
World of Outlaws: Meyers comes up big
In 1999, Jason Meyers scored his first sprint car win at the Mini Gold Cup at Silver Dollar Speedway. This past weekend, the event effectively jump-started his 2009 season.
Meyers won the second night of action at the Chico, Calif., quarter-mile track, leading all 40 laps of the A-feature in his Elite Racing No. 14 and holding off a late charge from 2001 WoO champion Danny Lasoski.
"This team really deserves this, and to get this done for them -- with all of the work they have been putting in -- is great," Meyers said.
Meyers finished second in points to Donny Schatz in 2008, with a disparity in wins proving the major factor as Schatz had 18 to Meyers' eight. The tally is 3-1 in Schatz's favor through six events this year, but Meyers is heating up in his native California and the series will remain there this weekend for two nights of racing at Thunderbowl Raceway in Tulare.
Meyers is third in points behind 20-time champion Steve Kinser, the only driver with top-10 finishes in every event. Kinser is 16 points behind Schatz.
AMA Supercross: Stewart returns to form
James Stewart stayed in the saddle throughout the 20-lap main event Saturday night at the New Orleans Superdome. Which is to say, he won.
After two consecutive races in which miscues sent him off his Yamaha and allowed rival Chad Reed to win -- thereby amassing an 11-point lead in the standings -- Stewart got a clean holeshot and rode flawlessly for his eighth win in 11 events. He fell in the other three events.
Stewart trails Reed by eight points with six races remaining. Reed finished second in the Superdome, continuing a streak of runner-up finishes in all of Stewart's wins.
"I had to win tonight -- point-blank," Stewart said. "This is what I needed heading into the [next] race in St. Louis."