Most of Larry Dixons 2011 season hasn't gone how he had hoped, but with just two races remaining he just might end up defending his championship after all.
As the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series heads to the penultimate race of the season, the 11th annual Big O Tires NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the Al-Anabi pilot sits in striking distance of series leader Antron Brown and his Matco Tools dragster.
At this point last season Dixon had collected 12 wins in 12 final round appearances and had all but locked up the championship. This season, however, has played out a little differently.
The dominant car Dixon had last year has transformed into a sleeper this season, coming on strong when it counts during the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship. After beating points leader Brown at the most recent race in the Countdown in Phoenix, Dixon leap-frogged Spencer Massey and Dixons Al-Anabi teammate Del Worsham in the standings, moving up from fourth to second. Between Brown, Massey and Worsham, they won 16 of the 20 races so far this season and Dixon has won two, yet he sits second in the Countdown with two races to go.
"With the playoff format in use now, Eddie Krawiec won a championship a few years ago without even winning a race," Dixon said. "I don't know that winning races is necessary to win the Full Throttle championship; winning rounds is what's important. So I am not surprised we are in contention because it's the nature of the Countdown that keeps you in contention if you go rounds."
Dixon may currently be more worried about round wins than race wins, but he has had a lot of success at The Strip at LVMS, collecting five wins in seven final round appearances in his career. With that record, the three-time world champ savors the opportunity to make up some ground in the title hunt.
"I definitely enjoy going to Las Vegas and racing on The Strip (at LVMS), and I think I can say the same for everyone on the Al-Anabi team," Dixon said. "The fact that we've had past success there makes it that much better. The teams that I've been with over the years have had great setups for the conditions we get in Las Vegas from the track and weather standpoints, so I feel pretty good about where we are right now and our potential to keep improving.
Not only has Dixon had a lot of success at Las Vegas as a driver, Al-Anabi team manager Alan Johnson has had his fair share of successes there as well, and at the final race of the year in Pomona. Johnson has tuned drivers to numerous victories at both tracks in high pressure situations throughout his illustrious career and knowing that, Dixon feels poised heading to these two tracks to close out the season.
"Its great knowing that Alan (Johnson) has had so much success at those two tracks, and the coolest thing is that Jason McCulloch (Dixon crew chief) has been right there with him for a lot of his success," Dixon said. "So that's multiple layers of knowledge on the Al-Anabi Racing team for those two tracks, and I'm happy to have that knowledge and this team on my side."
The Countdown has heated up with less than three rounds of competition separating first place Brown from fourth place Worsham, which means fans are guaranteed a championship point battle that goes down to the wire at Pomona. Although the title wont be decided in Las Vegas, the performance at The Strip at LVMS will make or break the championship contenders chances at becoming the 2011 Top Fuel world champion.