Dixon Seeks Redemption at Gatornationals
3 March 1998GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Some of Larry Dixon's most cherished memories in drag racing happened at Gainesville Raceway. Last season, however, Dixon experienced something at the historic track that he would just soon forget.
For the first time in Dixon's short Top Fuel career, he failed to make the qualifying cut at this event one year ago. He says not being among the 16 fastest cars for that event was one of the worst feelings he's ever experienced. It was the lowest point in a season that didn't reach the high standards he set for himself the previous two years.
"From a performance standpoint, that was very disappointing, especially for it to happen at Gainesville," Dixon remembered. "Everything good about my racing career had been at that track. The first time I drove a car was there when I attended Frank Hawley's school, and I got my Top Fuel license there driving Snake's car in 1994. Then we came back the next year and won the Gatornationals, with me driving. Not qualifying at this event last year was hard to take."
As he prepares for the 29th annual Mac Tools Gatornationals, March 5-8, the third of 22 races on the $30-million Winston Drag Racing Series, he's still riding high from an emotional win at the season-opening Chief Auto Parts Winternationals, Pomona, Calif., and an exceptional effort at the recent ATSCO Nationals, Chandler, Ariz. Currently third in the Winston point standings, Dixon has a new crew chief in Dale Armstrong and a new attitude for the 1998 season.
"Last year I worked my tail off and for whatever reason, we didn't produce like we had in the past," Dixon said. "People were asking me what was wrong, and I couldn't give them an answer. When things are going great, those questions are easy to answer. Last season I learned a good lesson about dealing with the hard times that can happen in this sport."
He says Armstrong, who spent 16 seasons as crew chief for Kenny Bernstein, has provided just the boost that the Miller Lite team needed.
"Dale is very passionate about racing," Dixon said. "He's already made a lot of changes to the car to improve its performance. The results have been there for the last two races. I can't wait to get to Gainesville."
* Qualifying woes: Kenny Bernstein will be working to get back on track at the Mac Tools Gatornationals, after failing to make the Top Fuel lineup for the ATSCO Nationals. Professional category qualifying sessions were cut to two after Friday's racing was rained out. It was the first time Bernstein missed an NHRA event due to qualifying since the 1996 Fram Nationals in Atlanta, also shorted by rain.
Shelly Anderson, driver of the Parts America dragster, is also hoping to make the starting Top Fuel lineup at the Gatornationals. She has failed to make either of the first two NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series events in 1998.
* Looking for a win: Defending Mac Tools Gatornationals winner Joe Amato is ready to grab his first win of the season at Gainesville, following a similar pattern that he used last year.
"We've been running good and the team is doing a great job," Amato said. "It's only a matter of time. Gainesville has been a good track for us in the past, and we're looking forward to running there."
Amato, who holds both Gainesville Top Fuel performance records (4.597 seconds at 316.12 mph), has won four times and posted one runner-up finish at Gainesville during his career.