Accustomed to competing for world championships, progress means something a little different for Top Fuel standout Larry Dixon in 2013.
As part of the new, Australian-based Rapisarda Top Fuel team, the three-time world champion is experiencing all of the growing pains associated with a rookie team that has jumped into one of the most competitive classes in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
But Dixon continues to see progress and there may be a chance for more this weekend as he returns to Ohio, a state that has produced five of his 62 career wins. Two of those have come at Summit Motorsports Park, the site of the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, July 4-7, and the 13th of 24 races in the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. Spencer Massey (Top Fuel), Mike Neff (Funny Car), Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were the 2012 winners at the race at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park, which will be televised on ESPN2 HD.
Dixon will be an underdog in another loaded Top Fuel field, but his major objective is seeing more improvement out of the 8,000-horsepower Rapisarda dragster that has posted three round wins in 2013.
“We’re doing the best we can and everyone on the team is working extremely hard,” Dixon said. “We are trying to find the right knobs to turn to run with the contenders. The team is working very hard to get the power to the ground with the new equipment and I think we can get better this weekend.”
Dixon ran a solid 3.832 at 317.87 mph to qualify No. 12 last weekend in Chicago, and has been as quick as 3.814 in the team’s learning year. The learning curve is also a constant one, as the team recently switched to bigger cylinder heads for the dragster.
That has led to more adjustments for a group led by crew chief Richard Hogan and crew members Santo Jr. and Tito Rapisarda, who are the sons of team owner Santo Rapisarda.
“Things are going well and (Santo Jr. and Tito) are getting more experience,” Dixon said. “You’re always trying to improve your race package, and with the new cylinder heads and equipment, we just need more runs right now.
“The bigger cylinder heads change the power level of the engine and we’re trying to sort out the clutch as well. Hopefully we can get the car back in the top half of the field in Norwalk.”
The good news is that Dixon has meshed well with the Rapisarda team, setting the Australian national record in March.
He’s also adept at succeeding in the warmer conditions the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals will bring. Learning from the likes of crew chief masterminds Dick LaHaie and Allen Johnson over the course of his standout career, Dixon will try to again apply those lessons at Summit Motorsports Park, where he won in 2010 and 2009.
“You hope that some of the stuff you’ve learned over the years is knowledge you’re able to pass along,” Dixon said. “Even then, though, it sometimes ends up being just a driver’s race and you just hope you can bring enough to the table.
“I know our team has invested a lot to improve the performance of the car, and they’re going quicker and faster than they have ever gone. We’re very proud of that.”
Even so, Dixon is used to being mentioned among the top contenders at every event and in the championship hunt. Dixon, though, remains thankful for the opportunity to compete in 2013 and a potential strong performance in Norwalk could be the springboard the team needs.
“It’s definitely nice to be back behind the wheel,” said Dixon, who won championships in 2002, 2003 and 2010. “I’ve always loved racing and loved driving, and getting the opportunity to get back in the car is nice. I’m certainly enjoying it and trying to build things up to where we can go to more races.
“Racing in Norwalk, the Bader family always makes you feel so welcome and I really like that. It makes you feel good when there’s so many fans there supporting you.”
Those in attendance at Summit Motorsports Park will also watch the continuation of the tight points battle in Top Fuel with recent Chicago winner Tony Schumacher leading the points standings and three-time season winner Shawn Langdon lurking close behind in second. Massey, Antron Brown, Bob Vandergriff and Steve Torrence have all won events this season and will be looking to add another win to the ledger, and other top contenders include Doug Kalitta, Khalid alBalooshi, Morgan Lucas, Brandon Bernstein, and Chicago runner-up Clay Millican.
In Funny Car, racers will continue their battle for the top points position, currently held by Chicago winner Matt Hagan, but which multiple drivers — including Johnny Gray, Ron Capps and Cruz Pedregon — have also occupied this season. John Force and his daughter Courtney have both won races, and the elder Force, who has yet to win at Norwalk during his prestigious career, is riding a three-race final round streak and has surged from 10th to third in the series standings in the last three weeks. Alexis DeJoria, Del Worsham and 2012 world champion Jack Beckman also will be searching for a victory in Ohio in the tightly-competitive class.
Pro Stock continues to be an ultra-competitive category featuring points leader Mike Edwards, who has three victories this season, and 2012 Pro Stock world champion Allen Johnson, who recently picked up his third win of the season as well. Ohio native Jeg Coughlin, who won last weekend in Chicago to move to second in the standings, and Shane Gray, who is poised to win his first race of the season, are also top contenders, along with Vincent Nobile, and the Summit Racing Equipment team of Jason Line and Greg Anderson.
The Pro Stock Motorcycle category has featured outstanding racing all season with a field that is separated by thousandths of a second. With three wins and the points lead, Hector Arana Jr. will be looking to hold off a tough field of competitors that includes first-time event winner John Hall, two-time season winner Michael Ray, Scotty Pollacheck and Hector Arana Sr.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers because every ticket is an exclusive pit pass, allowing them to see firsthand the highly skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds. While visiting the pits, fans won’t want to miss the interactive NHRA Nitro Alley and the NHRA Manufacturers Midway.
The teams in several categories of the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series also will thrill the crowds with intense side-by-side competition, and drivers in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series will be competing in their sixth event of the 2013 season.
NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 4 and 6:30 p.m. Friday, July 5, and will continue Saturday, July 6, at 11:45 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. Final eliminations will begin at 11 a.m. Sunday, July 7.
• TELEVISION: ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 6 p.m. (ET) Saturday, July 6, and three hours of eliminations coverage at 7 p.m. (ET) Sunday, July 7.
• ON THE WEB: Get instant results, access to photos, video and audio clips and the latest news updates from every NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event on the Internet at www.NHRA.com.
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SUMMIT RACING EQUIPMENT NHRA NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: Seventh annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, the 13th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park, Norwalk, Ohio. The track is located at 1300 State Route 18, half way between Cleveland and Toledo; just an hour and a half north of Columbus. The Ohio Turnpike is less than 10 minutes away.
WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, July 4-7.
THURSDAY, July 4 - LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying at 9 a.m.
FRIDAY, July 5 - LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
PRO MOD DRAG RACING SERIES qualifying at 4 and 6:30 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 4:45 and 7:15 p.m.
SATURDAY, July 6 - LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
PRO MOD DRAG RACING SERIES qualifying at 11 a.m.; First round of eliminations at 1:30 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 11:45 a.m. and 2:15 p.m.
SUNDAY, July 7 - Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
Saturday, July 6, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 6 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, July 7, ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of coverage starting at 7 p.m. (ET).
SATELLITE (Digital HD feed):
Friday, July 5, 9:30 - 10 p.m. (ET), AMC 1 / Transponder 06C
Saturday, July 6, 5:30 - 6 p.m. (ET), AMC 1 / Transponder 06C
Sunday, July 7, 6 - 6:30 p.m. (ET), AMC 1 / Transponder 06C
(3720 MHz, horizontal; Data Rate: 40.46147055 Mbp; Symbol Rate: 29.27 Ms; FEC: ¾; Bandwidth: 36 Mhz)
Video news release contains race action highlights each day and winners’ interviews on Sunday.
2012 EVENT WINNERS: Spencer Massey, Top Fuel; Mike Neff, Funny Car; Vincent Nobile, Pro Stock; Andrew Hines, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
MOST VICTORIES: Andrew Hines, 3, PSM; Larry Dixon, 2, TF; Mike Neff, 2, FC; Greg Anderson, 2, PS; Vincent Nobile, 2, PS.
Top Fuel - 3.780 seconds by Larry Dixon, June ’10; 322.73 mph by Spencer Massey, June ’12.
Funny Car - 4.032 seconds by Ashley Force Hood, June ’10; 313.15 mph by Del Worsham, June ’10.
Pro Stock - 6.583 seconds by Ron Krisher, June ’11; 209.36 mph by Krisher, June ’11.
PS Motorcycle - 6.887 seconds by Hector Arana Jr., June ’11; 194.49 mph by Andrew Hines, June ’10.
Top Fuel - 3.701 sec. by Antron Brown, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April ’12, Charlotte, N.C.
Funny Car - 3.986 sec. by Jack Beckman, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 320.58 mph by Beckman, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.
Pro Stock - 6.471 sec. by Mike Edwards, April ’13, Charlotte, N.C.; 214.35 mph by Jason Line, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.
PS Motorcycle - 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.26 mph by Eddie Krawiec, March ’11, Gainesville, Fla.
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NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS STANDINGS
GLENDORA, Calif. -- Point standings (top 10) following the 12th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series -
Top Fuel: 1. Tony Schumacher, 973; 2. Shawn Langdon, 936; 3. Spencer Massey, 869; 4. Antron Brown, 765; 5. Doug Kalitta, 703; 6. Khalid alBalooshi, 657; 7. Clay Millican, 620; 8. Morgan Lucas, 608; 9. Bob Vandergriff, 559; 10. Steve Torrence, 549.
Funny Car: 1. Matt Hagan, 904; 2. Cruz Pedregon, 798; 3. John Force, 762; 4. Johnny Gray, 743; 5. Ron Capps, 735; 6. Jack Beckman, 717; 7. Courtney Force, 710; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 676; 9. Del Worsham, 664; 10. Robert Hight, 603.
Pro Stock: 1. Mike Edwards, 1,090; 2. Jeg Coughlin, 962; 3. Allen Johnson, 960; 4. Jason Line, 765; 5. Erica Enders-Stevens, 743; 6. Shane Gray, 727; 7. Greg Anderson, 679; 8. Vincent Nobile, 676; 9. Rodger Brogdon, 564; 10. V. Gaines, 531.
Pro Stock Motorcycle: 1. Hector Arana Jr, 526; 2. Michael Ray, 457; 3. Hector Arana, 408; 4. John Hall, 392; 5. Matt Smith, 373; 6. Scotty Pollacheck, 366; 7. Adam Arana, 305; 8. Eddie Krawiec, 288; 9. Steve Johnson, 282; 10. LE Tonglet, 278.