An hour after losing in the championship round Sunday, Top Fuel driver Larry Dixon was still with crew members in his pit area wearing a driving suit folded to the waist.
And smiling. He never stopped smiling.
“This is the fun pit,” he said.
Though he lost traction in the final, helping rookie Spencer Massey win the title, Dixon wasn’t pouting after failing to win his 48th NHRA event title in the Las Vegas Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
One reason for the Southern California native’s smile was that he is solidly back in the hunt for a third NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season championship.
Dixon, 43, is bidding to reclaim the title he won in 2002 and 2003 before Tony Schumacher began his streak of five straight.
Even with the final-round loss, Dixon and his Al-Anabi Racing team dominated Sunday before a capacity crowd of about 22,000. In one day, he cut Schumacher’s lead from 41 points to one in the standings with only the finale left in two weeks at Pomona, Calif.
Dixon’s team is owned by Alan Johnson and Sheikh Khalid Bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar. Johnson was the crew chief who helped Schumacher win all five championships.
That’s one reason why Dixon is confident about dethroning Schumacher.
“There’s nothing better than going into the last weekend of the season with Alan Johnson in your corner,” Dixon said. “Who better to have in your corner as a coach, cutman or trainer than Alan Johnson?”
Dixon and Schumacher each have won five event titles this year, and the drama of NHRA’s “Countdown to 1” playoff format for the last six events is working to perfection for Dixon.
“I like my car, the people who work on the car and Alan and Jason (McCulloch) turning the knobs,” he said. “That’s why I’m confident we will win the championship at Pomona. I have Alan going into the last weekend. That’s why we’re going to win.”
Schumacher’s day ended in the second round when he was narrowly beaten by Don Schumacher Racing teammate Cory McClenathan, who is 48 points back in third.
“Man, that was a tough way to go out,” Tony Schumacher said. “We just have to deal with it. We’ll have another opportunity in a couple of weeks to take care of business.”
In Nitro Funny Car, Robert Hight made an even bigger move than Dixon and was even more dominant.
Hight began the weekend with a 41-point lead over John Force Racing teammate Ashley Force Hood, his sister-in-law, but he eliminated her in the first round. He went on to win for the third time in the past five events and leaves Las Vegas with a 105-point lead.
The most points a driver in an NHRA professional category can win at Pomona is 150, which includes qualifying points and a 20-point bonus for setting an elapsed-time national record.
That’s why Mike Edwards has virtually clinched his first Pro Stock championship despite losing to Larry Morgan in the second round when Morgan, who went on to win his first title in seven seasons, was quicker to leave the starting line.
Edwards leads Greg Anderson by 139 points.
Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at email@example.com or 702-383-0247.