Dixon drives to semifinal finish
Denver, Sunday: Two-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon raced his Miller Lite dragster to the semifinal round of eliminations Sunday at Bandimere Speedway and moved into fifth place in the NHRA Top Fuel standings. It marks the fourth time that Dixon has reached the semis this season.
The 38-time NHRA winner qualified his Miller Lite dragster in the No. 6 position for the fifth time in 2006 and knocked off No. 11 qualifier Doug Herbert and No. 14 qualifier Mike Strasburg, before falling in a close race to rookie of the year contender J.R. Todd.
For the third straight day, the hot July temperatures exceeded triple digits and the track temperature reached into the 140-degree range at Bandimere Speedway. As the third pair of Top Fuel cars to battle the tricky race track, Dixon used a solid tune-up from crew chief Don Bender to power his Miller Lite/Lucas Oil dragster to a performance of 4.835 seconds at 307.65 mph to best Herbert’s run of 5.007 seconds. The Miller Lite dragster recorded the second quickest pass of the round to secure lane choice for the second round.
“It was a good run,” Dixon said. “We wanted to improve on what we did yesterday and the car went down the track and made a nice run.”
In the second round of eliminations, the 1995 NHRA Rookie of the Year used a .096 of-a-second reaction time to card a wire-to-wire victory over the part-time racer from Utah. Dixon raced the Miller-backed dragster to an effort of 4.967 at 302.62, while Strasburg’s rail lost traction and slowed to a 5.319-second pass. Dixon again recorded the second quickest run of the round.
“The reason it slowed that round is because I had to pedal the car,” Dixon said. “It shook the tires, so I pedaled it and it still ended up being second quick of the session and we were able to get the win light.”
Responding like true champions, Dixon’s Don Bender-led team overcame a motor swap to make a solid showing in the semifinals. Nearing the end of the usual post-run service, the team discovered that a stud was stripped on the engine block forcing the team to swap motors deep into the 75-mintue turnaround. Because of the thrash, they weren’t able to warm the car or make the needed adjustment to the tune-up prior to the semifinal race with Todd.
Dixon was strapped into his Miller Lite rail in the pit and the team towed straight to the starting line for the final four match-up. Dixon raced his car to a run of 4.967 at 302.62, but was narrowly edged at the 1,320-foot finish line by Todd, whose dragster ran a slightly quicker 4.943-second pass.
“The problem just put everybody behind,” Dixon said. “We had to change engines after we were nearly done with our service and due to the time constraints there wasn’t enough time to warm the car. We went up there with the engine cold and it was just an educated guess on the clutch, timing and all parts. The car was more aggressive and it smoked the tires. I pedaled it and it still made a decent run, but J.R. (Todd) made a better run.”
“That particular engine block had a lot of runs on it and racing here at Denver really beats on the parts,” Bender added. “The car reacted more aggressively than it should have and we don’t know why it picked up the performance so early in the run. We just didn’t have time to warm the car because we found the problem with a stripped stud on the block so late in the service.”
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