Notebook: Dixon happy to have new ride

Published: Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 8:10 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 8:10 p.m.

Here's an example of how uncertain things can be in the world of professional drag racing: Larry Dixon, the second-most successful Top Fuel driver in NHRA history and a three-time world champion, could not find a ride last year.

As a result, one of the best drivers in the profession was mostly a spectator in 2012, competing in a limited three-race schedule for Dote Family Racing.

Dixon, a four-time Gatornationals champion, is back in the game in 2013. He and crew chief Lee Beard have hooked up with a new team owner, an Australian named Santo Rapisarda.

Dixon found his new ride in February and will participate in 18 NHRA events this season.

“This opportunity to join the Rapisarda team and work with Lee for the first time is very exciting for me,” Dixon said. “Last year, I worked with ESPN and the NHRA announcing team as an analyst at the national events, and it gave me a great insight of the sport from outside the pit area.”

It's hard to fathom that he basically went a year without a ride.

In 2010, Dixon was the hottest thing going in NHRA. Teamed with legendary crew chief Alan Johnson and the new Al-Anabi Racing team, he won a phenomenal 12 races to win his third season championship.

After winning two races in 2011, Dixon and Al-Anabi decided to part ways.

Dixon now is taking the long road back with a new owner and a new ride.

There's one nice perk. Following today's Gator eliminations, Dixon will travel to Australia to race in something called the Santo's Cranes Super 3 Extreme event at Willowbank Raceway on March 29-30.

“I'm really excited to be heading ‘Down Under.' I have heard a lot of great things about the racing in Australia,” Dixon said. “The three-round format is something that is used here in the U.S. quite a bit for exhibition and non-NHRA events, so I am pretty familiar with it. I have actually raced it once before with Shirley Muldowney where I was fortunate enough to get the win. Hopefully I can have the same kind of success this time around.”

Gator special to Sarge

Seven-time world champion Top Fuel driver Tony “Sarge” Schumacher always looks forward to coming to Gainesville, and it's not just because he's won here four times.

“It's massive. It's early in the year,” he said. “You tend to forget how big our sport is until you get to Gainesville. Pomona is a little light, Phoenix smaller market. Gainesville is so big.

“As the driver, we wait for an hour to get into the track on Sunday morning, that's how long the lines are. It's one of those things, man. It has the greatest list of people that have won that race.

“Maybe second to Indy, so many people show up there to try to win it and it makes it difficult.”

Schumacher's last Gatornationals victory came in 2010. He was the runner-up the past two years, getting edged out by Del Worsham in 2011 and Morgan Lucas last year.

“The four wins (in Gainesville) are great, but the last two years I've gotten beat by incredible racers,” Schumacher said. “Morgan Lucas last year runs the race of his career against me. Del Worsham the year before by four-thousandths of a second or we would have had six wins in there.

“We've had good success. Any driver will tell you going to a racetrack where you've been successful is the greatest, it's a gift, because you look forward to going there. It's one of the ones you have an advantage. You've proven you can win there.”

Krawiec prediction comes true

Three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle world champion Eddie Krawiec apparently wasn't kidding when he said before Gatornationals that he expected to struggle this weekend while he's breaking in a new Harley-Davidson.

Struggle is the word for it. Krawiec had problems getting down the track in the first three rounds of qualifying and was in danger of not making the final field in a race he's won the past three years.

But he came through when he had to in the final round, getting down the track in 6.882 seconds with a top speed of 194.04 to move from 17th to the 10th spot to qualify.

Krawiec said the goal coming in was to simply qualify, and anything beyond that would be a bonus.

“We should get better as we get deeper into the season,” he said.

Gwynn helping those in need

The Darrell Gwynn Foundation will donate two wheelchairs to individuals in need this morning before the start of eliminations.

The first donation will be a $27,000 custom power wheelchair to Wesley Johnson of Jacksonville. He suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident in 2009.

The second wheelchair ($7,000) will go to Jacksonville resident Zynetta Johnson, who was also injured in a car accident. Her current wheelchair is in disrepair.

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