THE DIXONS TALK BAKERSFIELD
“The Racin’ Dixons:” That’s how Larry Dixon Sr. refers to himself and son Larry Dixon Jr., and the name fits. After all, drag racing’s most famous father and son combo represent more than a half century of the sport. No wonder they are Grand Marshals of the 2012 March Meet nostalgia drag race, Mar. 1-4 at Auto Club Famoso Raceway.
“The Dixons are drag racing royalty,” said Blake Bowser, vice president and general manager of the Kern County Racing Association, operators of historic Auto Club Famoso and producers of the 54-year-old March Meet. “Larry Sr.’s the old school, front-engine driver who competed during drag racing’s golden era, and Larry Jr. is an NHRA Rookie of the Year and three-time Top Fuel world champion, representing modern-age racers. How cool is it for the fans to see the father and son legends together at the March Meet?”
Dixon Sr., who drove the Fireside Inn Roadster to a championship in the Comp Eliminator class during the ’68 March Meet, and Dixon Jr., who’s been coming to Bakersfield since he was a kid, share an incredibly strong bond. They talk about it and reveal some of their drag racing memories in this Q&A.
Question: How did each of you react when you found out you were co-Grand Marshals for the 2012 March Meet? What does it mean to you both?
Larry Dixon Sr.: I was in total shock and flabbergasted. I thought they were joking. When I think of the March Meet, I think of (Don) Garlits, Jimmy Nix and ‘the Greek’ (Chris Karamesines). I am so honored – it really makes me feel good, especially sharing it with Larry Jr. It makes it special. I’m glad he reminded me I won there a million years ago.
Larry Dixon Jr.: I feel very fortunate. Initially I felt unworthy because of all the great names associated with the March Meet. I mean the March Meet has such an unbelievable history. I spent my childhood here. The March Meet is like Woodstock on nitro methane.
But this is the ultimate honor ’cause I get to share it with my dad on stage. I’ll remember this for the rest of my life. I feel like I’m riding his coattails because he has so many memories and friends here. And he won here…even if I had to remind him.
Question: Larry Sr.: What was is like drag racing back in the ’60s & ’70s?
Dixon Sr.: I started racing in 1957 at San Fernando. Back then it was like the ‘Ozzie & Harriet’ days. Everything was simpler. It was more of a laid back deal. It was a lot of fun…not as professional as today. I think that’s one of the reasons people like the nostalgia drag races. I won my first trophy in a ’55 Chevy. Years later, so did Larry Jr.
I remember Garlits’ first race in Bakersfield. Not sure if the race was even called the March Meet back then. Jimmy Nix was there and asked his girlfriend to warm up his top fuel dragster. Well, she kept driving around and around. He couldn’t get her out of the car. The joke was that if it didn’t run out of gas, she’d still be in it. Jimmy just laughed. He always had a smile.
I used to drive The Fireside Inn Roadster. I ran it in Long Beach with a small-block Chevy engine and it kept blowing up. We had lots of borrowed parts on the car. Ronnie Scrima, a chassis builder I met when I worked at B&M, put a 354 Chrysler Hemi with borrowed mags in it and it didn’t blow up anymore. That’s the car I took to the March Meet and won.
Just to let you know how important the March Meet was to me and my family, Larry’s sister Cathy was born the Tuesday before the race, and we were breast-feeding her in the tech line. That’s the Racin’ Dixons for you.
Question: Larry Jr: you were born into drag racing. What do you remember about going to races with your dad as a kid?
Dixon Jr: It was pretty cool because my dad raced on the west coast. I’d take off school on the Friday’s he’d race and drive with him to the track. It was great – he kept the race car in the garage at home. At the races, I’d help push him back from a burnout. I was 11 years old. Nowadays that wouldn’t be an option because of insurance and liability. I feel very lucky to have been able to be around my dad when he raced and help out. Drag racing is a true family sport.
I got my Top Fuel license in Gainesville with Don Prudhomme, but did test runs my rookie year at Famoso. During the last session, I ran a great number in my
first run and tried to back it up. On my third run, the tire cut and I crashed, totaling the car. I still have the cockpit in my trophy room at home.
Question: Larry Sr.: Did you want Larry Jr. to get into drag racing? How did you feel when he won Rookie of the Year and the three world championships?
Dixon Sr.: I didn’t push him into it. I told him, ‘son, it’s hard to make a living drag racing.’ Obviously that went into the weeds. Larry Jr. started at the bottom working on Larry Minor’s crew. Prudhomme notice him and sent him to driving school, which is funny ’cause Larry never said he wanted to be a driver.
Larry said, ‘dad, I’m going to get licensed in Snake’s car!’ I said, ‘did Snake tell you that?’ He said ‘no….’
Then Larry said, ‘Snake is taking me to Gainesville on Monday!’ I said, ‘did Snake tell you that?’ He said ‘no….’
After he got licensed, I asked him, ‘did you run faster than Snake?” He said, ‘yes, just a little.’
I still can’t believe the success Larry has had. I’m thrilled for him, but there was one rub. I remember the crash he had testing Prudhomme’s car at Famoso, where he blew a tire and rolled the car. I never felt so bad. It was so tough watching my little boy crash like that. I didn’t know what to do. I went down and asked if he was hurt. He said he wasn’t and told me, ‘dad, I did just what you told me to do: hold on and go for it.’
Question: Larry Jr.: When did you decide drag racing was for you?
Dixon Jr.: I grew up with drag racing and never really went away from it. Some kids wanted to be baseball players or astronauts. I always wanted to be a racer like my dad.
Like any kid, I didn’t take all the advice my dad gave me. I didn’t do anything too bad, but I did get disciplined every once in a while. But then we would go to the track. I never really argued with my dad, but he’s much more old school than me. It was Holly carbs vs. NOS. It was fun. We have this great father-son connection.
I did get my passion for drag racing from dad. We share the same name so I feel I have a responsibility to do well. It’s a pride thing. I want to make my dad proud.
Question: What are your proudest moments in drag racing?
Dixon Sr.: My son is my proudest moment. He’s so good I still don’t think I’m his real dad.
Dixon Jr.: My first win and first championship were good, but my proudest moment was after I won the Winternationals in 1998. My dad had won it 18 years earlier, in ’70, and gave me his trophy. After I won, I gave him mine. It was a big moment.
My next proudest moment was when I won Indy in 2005. My dad had throat cancer and was going through radiation and chemotherapy, but came to the race anyway. I dedicated the win to him. It was pretty emotional for me. And the best news he’s now cancer-free.
Now celebrating 54 years of racing, the March Meet has been expanded to a four-day speedfest that enthusiasts call ‘the jewel of Nostalgia Racing.’ It attracts drag racers and spectators from around the world and also includes a hot rod car show, swap meet and a vendors’ midway. The 2012 March Meet will be held Mar. 1-4 at historic Auto Club Famoso Raceway. March Meet advance ticket sales, as well as tickets for car show registration and camping, are now available on the Auto Club Famoso website and at www.TheFOAT.com.
Father and son drag racing legends Larry Dixon Sr. and Larry Dixon Jr. are the 2012 Grand Marshals.