MADISON, Ill. — For the last 13 seasons, Gateway Int’l Raceway has been Larry Dixon’s own personal Bermuda Triangle on the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series circuit.
His racing history at the multipurpose motorsports complex just across the Mississippi River from the famed St. Louis Arch is at best an unexplained mystery.
Dixon’s highly decorated NHRA Top Fuel career includes 51 victories and two world championship titles. His name is in the record book for a significant accomplishment at all but two tracks on the NHRA schedule except zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., and Gateway.
Dixon has never won, posted a runner-up finish or claimed a No. 1 qualifying position at GIR. His best finish there is a semifinal effort. He has qualified No. 2 once, but his average qualifying position is seventh. He posted a rare DNQ in 2002, the year he won his first series crown. His 13-year winning percentage at GIR is a mind-blowing .478 (11-12).
For Dixon, who has always been great at keeping a proper perspective, GIR is just another track that he needs to conquer. He’ll try once more at the 14th annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals this weekend.
“Dale Earnhardt went to Daytona a bunch of times before he won the Daytona 500,” Dixon said. “He didn’t give up, and the Al-Anabi team won’t either.”
Dixon refuses to get all caught up in the mystical analysis of why he hasn’t hoisted a Wally in GIR’s winner’s circle. Or why he has never visited the track’s media center for a post-race interview.
Not only does he head to GIR riding a two-race winning streak, but he also comes into the seventh race of the season as the series leader. He moved one point ahead of longtime rival and good buddy Cory McClenathan in the point standings with his Las Vegas victory. Seven-time defending world champ Tony Schumacher, a resurgent Doug Kalitta and a very hungry Antron Brown are some of the other teams that have indicated they intend to be major players in the championship hunt this fall.
Fourteen-time Funny Car champion John Force is also riding a wave of resurgence into Gateway with three victories in 2010 and the class point lead in hand in the best season Force has seen in several years. Force, who has two wins at GIR (1999, 2002) holds a 120 point lead over Houston winner Matt Hagan entering the seventh event of the season.
Meanwhile in Pro Stock, everyone is taking aim at defending champion Mike Edwards, who after six races this season has four Wallys in five-final round appearances and holds a crushing 261 point lead over second place Allen Johnson. Edwards was the Gateway champion in 2006.
Despite being winless so far this season, defending Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Hector Arana holds a 40-point advantage over the bike class ahead of this weekend’s event. He’ll hope to improve his 2009 showing at GIR, which saw him foul out in a semifinal matchup with Angie (McBride) Smith.
Last year: Antron Brown took control of the Top Fuel point lead with his final-round win over Brandon Bernstein, Brown’s second of the season and the fourth of his short time in the dragster ranks. In Funny Car, Del Worsham handed the young Al-Anabi Racing team its first Funny Car Wally by defeating class point leader Ron Capps. Jeg Coughlin captured his second-straight Pro Stock triumph in his fifth final round of 2009 when final-round opponent Jason Line fouled out. In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Eddie Krawiec took command of the point lead with his second-consecutive win of the season by taking out Craig Treble in the fourth round.
Track records: Top Fuel: 3.850 seconds, Antron Brown, May 2009; 318.02 mph, Antron Brown, May 2009…Funny Car: 4.104 seconds, Matt Hagan, May 2009; 303.64 mph, Matt Hagan, May 2009…Pro Stock: 6.571 seconds, Jason Line, May 2008; 210.37 mph, Greg Stanfield, May 2009…Pro Stock Motorcycle: 6.860 seconds, Andrew Hines, May 2009; 194.21 mph, Craig Treble, May 2009.