Our congratulations go out to Larry Dixon on his call for induction into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America this year. In honor of him, we're reminded of just what a "car guy" he is with this flashback story to 2018 in Drag Racing Edge where we profiled him and his "street car."
Top Fuel Might Be His Livelihood, But Larry Dixon Cruises The Streets With His Ultimate Chevy II
Most car guys will always remember their first car. And most will always wish they still had it. Three-time Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon is also a car guy at heart. While the Chevy II you see on these pages isn’t exactly his first car, it is one from his youth that he still owns.
Growing up in a family where a Top Fuel car was parked in the family garage; a family where weekends were spent at tracks in and around their southern California home, that car guy gene was very easily inherited by the junior Dixon.
We’re sure everyone knows the story, but Dixon’s father, Larry Sr., the winner of the 1970 Winternationals with that now famous winner’s circle photo of him holding a young Larry Jr.; retired from the sport in 1979, but Jr. was still ate up with the sport and cars in particular.
“My first car was actually a ’55 Chevy,” said Dixon. “My parents thought it would be a good idea to sell the motorcycle that I would run around the pits with and buy a car. So in sixth grade, I bought the ’55 that was almost stripped, and I worked my summers to put the car together with a fiberglass front end, motor and other stuff to where when I turned 16, I had a running car. And even then, I couldn’t drive it for a couple of more months because I didn’t have money for insurance.”
Eventually the ’55 made it to the streets but getting into trouble with the car became an almost daily event forcing Dixon to sell the car. In a time when a Chevrolet engine was used between the frame rails of his father’s fueler; in addition to growing up as a car guy; growing up as a Chevy guy was only natural.
“I was always intrigued with the ’66 Chevy II with a small block engine that Bill Jenkins raced,” Dixon said. “He ran it in a class normally dominated by Hemis and he beat them all.
“After I sold the ’55, a friend of mine had this Chevy II in which he had blown the engine. He pulled the motor out and parked it on the street, but where he lived, the street sweepers would come by every couple of days and if he didn’t want to get a ticket, he had to push the car across the street out of their way. After about six months of that plus me egging him on, he finally sold me the car for $800, no motor or trans. My dad had a ’55 Chevy that had a small block which he removed to put in a big block, so I got that engine. The interior was a little beat up but I got some pieces to fix that and I had a car I could run around on the streets with. It was a fun car to drive and it would run 12.0s on motor and 11.0 on nitrous.”
Graduating from high school in 1984, Jr.’s first job in drag racing was with Larry Minor’s fuel team. At the time, the southern California racing scene was quite a bit different than it is today, with race cars in just about every garage along with the prerequisite youth hanging around at night.
“We were always hanging around garages working on cars, buying, fixing and flipping them,” said Dixon. “It was in ’88 when I was between racing jobs that I bought the Chevy II.”
While having fun at that age and time might have been somewhat of a priority, a fateful phone call probably changed his life forever.
“A friend of ours, Randy Green, had quit working at Don Prudhomme’s to work elsewhere,” said Dixon, “and with an opening there, a friend suggested Don call me. I was in our garage and a friend of mine answered the phone and said Don Prudhomme was on the phone for me. ‘You’re full of s##t,’ is what said, and when I picked up the phone I said ‘hey who is this?’ But there was no mistaken that legendary Prudhomme voice. ‘Holy s##t, it really is him!’ Some thirty years later, here I am.”
Thirty years, three championships and countless national event wins later, a lot has changed in the Dixon household including marriage to his wife Ali with three kids, Donovan, Alanna and Darien; although “Darien’s middle name is Lukas and he goes by Luke’” said Dixon. “I kid around that in one of my personal services contract with Lucas Oil I had to name one of my kids Lucas; but seriously it falls back to my wife’s family, the Lukovichs, who raced Comp back when we met.” However, the one mainstay in his life is this Chevy II.
“It’s been a real cool car to drive and when I moved east to Indy in ’99, I rented a U-Haul trailer and back it came,” he says. “Back in the early 2000s it seemed like everyone that worked on a Top Fuel team had some sort of a hot car. I heard about Hot Rod Drag Week, an event where you drive over 1,000 miles on public roads visiting four different dragstrips in five days. It sounded pretty cool, but my car wasn’t really ready for it. What was friendly as far as street driving in ’88, wasn’t really friendly in the 2000s. In 2016, I got some help from the people at General Motors and we installed what they term as a ‘Connect and Cruise’ combination. It’s an LT4 engine and we had to modify a couple of things on the car, but literally once you plug everything in, it fired right up and was ready to go.
“There had been a lot of swaps of this type but none were in an older car like mine,” he says. “A former crew guy who has a shop nearby, Walt’s Hot Rod Shop, is where we took the car apart and he helped build mounts and such.
“The way the car is right now is almost exactly what I wanted all along. It’s a totally street-drivable car. Everything works in the car even the speedometer that’s hooked to the electronic 4L75E transmission by way of an electronic conversion box which I spent about a day to get calibrated but it’s right now. It’s still got the original 10-bolt rear end in the car with a set of 3.73 gears which are perfect for street driving. My dad set up the rear years ago and only recently did the gears break, of which I had my dad set up the new set once again.”
For the second year in a row, Dixon attended Drag Week which this past year began at Cordova International Raceway (Illinois), traveling to Gateway Motorsports Park, Byron Dragway, Great Lakes Dragway, and finally finishing up back at Cordova.
“I put about a thousand miles on the car during that period and I got 22-miles per gallon on pump gas,” he says. “I am so proud of that and the fact I have a ten-second street car. The only time this car has been on a trailer was when I brought it out here to Indy and to take it to have the exhaust put on. Everyone has their own opinion of the ultimate street car and this one is mine.”
For a guy who has had some “awesome rides” in his life (think back to Memphis 2000, Gainesville 2015 – which ironically is probably THE MOST watched drag racing video on You Tube – and Vegas 2017) Larry Dixon is probably just as happy cruising around his Indianapolis suburb with his ultimate street car. Although now enamored with his new two-seat Top Fuel dragster, don’t expect him to give up his “day job” anytime soon.
The safety-conscious Dixon has been an outspoken supporter of safety in our sport; understandable given the “rides” he’s taken over the years. But the rides he takes today in his Chevy II either just tooling around the neighborhood or driving his kids to school, are those he is equally passionate about.