Words Todd Veney Images Marc Gewertz
Getting to be top dog in NHRA drag racing is hard enough.
Staying there? That’s way, way tougher, which is why former –
and even reigning – champs have struggled to get wins in 2011.
Either Tony Schumacher or Larry Dixon has won every NHRA Top Fuel championship in this century and, together, they’ve won almost as many races since 2000 as all other
Top Fuel drivers combined. This year? One race into the Countdown
to the Championship, Dixon had one win, Schumacher none.
Why? “When you’re on top, other teams are developing things
to get where you are, and you’re sticking with what’s working
and just riding it as long as you can,” says Dixon, the reigning
NHRA Top Fuel champ, who won more than half the races in his
2010 title run. “At some point, they finally catch you.
“The year we won our second championship in a row  was
the year Alan Johnson joined Schumacher’s team and worked on
the set-back blower, a new style of cylinder heads, and an entirely
new clutch combination. Once he developed that, he had a couple
hundredths on us. Then five hundredths. Then it was almost a
full tenth of a second. The combination we had was maxed out.
We had to take a couple of steps back and relearn everything. In
’04, we didn’t even qualify for Chicago and finished way down in
the points [sixth – 750 points behind Schumacher]. And that was
just one year after we won the championship.”
“To win a championship, everything has to go right. It almost
has to be a miracle year,” says Schumacher, who miraculously
won six titles in a row before Dixon took over
in ’ 10. “Eventually, someone else will have
that miracle year, and you’d be a fool not to
think that. You have to be smart enough to
know it will happen and, when it does, you
can’t panic and go around firing everyone.”
With just five races to go in 2011, Top
Fuel rookie Del Worsham, Dixon’s Al-Anabi/
Alan Johnson Racing teammate, had won
six times in eight finals and Schumacher’s
Don Schumacher Racing teammates Antron
Brown and Spencer Massey had six and three
wins, respectively. Meanwhile, Doug
Kalitta and Brandon Bernstein had yet to
win (the former hadn’t even reached a
final). Just five years ago, Kalitta had a shot
at the title until the last round of the last
race of the year, and four years ago,
Bernstein did the same thing. Then
Schumacher won in a landslide in 2008,
and Dixon did likewise last year. Those
days are over.