DIXON SUES NHRA FOR ALLEGED BLACKLISTING, WRONGFUL SUSPENSION
Larry Dixon has called the NHRA into account for its decision not to declare publicly the results of his suspension appeal and not to conduct its dispute with him regarding his two-seat exhibition dragster according to its rulebook.
The Avon, Ind., resident filed an antitrust lawsuit against the Glendora, Calif., organization April 11 in Indianapolis with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. He is accusing the sanction body of wrongfully suspending him and blacklisting him two years ago, depriving him of his livelihood for more than a year.
Furthermore, Dixon’s suit charges that the NHRA’s action was “an obvious effort to use NHRA’s unfettered control over professional drag racing to control the market in which two-seater exhibition cars compete for business.” The complaint says Dixon “has now been entirely deprived of his livelihood and sole source of income by this unjustifiable suspension—which is, in effect, a lifetime ban from NHRA—unless he relinquishes an investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars, as well as the future profits that he could derive from that investment.”
Plaintiffs in the suit are Championship Adventures, LLC, Larry Dixon, and Larry Dixon Racing, LLC.
The NHRA’s maneuvering, the three-time Top Fuel champion contends, has left him in limbo with his dragster team and feeling swept up in broad-brush comparisons to disgraced baseball legend Pete Rose.
“I look at the rulebook on infractions. I look at what it says about appeals and how long it should take. And I look at the rulebook and see the results of appeals should be posted according to the rulebook – and there are a lot of things haven’t happened in this particular case. And I’ve asked for that to happen, and it hasn’t happened,” Dixon said. “So I would just like some clarity on a few things. I’d like somebody else, instead of he said/she said, let somebody else decide what’s right and what’s wrong.”
It’s unclear whether Dixon is seeking monetary damages in his lawsuit for lost earnings and/or his and business partner Nick Salamone’s financial investment in the “Nitro x 2” ride-along-experience dragster.
But Dixon said, “What I can say is if the appeal process had gone according to the rulebook, it shouldn’t have taken longer than 45 days, and that would have given me the opportunity to compete at the start of last season. And that didn’t take place. So that kept me from being able to work last year. I can’t get that year back. And this year, because this is still going on and I still have people asking me because nothing’s been posted officially on the results, I’m kind of looked at by a lot of people like I’m Pete Rose. And I don’t think that that’s fair.”
He says the NHRA dragged out the appeals process in a fashion that “took me out of the ’18 season, when I did have a driving opportunity, and it appears the ’19 season as well.”
At the season-opening Winternationals, NHRA President Glen Cromwell told Competition Plus that the organization had patched up its relationship with Dixon and that he would welcome Dixon back. But Dixon didn’t see it that way. He clearly feels anything but welcome. And Cromwell’s remarks leave a few questions unanswered:
Why did the NHRA make no official announcement of its appeal decision?
Why did this particular appeals process continue well beyond the regulated 45-day period?
If it’s a fact that three NHRA employees on the appeal panel reversed their original decision, concluding Dixon did nothing wrong, why did they not issue an apology or at the least a statement saying that?
Has Dixon been reimbursed his $2,000 appeal fee?
“It’s kind of hard to find funding under those circumstances,” Dixon said.
“I really wish it hadn’t got to this point. I’m disappointed it had to get to this point,” Dixon told Competition Plus Friday evening. “I had been hoping things could get sorted out without having to go this route. I’m bummed that it had to get to this point.
“There’s a lot of it that will probably have to come out, I’m sure, in deposition, and I’m looking forward to that part of the process, because that will allow everybody to see and hear everything,” he said.
He and Salamone, a Philadelphia-area businessman who is a partner in Larry Dixon Racing, spent two years and – according to the lawsuit – “hundreds of thousands of dollars” developing the unique car that caters to the popular fan-experience segment of the entertainment industry.
Dixon has said he thought his project was proceeding with the NHRA’s blessing. He had proposed it in 2016, with NHRA executives reportedly showing enthusiasm. Dixon said the idea was popular with the public, as well, for he received more than 1,000 e-mails expressing interest in such a car.
He also had support from the IndyCar Series, which cooperates with Honda to offer rides in its two-seater open-wheel car with motorsports icon Mario Andretti behind the wheel. He took a spin with Andretti and asked him and IndyCar officials questions about insurance and waivers and administrative/legal releases. “The IndyCar experience has had an open-door policy in any way they could help us get off the ground,” Dixon said.
What sounded so promising – and sure to attract new fans to drag-racing – turned into trouble during the opening day of the 2017 SEMA Show at Las Vegas as the vehicle sat on display.
The complaint says an NHRA official “strategically visited Championship Adventures’ booth at a time when Mr. Dixon was not there, intending to conduct an unauthorized ‘inspection’ of the prototype of the two-seater car.” He spotted an expired safety sticker in the car, which Dixon said was there “simply because the chassis for the prototype for the two-seater dragster was originally a car that had competed in the NHRA.”
Dixon’s argument was that “No one had removed the sticker, as there was no need to remove an expired sticker [because] the car was not built as a competition car.”
That NHRA representative “demanded that the sticker be covered up,” the suit stated. The individual in charge at the booth complied. Later, when Dixon returned to the vehicle, he said, he saw the sticker had been removed. Dixon claims an NHRA inspector removed it.
Dixon said within days he received a “statement of action against participant” notice from the NHRA. It claimed Dixon had violated NHRA rules and suspended him indefinitely from participating as a driver, team owner, or crew member. That notice accused Dixon had “implied NHRA’s approval” by leaving the NHRA-approved chassis tag on an unauthorized and unapproved two-seat dragster.
Consequently, Dixon’s two-seater dragster is not permitted to make passes at NHRA-sanctioned dragstrips, which number approximately 130. It’s his contention the NHRA is trying to give a competitive edge to other two-seaters the NHRA has approved/endorsed.
Evidently the NHRA’s position is that it ordered Dixon not to build his ride-along dragster. Several times since the NHRA’s ruling, Dixon asked the organization “to produce the documentation that said I was told on numerous occasions to not build the car, and I still haven’t seen anything, whether it by text, e-mail, or phone correspondence.”
Dixon says that ultimately, “clarity” is what he wants.
“Clarity – that’s what I think I would like to see out of it, somebody impartial saying what should have happened or what’s supposed to happen and just having some impartial judge say what should be done and what shouldn’t be done. I wanted some clarity to the situation. Had to turn it over to people that know how to do that kind of stuff better than me. It wasn’t being done in my case [by the NHRA].”
Jessica Hatcher, NHRA senior director of public relations and communications, said, “We won’t be commenting on pending litigation.”
Dixon, 52, last raced in NHRA competition in October 2017, driving Tony Bartone’s Top Alcohol Funny Car.
His last Top Fuel appearance was at the 2017 Amalie Oil Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla., in his only appearance with his own team.
There the NHRA took issue with his sponsor, the World Series of Drag Racing. That specialty race is associated with the International Hot Rod Association, although the World Series of Drag Racing also promotes the NHRA in its marketing materials. The NHRA ordered Dixon to remove the “World Series of Drag Racing” decal from his car. He covered it with duct tape but said, "I don’t see it as a conflict, and that’s the only reason why I did it. I spent my whole life in this sport, and everything that I have I owe to the NHRA. I put together a deal to run the [World Series of Drag Racing], and I was able to get some of the money up front. I spent over $100,000 on parts [to race at Gainesville]. It wasn’t to try and do anything bad. It was just trying to get us further out of debt. We kept it really plain and simple, but it wasn’t plain and simple enough."
Dixon’s professional career started with Don Prudhomme’s Snake Racing, where he graduated from crew-hand to driver and won two series championships. He moved to Alan Johnson Racing, where he won a third title. He also drove for Bob Vandergriff Racing before starting his own team.
The second-generation driver’s 62 Top Fuel victories put him second on the class’ all-time list behind only Tony Schumacher’s 84.
Dixon said he doesn’t know when the case will be addressed in court.
“I don’t know. I don’t even know if I’ll be a part of it for the first part. I’m sure it’s back and forth with the attorneys, judges, and court and all that. I’m leaving it to them. I had a boss tell me one time, ‘Certain things you leave to the professionals.’ It’s kind of come to that point, and I’ll let them do their jobs.”
In the meantime, Dixon has taken a job with an Indianapolis-area marketing company, doing work he says is “nothing automotive-related.”