During the 15th Annual Funny Car Nationals at US 131 Motorsports Park, two individuals took the ride of their lives in the rear seat of Larry Dixon’s Top Fuel Experience Dragster. Dixon, a three-time NHRA Top Fuel world champion debuted the two-seat nitro ride in 2017.
But, despite his world champion status, the NHRA currently has a ban on Dixon’s two-seater at its sanctioned tracks, and so his business is offering the once-in-a-lifetime encounter exclusively at IHRA facilities. The drawn-out legal dispute between the NHRA and Dixon are a separate story within itself, but on this select weekend, two customers realized the sensory overload of sitting right in front of 10,000 nitro-fed horsepower.
“I had talked to Larry about a year ago when I first heard about his Top Fuel ride effort,” James Wachter claimed. “To experience a Top Fueler was something I wished for over 20 years ago. I am a gearhead and have done some racing, but I appreciate the inner workings of Top Fuel technology.”
Wachter continued, “I wanted to be one of the first to get a ride because I know what it costs to put one of these cars down the track. Ten-thousand dollars per pass is not a big money-making venture in my opinion. I didn’t want to lose out on the window of opportunity before the costs outweigh the price of a ride with Larry. I do hope he makes it a viable business.”
Being the aforementioned gearhead, Wachter appreciated learning about the fueler’s rebuild up close and personal. As acting crew chief for the weekend, Rob Wendland worked on assembling the engine and drivetrain, describing each step out loud to Wachter and the fans. The team was not their typical quiet selves going through the motions.
“Each person on the team spoke out loud on what they were doing at each moment,” Wachter said. “From installing rings on the pistons to setting up the clutch, I stood right with the crew and learned as the car was assembled for my pass. Being a close follower of nitro racing, I was fascinated that the car was the full-fledged combination. There were no cutting corners or a lower horsepower setup going in this car. That in itself got me very excited.”
It was all over for me when he rapped the throttle to bring the tires up to speed for the burnout. At that very moment, I think every four-letter word I know was yelled out through my helmet. – James Wachter
When he first showed up, Wachter was asked if he wanted to be in the car during the engine warm-up. He responded, “hell, yes, I want to be in the car. I want to stick my head right in that nitro fuel tank and do everything I can until you push me out of the way.” The team reiterated all morning that he paid to “be in the way; we will step around you.”
Of course, the best-laid plans in drag racing can always be spoiled by rain clouds. Wachter’s ride was set to happen on Friday, but the day was canceled, forcing the two rides sold for the weekend to both take place on Saturday. “I wasn’t short-changed in the slightest,” he explained. “Both of us [riders] got everything we expected.”
“When the team first fired the engine, my adrenaline was going, but when the engine gradually switched over to the nitro fuel and the car was shaking, I actually trembled a little,” Wachter continued. “Following the burnout, everything progressed as Wendland had described to me. He made eye contact with me, I gave him the thumbs-up, and he put my helmet visor down and did the same to Larry in front of me.”
And then came the ride. “My senses were in a little bit of overload at that point,” he said. “Larry was staging the fueler, and I was a little out of sorts because I was taking everything in. He had my full attention when he added the additional fuel to the engine right before the final staging beam lit. I knew then things were about to get real.”
The tree flashed and Dixon hit the tree as if it were the final round of a national event.
“Larry told me he was not going to launch easy,” Wachter said. “He wanted me to feel what it was like to hit the throttle at the flash of yellows.”
The biggest surprise to Wachter was the G-force.
“I know that 5 G’s is five times my body weight, but I was climbing in the seat against the harness,” he said. “That was incredible. As a gearhead, I just assumed that the hardest acceleration was in the first part of the pass. As I was pressed into the seat, I could feel the clutch doing its work and engaging ever-harder as we went down track. The car was accelerating its hardest right up to the point of the end of the pass.”
As an extra note about the day’s events for Dixon’s Top Fuel rides, the second rider for the day was Burnell Russell, father of the late Top Fuel racer, Darrell Russell. His ride was a surprise gift from his family. Burnell always wanted to experience what his son did in his living years as a professional Top Fuel competitor. We honored the family effort for a surprise by giving them their space for the special second ride of the day in respect to the family.
No matter the motivation for wanting to take the ultimate ride in a Fueler, Dixon’s NitroX2 Top Fuel Dragster team is determined to satisfy. Their best pass that day was a 3.34-second E.T. to the 1/8-mile at 259 mph. Larry Dixon is making this personal and putting his best efforts into fulfilling Top Fuel fans’ dreams.