Smirnoff Vodka and the Spirit(s) of the Sixties

I barely remember the days when Smirnoff vodka sponsored a AA/Fuel Dragster, and how gorgeous the car was in its original incarnation. But I do recall the car and that it was at one time shoed by the legendary dragster driver, Larry Dixon. What I really remember most is the stuff of family legend. Back in the day, my Uncle Phil drove a small-block Chevy Junior gas dragster ("Connelly & Coonce") at various strips in Southern California. In 1967 or '68, at one of Lions Drag Strip's "Professional Dragster Association" meets, my Uncle was suited up and strapped in the car in the staging lanes, waiting his turn to make a qualifying pass.

As a myriad of dragsters thundered down Lions' 1/4 mile strip, my Uncle's car was methodically pushed closer and closer to the mechanical rolling "starters." At that moment, Larry Dixon Sr. (father of Larry Dixon, Jr., the guy who drives Don Prudhomme's modern Top Fuel car) was feeling no pain and got a little cheeky and pranksterish. He stuck in his mug in my Uncle's cockpit and foisted a bottle of hootch in his face.

"Hey Phil! Want any vodka?"

Phil responded with a muffled, "No thanks, Larry. Not right now," his demure words garbled by his protective garb, but punctuated by the car rolling closer to the starting line. Dixon was having none of it however, and leaned in closer and repeated his offer of a pop or two of Smirnoff, a libation of which he was no doubt in ample supply.

"I'm a little busy, Larry."

The dragster was pushed even closer to the mechanical rollers, but my Uncle's muted plea for temporary temperance was met by befuddlement and shrugs. Dixon was nonplussed by the immediacy of the situation, and offered the bottle a third time.

"Larry! Leave me alone," Phil shouted through his asbestos suit. "I'm getting ready to qualify and we're the next pair up!"

"Hey listen!" Dixon warned, "You're not going out there alone, are you?"