A three-time (1968, 1970 & 1975) United States Auto Club Sprint Car Champion, Marietta, Ohio’s Larry Dickson (September 8, 1938) brought major excitement to motorsports in the late 1960s and early 1970s when he and Gary Bettenhausen put their friendly rivalry on the track and gave the fans some of the most thrilling battles in Sprint-Car racing history.
But Dickson could also handle a rear-engined Championship Car, a Championship Dirt Car and a NASCAR Cup Series ride with great ability, and he even spent a bit of time as a dirt-track Modified stock-car driver at one of the hotbeds for this kind of racing – the old half-mile Reading (Pa.) Fairgrounds.
Before he was even old enough to get into the pits, Dickson was a race-car owner and he had others drive for him. But when he turned 16 in 1954, he began his own driving career at the Marietta Fairgrounds and at the old Torch Speedway in Athens, Ohio.
After racing Jalopies and Modifieds – like his No. 0 1932 Ford coupe – Dickson drove the faster and more cut-down Super Modifieds and he became a big winner in local and special events. Then, in the early 1960s, after being “the man to beat” in regional Sprint Car action he went on to compete throughout the Midwest with the International Motor Contest Association.
With his eye on making it to the United States Auto Club, Dickson got a ride in George Nesler’s top-running Sprint Car in the United Racing Club. And in this car he won five URC races, the 1965 URC Championship and he was named “Rookie of the Year.”
He then took Nesler’s No. 29 and won his first USAC Sprint Car race on April 17, 1966, at the famed half-mile-dirt Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio.
Dickson was attracting a lot of attention and some of his first USAC Championship rides were in cars owned by fellow EMPA Hall of Fame member Ken Brenn Sr.
But he was also making a name for himself in USAC’s Sprint Car series – which was rightly known as the “Thunder & Lightning Division” And during the 1968-1971 seasons – while he was driving Ray Smith, Steve Stapp, Kenny Lay and Ben Leyba entries – Dickson and Bettenhausen were the stars of what the racing press dubbed “The Larry & Gary Show.”
During this period, Dickson won 29 main events and two (1968 & 1970) USAC Sprint Car titles, while Bettenhausen won 27 features and the other two (1969 & 1971) championships.
In 1972, Dickson made his only start in the Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway and he didn’t do too badly for an open-wheel racer as he had Richie Giachetti’s Banjo Matthews-built No. 44 Ford Torino running in the Top-10 before the engine expired.
In 1974, Dickson slowed things down a bit on the national stage and was a Top-10 runner in the light-blue Plymouth Valiant-bodied No. 69 Stoudt Auto Sales Modified at Reading – one of the toughest and most competitive tracks in American racing history. But he also ran in an occasional Sprint Car race and drove the Russ Polak-Ernie Ensign entry to a major victory in the “Little 500” on the high-banked-asphalt quarter-mile Anderson (Indiana) Speedway.
Then, in 1975, he drove the Polak-Ensign No. 80 to his third USAC Sprint Car title.
When the popular and ever-smiling Larry Dickson retired after 1982 to tend to his real estate interests in Indianapolis, he had a then all-time record of 43 USAC Sprint Car victories.
He also had 105 combined USAC/Championship Auto Racing Teams Championship Car and USAC Championship Dirt Car starts. His best Dirt Car finish was a second on August 17, 1966, in a 100-lapper at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield in the No. 45 Weinberger & Wilsek Offy. While in eight (1966-1969, 1971, 1978–1979 & 1981) Indianapolis 500s his best drive was ninth in 1969 in Rolla Vollstedt’s rear-engined No. 21 turbo-charged Ford.