Del Worsham’s legendary opportunity
We almost didn’t have a conversation Thursday afternoon in Pasadena.
It had been Del Worsham’s decision to go out on top after winning the NHRA Top Fuel title in 2011. This So Cal guy had been racing Funny Cars for his dad Chuck for 18 years until Alan Johnson put him in an Al-Anabi Funny Car one year and into his winning Top Fuel rail the next. Worsham and his father Chuck had a conversation after Del won that championship in his 20th racing season, in which they discussed Worsham’s next move after Al-Anabi decided to change drivers, hiring Shawn Langdon and Khalid alBalooshi.
“Dad and I talked about it. After 20 years of driving, we thought it was time for me to move away and do something else,” Del said. The “something else” turned out to be tuning duties for Funny Car novice Alexis DeJoria, who joined Kalitta Motorsports the following year. It was a far less stressful job for Worsham and, when team owner Connie Kalitta asked the Southern California native if he’d like to drive the DHL Toyota Funny Car formerly driven by Kalitta’s son Scott, who died at Englishtown in a fiery accident, Worsham stepped back into the driver’s seat.
It almost felt like starting over for Worsham. He was rejuvenated, had learnt a bit more about the inner workings of the Kalitta team that ran a different type of operation from that of either Al-Anabi or Worsham’s family squad. While it took a while for Worsham and his tuners Jon Oberhofer and Nicky Boninfante to hit the sweet spot, arriving in Pomona for the season finale of the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, apparently they’ve done just that.
While Worsham acknowledges he lost a few races he really should have won during NHRA’s regular, 18-race season that concluded on Labor Day weekend at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals (that race’s 61st annual event), the DHL Toyota team came alive in the six-race Countdown to the Championship, winning three of the first four contests. Those wins, coupled with a first-round and quarter-final result in the remaining two races, allow Worsham to come to Pomona with nearly a two-round lead of 38 points.
Still, that’s not enough to feel comfortable as there are four rounds of qualifying ahead for Friday and Saturday, where bonus points are awarded for the top, second- and third-best results in each session. The fastest Funny Car gains three points, the second two points and the third-best driver gets a single point for each run through the 1,000-foot dragstrip. Those “little points” can add up and allow Worsham’s closest pursuer, “Fast” Jack Beckman to close the gap.
On Sunday there are 20 points for each round win and 20 more for a national record. It’s pretty much a local duel, as both Worsham and Beckman were raised a short distance from Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, home to this weekend’s 51st NHRA Auto Club Finals. Worsham lives in Chino Hills while Beckman resides in Norco. Both are products of the local drag racing scene.
As the teams arrived for the race at Pomona this weekend, there was plenty of tension in the clear, dry air with both Funny Car and Pro Stock Motorcycle tiles up for grabs; Top Fuel (Antron Brown) and Pro Stock (Erica Enders-Stevens) were determined two weeks ago at Las Vegas.
For Del Worsham (as well as for 2012 Funny Car champ Jack Beckman) it’s a place he’s been before and one that’s truly familial for him. Should Worsham capture this title it will be a monumental achievement as he would become only the third driver, behind Kenny Bernstein and Gary Scelzi, to earn both Top Fuel and Funny Car championships. For the laconic Worsham, outwardly anyway, it’s another day in the office.
Worsham did have an excellent omen Thursday night – in an intrasquad Kalitta Motorsports softball “classic”, the Funny Car team led by teammate Alexis DeJoria’s lead tuner Tommy DeLago handily beat Top Fuel Doug Kalitta’s tuner Jim Oberhofer’s squad by a huge 21-11 difference. Only bruises, bumps and bag burns were noted.
Words and Photos By Anne Proffit