Life Is No Longer Funny For Top Fueler Worsham
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Del Worsham’s journey to his current position as points leader in the NHRA’s Top Fuel standings begins like most journeys – at a time and in a place. In his case the time was late summer of 2008 and the place was Lucas Oil Raceway near Indianapolis.
In was the weekend of the U.S. Nationals and Worsham was sitting in fellow driver Jim Head’s hauler sharing a little tea and sympathy. Worsham had learned that his – and his family’s – long-time sponsor had been bought out and was getting out.
Worsham had not made news public that his contract to drive the Checker, Schuck’s, Kragen Funny Car would not be renewed at that point, but he was sharing the info with old friends like Head.
Then and now, rides, good rides, were nearly impossible to come by. Even for proven winners like Worsham. He was bummed as he talked to Head.
“It was a bit devastating,” Worsham said quietly during a telephone chat on Tuesday. “I wasn’t really sure what we were going to do and what I was going to do myself.”
Both Head and Worsham had heard talk that super tuner Alan Johnson was going to bolt from Tony Schumacher’s Top Fuel team and help put together a new, well-funded effort. Some lucky driver or
drivers were going to get hooked up but good as a result.
As they talked, in through the hauler-lounge door walked Johnson.
“I said, ‘You know, funny, we were just talking about you and I’d like to interview for the driver of the Funny Car position’. He looked at me a little bit funny and he said, ‘I didn’t even know you were available,’ “ Worsham said.
Oh, yeah. Available and available soon.
They talked a bit, then a bit more on the phone the following Wednesday and in 2009, Worsham was behind the wheel of the Johnson-managed, Toyota-powered Al-Anabi Racing Funny Car.
“I was very lucky,” Worsham, 41 and a native of Whittier, Calif., said. “I went to (Head and another friend and fellow driver, Jerry Toliver) and wondered was there any chance I should go after this job and they were both like, ‘Absolutely, you should talk to Alan,’ and right then, here he comes walking into the trailer.
“Timing is everything.”
Worsham takes a deep breath when it is suggested to him that life and career have never been better for him than now. Yes and no, he says.
“It’s exciting,” he says. “It’s a whole new chapter. But nothing will ever replace racing with your family. Just the racing that my dad and myself had over here with Checker Schuck’s Kragen was just unreal. We spent 12 years racing. But at the same time, we had lost a little bit of our edge. So a change wasn’t a bad thing. And it’s turned out. Seems like it was fate.”
In ’09, Worsham won three times, earned a berth in the Countdown and finished seventh in points. It was his best season since 2004, when he won five times and finished as runner-up to John Force.
Last season, Worsham was fast again but lousy breaks kept him from winning. He said when his cars were fast, luck was bad and when the performance was good, luck was bad.
At some point during that season, the owner of Al-Anabi, His Highness Sheik Khalid Al-Thani, made the decision that beginning in 2011, his team would switch from fielding one Top Fuel car (for Larry Dixon) and one Funny Car. The decision was made to go with two Top Fuel cars.
“This was his idea,” Worsham said of the royal family member from Qatar. “He thought after two
years of Funny Car and watching our progress, he thought we would all get more bang for our buck and would be a more successful team for all of us if we would have two Top Fuel dragsters.”
When told he would be driving a Top Fuel car in 2011, Worsham – who had not driven a dragster since 1995 – was, well, curious but agreeable.
“I was like, ‘Of course I’ll do this. Whatever you guys want to do, whatever the plan is, I’ll do it.’ And as the year (2010) went on, I knew plans change and you don’t really know if they are going to come through with this,” Worsham said. “But as it went on, I could see this was definitely the direction we were headed.
“I started to get excited about it. New people and a new class. I had been in a Funny Car, basically, my whole career.”
Funny Cars, with their enclosed cockpits, short wheel bases and front engines, not only look different from the Top Fuel cars, they also offer a different driving experience. Worsham rediscovered that pretty quickly.
“The cars themselves are kind of similar,” Worsham said. “But the horsepower gains are tremendous. I just couldn’t believe how fast it was, or how hard it pulled. The biggest thing I noticed was just the sensation of speed. The speed was so great in a Top Fuel dragster compared to a Funny Car. I couldn’t believe how much faster I felt like I was going.
“Even though I was going faster, the things I could see going by me, the reference that gives me an idea of what’s going on, you see the front tires turning, you see guard rail going by. I just couldn’t believe how much faster it felt.”
Worsham said he is not yet totally comfortable in the Top Fuel car but expects he will be as the season rolls on.
That could be bad for the competition.
Worsham is blazing away right now.
In his first race, the Winternationals, he reached the semifinals before being beaten by eventual
winner Morgan Lucas.
His second time out, he won the Gatornationals. He beat seven-time champion Schumacher to do it.
Last time out, at The Strip in Las Vegas, he again made it to the semifinals.
Worsham will line up for this weekend’s Visitmyrtlebeach.com 4-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., with an 8-2 record in eliminations and an eight-point lead over second-place Antron Brown of Don Schumacher Racing.
Worsham’s lead over third-place Schumacher is 43 points and it is 57 points over teammate and defending Top Fuel champ, Dixon.
But Worsham knows a couple things that are keeping him grounded. First, it’s only mid-April. Second, Top Fuel is stacked with talent and speed this year.
“We’ve run well but we really haven’t dominated,” he said when offered congratulations on leading the points.
The 4-Wide Nationals are an event at which crazy things can happen. It’s a place where chances of winning on each run go from a 2-to-1 odds to 4-1 odds. And it’s a place where everything on the track and under the awnings has to be refigured.
Asked if he likes the 4-Wides, Worsham let out a laugh.
“I don’t know. It’s different and I hope it’s exciting for the fans. For the driver, it’s if you get to the finish line first, you’re going to win. Petty simple. It’s a little tough on the crew chiefs. At best, you get one shot in each lane assuming the weather’s perfect and you get all four qualifying runs and you do all four lanes.
“So I think making adjustments for each lane, you have to really, really pay attention and really know the lanes. It’s hard to judge a lane you haven’t been racing in. There’s a good chance you’re going to be in a lane you never made a run in in eliminations.
“So, I’d say I’m glad I have Alan Johnson on my team because he’s really good at this stuff and he’s teaching Brian (Husen), who’s my new crew chief. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be different.”
And a victory would be pretty sweet for a team and driver in transition.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments