Top Fuel Champion Del Worsham Calls It Quits
Recently crowned National Hot Rod Association world champion Del Worsham joked last week that he did not feel like a “full-fledged Top Fuel driver,” one day after clinching his title during the 2011 season-ender at Pomona, Calif.
“I’m a little wider and heavier than most Top Fuel drivers,” Worsham said, “but I have a great crew chief (Brian Husen) and he’s able to work around that. I was always hoping to win a Funny Car championship after 20 years of racing, but the Top Fuel one feels just as sweet.”
Having fulfilled his career-long goal of earning an NHRA Full Throttle Top Fuel championship with Al-Anabi Racing, Worsham decided late last week to retire at the top of his game. The decision was announced Monday afternoon in a statement from the team’s headquarters in Brownsburg, Ind.
Worsham, 41, finished his 21-year driving career with 33 victories, including 25 in Funny Car and eight this season in the Al-Anabi Gold Top Fueler. Worsham’s 2011 title was his first in NHRA but second overall, as the resident of Chino Hills, Calif., also won the 1992 IHRA Funny Car championship.
“I’ve been thinking about retiring for a while. After winning the Full Throttle championship last week, I made my final decision and it was 100 percent my decision,” Worsham said. “It wasn’t easy; it was sad, but at the same time I’m comfortable with it. I enjoyed driving the Al-Anabi Top Fuel car this year, but it
really is the right time for me to retire. I’ve driven for a long time and I’m just ready to move to the next chapter of my career.
“I’m so thankful for the opportunity (team owner) Sheik Khalid and (team manager) Alan Johnson gave me to drive the Al-Anabi Top Fuel car this year. They believed in me, and that’s something I’ll never forget. I appreciate Brian Husen and our entire Al-Anabi Racing Team, and I thank them for everything they did for me. I’d also like to thank my dad (Chuck), my wife (Connie), my entire family (twin daughters Katelyn and Madelyn) and all my friends and fans for 21 years of support while I was driving.”
Worsham is one of only five drivers to lead the NHRA point standings in both Top Fuel and Funny Car, and one of just 15 to win races in both categories. He made 456 career starts, with his 25 Funny Car wins placing him seventh on NHRA’s all-time list in the flopper class. The 1991 NHRA Rookie of the Year, Worsham made his first start at the 1990 NHRA Winston Finals in Pomona, Calif., and his final start at the same race track on Nov. 13. A week ago Monday, Worsham was crowned the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Top Fuel champion in Hollywood, Calif., after participating in a champion’s teleconference.
“We are definitely sorry to see Del retire, but we support his decision and wish him all the best,” said Johnson, a 14-time NHRA national champion tuner. “Not only did Del do a fantastic job driving and winning a championship, he helped make racing fun. I cannot imagine the last three years without Del’s enthusiasm to compete and his dedication to the entire Al-Anabi Racing team; he will be missed dearly.
“Del wanted to win a championship and I am so happy we were able to help him achieve that goal. It’s
nice to see someone go out on top because so few people have that opportunity. I’m happy for Del and his family. There’s no doubt we will find a capable driver to pilot the Al-Anabi Gold Top Fuel car for 2012, but we will never be able to replace Del Worsham, either on or off the track.”
Al-Anabi will continue with a two-car Top Fuel team in 2012. The list of possible replacements logically would include Brandon Bernstein, 39, who became a free agent last Tuesday when father Kenny Bernstein – a six-time NHRA world champion in Funny Car and Top Fuel – announced his retirement as team-owner of the Copart-sponsored dragster.
Worsham joined Al-Anabi Racing when it was founded in 2009 after driving for his family-owned Funny Car team since 1990. In 2009 and ’10, he drove the Al-Anabi Racing Toyota Funny Car but joined teammate Larry Dixon, a three-time Top Fuel world champion, in that class prior to the 2011 season.
Worsham began his first full season in Top Fuel by claiming victory in Race No. 2 at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway in March, and also took the points lead. Worsham posted three wins in the first five races and remained the driver to beat, upstaging Dixon. During the first 16 races of the season, Worsham made eight final-round appearances and raced to five No. 1 qualifiers en route to a category-leading eight wins and seven poles.
Worsham entered the six-event Countdown to the Championship playoffs at the top of the 10-driver ladder. Second-round losses at zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C., and Texas Motorplex in Ennis during the first two races of the Countdown bumped Worsham down to third in the standings. He rebounded with a runner-up result at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., and a win at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Worsham then clinched his first NHRA championship with a semifinal round win over Spencer Massey of archrival Don Schumacher Racing in the Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona.
“I definitely didn’t imagine it (winning the Top Fuel title) a couple years ago when I signed-on with Al-Anabi. I signed-on to a Funny Car contract,” Worsham said. “And then halfway through the 2010 season, Sheikh Khalid made the decision to switch both cars over to Top Fuel for the 2011 season. I knew when he made that call that I’d definitely be in position to possibly win it, but there is no telling what’s going to go down or how you’re going to drive, or how the teams have come together. So, no, I never really did ever imagine it up until about a year ago. But I’m sure it’s going to last a lifetime to some degree.
“I know for myself it’s a great feeling of accomplishment. It’s something that I set out to do years and decades ago. It’s finally been accomplished. I’m sure my dad – even though he wasn’t working on the team, he’s taught me everything I know. We’ve raced together and we’ve made a lot of these decisions together in what direction I was going to head. So I’m sure he’s feeling very gratified also.”
Al-Anabi Racing operates out of multiple locations in both the United States and the nation of Qatar. His Highness Sheik Khalid Al Thani’s goal with his NHRA operation is to promote the domestic and international awareness of motorsports in Qatar.
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.comNo Comment