Del Worsham Is Feeling Funny Once Again
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Del Worsham was pretty darn sure he was ready to say farewell to 320 mph as the NHRA season came to an end at Pomona a year and a half ago. As he waved the Top Fuel trophy around to celebrate his championship, he was thinking more about stepping back than of going for two in a row.
When, a week later, he officially announced he was taking himself out of the driver’s seat, he was certain that the time to walk was right.
“As far as I was conerned,” Worsham, 42, said during a telephone interview earlier this week, “you can’t drive forever. And at some point, you have to figure out what else you can do in the sport.”
What Worsham wound up doing was becoming a crew chief. But, as it turns out, just for a year.
Worsham is back at Ponoma this week and back behind the wheel of Funny Car. He is driving the yellow and red DHL Kalitta Motorsports Toyota that had belonged to Jeff Arendt in recent seasons and the late Scott Kalitta before that.
And it feels good and it feels right, Worsham, who drove Funny Cars for 15 years before moving to Top Fuel in 2011, said.
“Been testing for over a month now and, ahhh, feels good to be back in a Funny Car,” the native Californian said. “Pretty excited. Hope to go out and finish up some stuff that I started years ago.”
During those years, Worsham won 25 races in a flopper. That put him eighth on the all-time list, but he never got that NHRA championship he wanted.
Then came the 2011 season and his good-soldier move to Top Fuel.
“Oh, that was all the Sheikh’s idea,” Worsham said, referring to Al Anabi Racing team owner Sheikh Khalid Bin Hamad Al Thani. “That was his idea. Basically, the Funny Car wasn’t performing to the level he thought it should be and for the amount of money he was spending, it was just the dragster (with Larry Dixon driving) winning all the races and championships.
“He thought that maybe going to two dragsters, he’d get a little more bang for his buck and have two real good running dragsters. And he was right. He ended up with cars that ran well.”
But even as Worsham piled up race victories – and, eventually, the champioship – in the dragster, true comfort never came along for the ride.
“I didn’t feel out of place but I definitely didn’t feel as comfortable as I did in the Funny Car,” Worsham said. “I was racing a whole bunch of new people. I knew them but I didn’t know them as competitors. I felt a little bit uncomfortable at times just not being in my environment.”
So, Worsham started pondering his future – a future outside the cockpit.
About four seconds before the end of the 2011 season, it hit him that big changes to his life and career were about to kick in.
“I remember backing up after the burnout for the final round (at Pomona) racing Tony Schumacher and I was thinking, ‘This could be the last time I’m in this position of backing up like this.’ I’m looking at the crowd, the people and the other drivers and I was good with that. I didn’t have a problem with that either.”
Once out of the cockpit, Worsham was hired by Connie Kalitta to be the crew chief for the team of rookie Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria. Worsham jumped at the offer, even though it all seemed a bit rushed.
“I had known Alexis because she drove one of my dad’s Funny Cars, my old Checker Kragen Schucks Funny Car, so I had worked with her already,” he explained.
Things went OK for Worsham as tuner. Just OK. The highlight was making the finals at Thunder Valley.
“I might have moved that time frame (for becoming a crew chief) up a bit. But it was a good experience and now I know a bit about it for and next time around. If that’s the route I choose, I’ll be a little more prepared for it,” he said.
Worsham insists that his thoughts were on tuning, not driving during the 2012 season. “I never once thought, as I was backing her up or watching her stage, that I wish I was the one in there because I was so involved with the car and the team and helping her drive. It never really even came to that.”
But little things began whispering in Worsham’s ear. And some big things – like the voices of his wife and children who didn’t want him to get out of the cockpit in the first place.
And, like the voices of the folks at Kalitta.
“They approached me,” Worsham said. “Connie Kalitta and Jim O (Jim Oberhofer, the team’s vice president of operations) approached me and asked me what I thought about it and if I would be willing to do that and that this is the direction they wanted to go with it.
“I thought about it a little bit. And the more I thought about it, I figured it’s a pretty good plan. I’m down for it. I’m willing to give it all I have and give it 100 percent so this is how we’re going to do it.”
Also adding incentive to the deal was Worsham’s belief that he would not be riding alone in the DHL car. With him would be the presence of Scott Kalitta, who died during a wreck at Englishtown in New Jersey in 2008.
“It’s Scott’s ride,” Worsham said. “It is and always will be. His name’s on there to remind us all. He’s somebody that we all loved, who we hung out with, drank with, fought with, partied with and loved with. Every day, I still remember this is Scott’s team. So, (Scott be in there with Worsham) every time.”
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgNo Comment