Worsham Has Loads Of Incentives As He Chases Funny Car Championship

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 15 2015
Del Worsham will head into Sunday's Funny Car eliminations at Pomona with the championship within his grasp. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Mello Yellow Drag Racing Series)

Del Worsham will head into Sunday’s Funny Car eliminations at Pomona with the championship within his grasp. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Mello Yellow Drag Racing Series)

There is an X-factor in Del Worsham’s relentless pursuit of the 2015 NHRA Funny Car world championship that archrival “Fast Jack” Beckman and master tuner Jimmy Prock may be unable to match.

The 2011 NHRA Top Fuel world champion, Worsham could join Kenny Bernstein and Gary Scelzi as the only drivers to win titles in the Top Fuel and Funny Car ranks during Sunday’s 51st annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona Raceway. Worsham will take a 36-point lead _ nearly two rounds of racing _ into final eliminations in the sixth and final event of the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.

“It would definitely be really cool,” said Worsham, who began his Funny Car career driving for his father, Chuck, and an all-in-the-family-run team. Along those lines, Worsham said the inspiration he needs vs. Beckman and the Don Schumacher Racing organization will be on-site in the person of team-owner and drag racing legend Conrad “Connie” Kalitta.

“Connie… they paid the ultimate sacrifice there with his son, Scott,” said Worsham, referring to the 1994-95 NHRA Top Fuel world champion. Scott Kalitta was fatally injured in a Funny Car crash at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park Englishtown, N.J., on June 21, 2008. The winner of 17 national events in Top Fuel and one in Funny Car, Scott was 46-years-old.

Jeff Arend was hired to drive the yellow DHL-sponsored car after Scott’s death, with Worsham taking over the team’s Toyota Camry in 2013 following a season spent as a crew chief.

“For Connie to keep his car out here racing in his (Scott’s) honor, his name, trying to finish what they started with Funny Car…they were very successful Top Fuel racers,” Worsham said. “So the Funny Car, it had some good days, bad days, kind of up-and-down, all over the place. He stuck with it, stuck with his people, stuck with his crew chiefs, Nicky (Boninfante) and Jon-o (Jon Oberhofer), that entire team. Very little turnover since I got here in 2013 to drive this car. A very dedicated group of individuals starting from my DHL team to the entire Kalitta Motorsports.

“It would be, I would say, end up being the highlight of my career if we could bring this off and bring this to Connie Kalitta personally for what they’ve gone through, the grieving they’ve gone through, what they’ve put into drag racing, what they sacrificed for it.”

Worsham and Beckman previewed Sunday’s eliminations by closing-out qualifying Saturday with another sensational side-by-side 3.89-second lap. Beckman, who has won a career-best seven events this season, and Worsham produced the quickest side-by-side run in qualifying as Jack covered the 1,000-foot distance in 3.890-seconds and 327.90 mph to Worsham’s 3.896-second pass.

Beckman, who entered the playoffs as No. 1 seed after a record-setting regular season in his Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger R/T, will need to go two rounds more than Worsham _ a three-time winner in the Countdown _ to overtake his fellow-Californian.

Almost as an afterthought, DSR’s Ron Capps took the pole from Beckman when the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger uncorked a track-record 3.886-second pass at 326.87 mph. “I had to be reminded to come to the media center as the No. 1 qualifier because I haven’t been up here for a while,” joked Capps, who is working with crew chief Rahn Tobler. “It’s an E-ticket ride right now in Funny Car and you have to be on your game and have a lot of luck.”

Capps, who earned his first pole of the season and 17th of his career, was eliminated from championship contention after Worsham and Beckman made a qualifying attempt Friday. Capps will race Arend in Sunday’s opening round.

What an end to qualifying for the season and to be at Pomona at night and finish with a run like that,” said Capps, a two-time winner this season and 45 during his career. “I was in the car behind the wall in the staging lanes and couldn’t see the run, but when I heard Jack and Del ran 3.89s I knew Tobler was going to go after it. He told me to do whatever I could to get it to the finish line because it was going to be a handful, and it was. It was probably the wildest ride I’ve ever had.”

DSR’s Tommie Johnson Jr., Friday’s provisional-pole sitter, is 96 points back of Worsham and a long shot for the title in his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger. Johnson needs to have his two rivals lose early and then win the race and set a national record to have any chance at the title.

Worsham, who qualified third, will meet two-time world champion Tony Pedregon in Round 1 while No. 2 qualifier Beckman will face Chad Head. “It was a great qualifying effort for the DHL Toyota team,” said Worsham, who could meet Beckman in a pivotal semifinal match if the two drivers advance through the first two rounds. “We have the Camry running strong and I’m proud of our effort. We’ll go into tomorrow and lay it all out on the line.”

Worsham, Beckman and Johnson made runs during qualifying that bring the possibility of a national elapsed time record into play. With ambient temperatures forecast for the mid-60s, conditions should be near-perfect for one of the teams to set the mark and grab a 20-point bonus.

“We do not intend to do anything special to go for the record. We’ll race the racetrack,” said Beckman, the 2012 world champion. “That might sound anti-climactic because you want to talk about ripping the opponent’s throat out, but the reality is the crew chiefs will look at the racetrack conditions and determine what they think we can run under those conditions. Because we qualified so well, in theory you get a slower first-round opponent but you can’t back-off the race car. If you do, it will shake the tires, it will wear the clutch differently, it will change everything. We will have to be aggressive every run.

“It’s an unbelievable time to be a fan of nitro Funny Car. I really like the position we’re in. It’s nerve-racking because we aren’t leading the points, we have to be two rounds better than another car to capture the championship. And this is the scenario where it’s fourth down, the clock has almost run out and you’re going to get the ball again and you have to be perfect. And I think we can be perfect.”

Meanwhile, Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle) emerged as No. 1 qualifiers in the event near Los Angeles.

Newly crowned two-time Top Fuel world champ Brown took his seventh pole of the season and 44th of his career by posting a 1,000-foot performance of 3.721-seconds at 326.71 mph in his Matco Tools dragster. Brown will meet veteran racer Cory McClenathan in Round 1 as he goes for his eighth win of the season.

“We just want to go out there and compete,” Brown said. “Coming into this race as the champs we get to enjoy this with the fans. That’s what we’ve been doing this weekend. We’re trying to suck it all in and enjoy this moment because they don’t come very often.”

Anderson powered to his fifth pole of the season and 80th of his career in Pro Stock, clocking a quarter-mile run of 6.490-seconds at 213.03 mph in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro. Anderson, who logged his ninth Pomona pole, will face Matt Hartford in Round 1 as he tries to lock down the second points position behind recently crowned two-time Pro Stock world champ Erica Enders.

“The attitude has changed, it’s just relax and have fun,” said Anderson, a four-time world champion. “This is one of my favorite places to race. When the sun goes down it’s a magical place to race. You can run fast and set records here. We got more aggressive (Saturday). Even though we’re not going to walk away as the world champion it’s been a good year. We can close-out the year with a good day and get a win at the last race in a carburetor for Pro Stock.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, championship hopeful Savoie rode to his third pole performance in a row and fourth in the Countdown playoffs, posting a quarter-mile run of 6.803-seconds at 197.51 mph aboard his White Alligator Racing Suzuki. Savoie will meet Mike Berry in the first round as he tries to overcome a 38-point deficit to series leader Andrew Hines, the four-time/reigning world champ.

“Things are clicking really well,” said Savoie, who cut Hines’ advantage from 46 to 38 during qualifying. “Tim Kulungian (crew chief) has a good handle on the bike. We got a little aggressive and we tried a new combination and it freed-up a little more horsepower. To be a true champion you have to be consistent and we really haven’t been this weekend until today. We’ll just see how it plays out.”

Hines qualified fifth with a 6.837-second pass at 195.73 mph aboard his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson and will meet Michal Ray in Round 1. Title long shot Eddie Krawiec, a three-time world champion and Hines’ Harley V-Rod teammate, qualified eighth and will face Scotty Pollacheck.

All three title contenders are on the same side of the ladder. Savoie needs to go two rounds farther than Hines to win the title. Krawiec needs Savoie and Hines to lose in the first round and then go on to win and set a national record. Hines just needs to maintain his position and hope his two rivals lose early.

Karen Stoffer, Friday’s provisional leader, dropped to second in the final order with a best ET of 6.823-seconds at 196.36 mph and will face Jim Underdahl in a battle of Suzukis.

ESPN2 will re-air two hours of qualifying coverage at 1 p.m. (EST) Sunday. The network will televise three hours of final eliminations starting at 9 p.m. (EST) Sunday.

First-round elimination pairings for the 51st annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, final of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Pairings based on results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings.

Top Fuel _ 1. Antron Brown, 3.721-seconds, 326.71 mph vs. 16. Cory McClenathan, 3.904, 303.50; 2. Billy Torrence, 3.726, 331.61 vs. 15. Terry McMillen, 3.856, 317.57; 3. Clay Millican, 3.729, 323.89 vs. 14. Morgan Lucas, 3.811, 305.98; 4. J.R. Todd, 3.732, 331.61 vs. 13. Troy Buff, 3.808, 314.24; 5. Richie Crampton, 3.735, 323.89 vs. 12. Brittany Force, 3.794, 320.97; 6. Larry Dixon, 3.737, 327.19 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, 3.774, 326.56; 7. Tony Schumacher, 3.745, 326.71 vs. 10. Doug Kalitta, 3.771, 322.34; 8. Steve Torrence, 3.747, 327.59 vs. 9. Dave Connolly, 3.749, 327.90.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Steve Faria, 3.988, 307.37; 18. Jenna Haddock, 4.015, 277.03; 19. Shawn Reed, 5.566, 116.21.

Funny Car _ 1. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.886, 326.87 vs. 16. Jeff Arend, Charger, 4.429, 241.24; 2. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.890, 327.90 vs. 15. Chad Head, Toyota Camry, 4.408, 230.06; 3. Del Worsham, Camry, 3.896, 326.32 vs. 14. Tony Pedregon, Camry, 4.073, 301.20; 4. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.910, 330.15 vs. 13. Paul Lee, Charger, 4.054, 313.95; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.917, 324.67 vs. 12. Gary Densham, Charger, 4.052, 308.57; 6. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.945, 324.20 vs. 11. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.011, 316.38; 7. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.953, 318.09 vs. 10. John Force, Camaro, 3.990, 321.73; 8. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.987, 318.02 vs. 9. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.988, 323.12.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Tim Gibbons, 4.593, 206.48; 18. Bob Bode, 4.942, 186.15; 19. John Hale, 5.158, 210.14; 20. Terry Haddock, 5.384, 141.21; 21. Brandon Welch, 6.636, 96.24.

Pro Stock _ 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.490, 213.47 vs. 16. Matt Hartford, Pontiac GXP, 6.581, 211.00; 2. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.503, 213.33 vs. 15. V. Gaines, Dodge Dart, 6.570, 211.63; 3. Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.505, 213.20 vs. 14. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.561, 210.73; 4. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.509, 213.84 vs. 13. Richie Stevens, Dart, 6.560, 211.00; 5. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.510, 213.16 vs. 12. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.540, 212.33; 6. Jonathan Gray, Camaro, 6.510, 212.96 vs. 11. Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.528, 212.06; 7. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.513, 213.33 vs. 10. Larry Morgan, Camaro, 6.526, 212.73; 8. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.520, 212.86 vs. 9. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.523, 213.10.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Joey Grose, 6.617, 210.34; 18. Alan Prusiensky, 11.134, 209.20.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.803, 197.51 vs. 16. Mike Berry, Buell, 6.969, 190.89; 2. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.823, 196.36 vs. 15. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.963, 194.55; 3. Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.830, 196.44 vs. 14. Shawn Gann, Buell, 6.938, 192.41; 4. Hector Arana Jr., Buell, 6.833, 197.59 vs. 13. Angie Smith, Victory, 6.919, 192.14; 5. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.837, 195.73 vs. 12. Michael Ray, Buell, 6.915, 193.24; 6. Matt Smith, Victory, 6.848, 195.90 vs. 11. Hector Arana, Buell, 6.910, 195.25; 7. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.851, 196.47 vs. 10. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.891, 193.96; 8. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.858, 195.99 vs. 9. Scotty Pollacheck, Buell, 6.878, 194.88.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Freddie Camarena, 6.976, 194.80; 18. Joe DeSantis, 6.982, 192.11; 19. Kalle Lyren, 7.000, 192.41; 20. Eddie Reed, 7.008, 188.73; 21. Luke Crowley, 7.016, 193.79; 22. Melissa Surber, 7.020, 187.23; 23. Redell Harris, 7.051, 190.57; 24. Rhett Lougheed, 7.110, 189.36; 25. Katie Sullivan, 7.153, 190.22; 26. Lance Bonham, 7.291, 185.23; 27. Bill Burkhart, 7.783, 179.25; 28. Robert Karlsson, broke.


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 15 2015
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