|Del Worsham retired from driving at the end of last season to take on the role of crew chief for Alexis DeJoria's Tequila Patron Funny Car team, but not before accepting the accolades and congratulations for his 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Top Fuel championship from NHRA President Tom Compton.
2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Top Fuel world champion Del Worsham’s stunning decision to retire from driving and take on crew chief duties of the new Tequila Patron Toyota Camry Funny Car with rookie driver Alexis DeJoria was arguably one of the biggest stories to come out of last season. It takes a gigantic rucksack full of gumption, courage, and humility to change course at the highest point of a career, but Worsham had mapped a solid destination and was ready for a new journey.
“I love driving, and I would never give up all the years I did that for anything, but at some point, you realize that you can’t drive forever – at least I didn’t want to,” admitted Worsham, who became a Professional driver in 1991 and has intermittently tuned the cars that he has campaigned throughout the years.
“I wanted to do this, and this was the job I wanted. The opportunity might have come a couple of years earlier than I expected, but I knew I had to take it. And it’s great to get to work with Alexis and her family and sponsors, the Kalittas and [Kalitta Motorsports tuning team] Jim O and Jon O, Connie [Kalitta, team owner], and Andy [Cetwinski]. I feel very fortunate.”
The newly formed team rooted in the richly experienced Kalitta camp has continued to stay atop the headlines as it forges its way, although Worsham has happily transitioned into his behind-the-scenes role. Former alcohol racer DeJoria is focused and studious in her new position – yet she’s anything but media-shy, and the cameras adore her sleek black and green flopper. The race for the Auto Club Road to the Future Award – for NHRA’s Full Throttle rookie of the year – pits DeJoria against, among others, another female Funny Car pilot, John Force Racing’s Courtney Force, and the girl vs. girl battle is destined to be a highly publicized, season-long affair.
In terms of performance, DeJoria has qualified for all but one event – the NHRA Arizona Nationals in Phoenix – and picked up the first round-win of her young career over one of the most celebrated drivers in NHRA history, John Force, at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals presented by NAPAFilters.com in Gainesville. The Gatornationals was a very strong outing for the team and a soothing balm after the blister of a DNQ in the desert: DeJoria qualified 10th with her best pass of the season, a 4.125 at 306.81 mph, and improved in her defeat of Force to a 4.115, 309.27.
“Everybody would like to have started off maybe a little quicker, a little faster than we did, but we’re learning a little bit more every week,” said Worsham. “We’re making good, representable runs, and we’re pretty much where I thought we would be – other than Phoenix. To go there and never really get the car down the track was definitely a letdown. But nothing is going to happen easily, and everything takes time to build, so I’d say that we’re just about on target.”
The natural question is this: Has it been tough for Worsham to relinquish the reins and stand on the outside of a race car for the first time in more than two decades?
“Amazingly, it has not been difficult at all,” he laughed. “I was mostly worried about getting out there for those first runs in front of the crowd at Pomona. In testing, everything was new, and there was nobody there, but I thought, 'What happens when we get to Pomona?' I stay very busy and very focused with this job, though, and I can honestly tell you that I haven’t been up there once and thought, 'Man I wish I was driving that car.' ”
The next stop on the Full Throttle Series tour is the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries in Houston, and Worsham is likely looking forward to returning to a venue where he experienced a fair amount of success as a driver.
In 2001, contributing to what was then his best points finish in a season – third – he blasted to the top of the Funny Car pack in qualifying and claimed the Wally. It was his first victory since the 1999 Seattle event and the first time that he had earned the trophy starting from the No. 1 position. Worsham accomplished the feat by outrunning eventual season champion Force, 4.852 to 4.859, and in 2008, he extended his win-loss tally over the Force clan by defeating Force’s daughter, Ashley, at the Houston facility in her second final round as a Professional driver.
Firsthand knowledge of what makes a Funny Car happy at Royal Purple Raceway doesn’t send Worsham into the land of Unrealistic Expectations, however, and the driver who won a national event for the first time in 1991, his rookie year, and didn’t win again for eight seasons is not exactly looking for history to repeat itself.
“If we can win a race in our first year, that would sure be nice,” he said. “There isn’t any reason why we can’t; all the parts are here, the people are here, the car runs well, and Alexis is a great driver. But we’re all just learning this together, and it’s my job to remind everybody that this is going to take a little while. This is something that we want to build up to so that we know where we came from and really know how we got there. We’re taking our time so that when we do win, we can do it again.”
For tickets for the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries, call Royal Purple Raceway, 281-383-7223, or log on to www.royalpurpleraceway.com.