At age 32, Del Worsham is the youngest "veteran" in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Worsham made his first start in the cockpit of a nitromethane-burning Funny Car in 1990, logging seven wins in 14 final rounds along the way. Worsham is the...
At age 32, Del Worsham is the youngest "veteran" in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Worsham made his first start in the cockpit of a nitromethane-burning Funny Car in 1990, logging seven wins in 14 final rounds along the way. Worsham is the first to admit that he is still learning how to win behind the wheel of a 6,000-horsepower machine. This young veteran talks about winning, the 2002 season expectations, racing John Force and much more. Worsham will be among Funny Car drivers competing in the 18th annual Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals, Feb. 21-24 at Firebird International Raceway in Phoenix. The $1.8 million race is the second of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series for 2002.
Q: What are your 2002 expectations?
WORSHAM: I expect to be able to make a run for the championship. Last season was another building season for our team and I think we finally learned how to win races. We learned how to make four runs on Sunday without breaking parts. That is in comparison to the 2000 season when by the third run, something would break or something would go wrong with the car or the driving wouldn't be the best. Last year we learned something every run down the track and I think that helped us a lot.
Q: What goals have you set for yourself and the CSK team?
WORSHAM: I want to keep winning races like we did last year. We didn't run as good in the second half of the season as the first half, but we still won a couple of races. Part of that was experience, part of it was that you just get lucky sometimes. We've had bad luck in the past and sometimes it turns around. If we can keep winning races and not lose the ones we should win, that's my main goal. Even if we didn't win a race, and just didn't lose the races we should win, I would be happy. But don't take that the wrong way, I still want to win as many races as possible.
Q: You won the final event of the 2001 season and turned in a runner-up performance at the 2002 season opener. Can the CSK team carry that momentum to get after the 2002 Funny Car season?
WORSHAM: Yeah, I think we really can. It's hard to tell a whole lot about the upcoming season and the team during testing, because the track is different and there aren't as many cars during test sessions. But you work the bugs out and get to Pomona and see what you have and how you measure up with the competition. I'm very excited about the 2002 season. We are actually running the same cars as 2001 because I couldn't see going through the transition because the 2001 cars weren't giving us a problem and I didn't see how new cars would make us run any faster. So we are going to start with what we have, make a few subtle changes and see if we can dig a little more out of them.
Q: Your wife is expecting twins. How will becoming a father for the first time affect you?
WORSHAM: We bought a new (motor home) for a reason. I would say that when we leave for Brainerd, we should be able to pack up the whole family and hit the road. That will be good. We are going to see how it is going to work out at first. I have a bright future to look forward to, that's for sure. But I still don't know what to expect at this point about being a dad. Sometimes it feels like someone should pinch me because the cars are running so good that it feels like I am in a dream. Now my wife is about ready to have the babies. Things are going along perfectly. It can be a little scary at times. This is a little different from when I first started. I was excited about everything then, too, however.
Q: How will you approach this season differently from past seasons?
WORSHAM: This is the first year since the early 90s where we are going into the season with a car that I am sure can win. I've always thought that we had a car that could win, but there have been times when we knew we didn't have a car that could perform to the levels of John Force. This year it does. This year we are taking the attitude that every single run at every single race means something.
Q: As long as you have raced, John Force has been the man to beat. What makes him so successful?
WORSHAM: I'll tell you what I think makes John Force a great, great, drag racer, probably the best ever. I never raced with Don Garlits, but I know he was voted No. 1. In my time, it has always been John Force. If John Force has just one thing going for him, it's his ability to rise to any occasion. It's unbelievable. He always has the best car, always has the fastest car and he still cuts the best reaction time when he races the guy he needs to cut it against. It's hard to have a fast car, if not the fastest car, out there at every event and not make a mistake, slack off a little bit, red-light or get beat on a holeshot. Those things come even with the fastest car, and yet, he always seems to rise above to another level and take it to you. I thought long and hard about what makes him so great and I am sure that is it.
Q: What do you think about the competition level for the 2002 Funny Car season?
WORSHAM: Just like last year it is going to be tough. Second through 10th in points is probably going to be a minor points difference, just like it was last year. Who knows, maybe even first through 10th place? It's hard to say. You just really don't know where you stand or how it's going to shake down until around Atlanta, I think. Everything starts to smooth out around Atlanta. Before that, there is a lot of jockeying for position. I'm sure it is going to be as tough as last year, maybe even tougher. It was tough to qualify last year too. I tell everyone that every round is like the final round. The competition is so tough. The guy you race in the first round one week could be the same guy you could race in the final round next week. It hasn't always been like that. Even five years ago, six years ago and especially when I first started, it really wasn't until the semifinals where you really had to race the guy tough. It was still tough to win, but not like it is today. John Force is always tough, Mike Dunn was around back then. Winning wasn't any different, but you got through the first two rounds a lot easier. Now the first round is just like the final round, there really isn't any difference. I still believe that we can qualify both cars every race.
Q: What is it going to take to beat Force, and is this the year that he gets beat in the title chase?
WORSHAM: It's going to be very close; he is a very tough competitor. In my opinion, it is going to take a very strong car and you need to win the rounds you are supposed to win. That means you don't go out first round and you don't spin and the shake the tires for no reason. John Force doesn't make those mistakes. That team wins the rounds they are supposed to and they get lucky and win the rounds they probably shouldn't win. Last season in the mid-part of the year when the car wasn't that dominant, he was still winning races. I told everyone that we were letting him win races that he shouldn't. He's going to win the races he should. He's going to get his six wins a season. If you give him more, what are you going to do? You're in trouble. Hopefully we can win the races we are supposed to win.
Q: What are your Funny Car performance predictions for the 2002 season? Will we see some faster speeds and quicker runs?
WORSHAM: Yeah, I think so. I got a sneaky suspicion that you could see 330 mph. We went 332 with each car and neither car was tuned to its potential. I am sure there is more there. I am not sure if we can do it, but who knows until you go out there and start running? Our best mile per hour going into the season last year was 310, so we picked up 12 mph during the season. So there is a pretty good chance that on a perfect day, with all of the technology that is out there right now, that we could reach 330 mph. I love it. It's very exciting. But it's all the same. Even when I started racing 280 was unbelievable. It was a big deal and it felt as fast as 320 does now.
Q: You have driven in both nitro categories. What advice would you offer Gary Scelzi as he makes the switch from Top Fuel to Funny Car?
WORSHAM: He doesn't need any advice, I don't need to give him any. He is a three-time champion. I've driven both, but really, how do you give any advice to a three-time champion? Nothing has changed. Once he gets that car going down the track, he will be just as tough in a Funny Car as he was in Top Fuel. I should be looking to him for advice, actually. I have great respect for Gary Scelzi. He's one of the few guys I haven't raced out here and I think it is going to be fun.
Q: What is your relationship like with your main sponsor, Checker Schuck's Kragen?
WORSHAM: It's great. Five years ago we put this program together and I had never driven a sponsored car and they had never sponsored a Funny Car team before. We had some growing pains and we have learned a lot. It was a building relationship. It didn't start off being the greatest financial deal for anybody. As time went on we built it into this team and they had this vision. They kept telling me that if we kept working with them, this program would get as big as we wanted it to. The addition of the second team in 2000 definitely turned the team around. It helps when you can make twice as many runs at each event. All of the advantages that John Force had acquired with the two-car team we were seeing for ourselves. It really started to pay off in 2001.
Q: You had a good relationship with Frank Pedregon. Now Johnny Gray has taken over the driving duties for the second car. How is that going so far and how involved was CSK in making the new driver selection?
WORSHAM: We haven't spent too much racing time together yet, but Johnny is a great guy and I knew Johnny before. My dad knew him and my dad liked him and that's why he was a great choice. He was just like us. He had his own cars and he had his own team. He always made do with what he had. He's just a good guy. CSK told us that it was completely up to us on who would be the new driver. They told us that it was our business and we were running it well and who are we to tell you how to run your business? It was difficult (to have to choose a new driver) because I had a great relationship with Frank Pedregon. He's a good friend of mine, but everything ran its course.
Q: What is your dream race? What track are you at and who are you racing?
WORSHAM: It would be the Finals at Pomona because it's my home track and all of my friends and family come out. A lot of my friends and family members can't make it to all of the out-of-town events. Beating John Force, obviously, would be the best situation. I had a chance to do that one time at Pomona, and I lost on a holeshot in the final round and never forgave myself for it. I would want it side-by-side down the track, with me winning, even by one-hundredth of a second.
Q: Describe the relationship between you and your dad, Chuck.
WORSHAM: It's wonderful. He and I built this whole thing together. He is my best friend and he has been my whole life. I grew up around racing. We stay in the same coach together. Racing really keeps the family close. My mother comes, my wife is involved, her parents are involved, and everyone gets involved. It really brings the family together, even closer. Before I started racing, our family wasn't as close as it is once I started racing. My dad and I have equal respect for each other. Some people may see a father-son relationship as something where the father can look down on the son or tell the son what to do. My father would never do that.
Q: What would the Worsham family be doing without racing?
WORSHAM: I have no idea. From the time I was five years old, this is what I wanted to do. I didn't know how I was going to do it or when, but I knew this is what I wanted. I was sure it would be drag racing. My dad is in the construction business, so who knows? Maybe we would be in the construction business.
Q: What has crew chief Rob Flynn added to the team?
WORSHAM: The day he came to work for us, the car started running better. You can track it back to the day he got here. He got let go from Alan Johnson. We picked him up and our car started running better, and we would out-run their car most of the time. Some people just work better in certain situations and that's just how it works. You have to be a scout. That's what I always tell my dad. I like to scout talent. I watch people come up through the ranks. I know everyone out here. It's like Dave Fletcher. He had never been a crew chief and we hired him to work on our car. Then the second car came on two weeks later, and we said, 'You're not going to believe this Dave, but you get your own car.' He was ecstatic and he did a great job. You know, there was a lot of talk that he couldn't do it or he was just a crew guy, but I thought, 'Let's give the Englishman a chance here. I think he is going to surprise everyone.'
Q: What does it take to be a competitive racer as compared to when you first started?
WORSHAM: It takes money. It took money then, but not like it takes today. We did it as independents and finished fourth, sixth and seventh in the world. You could just make it work. There were enough exhibition match races where we could make money at or we would go over to a few IHRA races and win some races there. Today, we need corporate sponsorship dollars to be able to race a guy like John Force. That's the biggest difference.
Q: You and the entire CSK team are often helping other competitors? Why are you so willing to lend a hand to the competition?
WORSHAM: That's how we got here, other people helping us. You got to have people helping you to make it out here. I remember what it was like for us to get started and all of the help we got. We used to show up at the races with just me and my dad. Other teams, when they would lose, they would come over and help us. We actually won some national events with just him and I there. It was wild. But you couldn't do that now, especially with the 75-minute rule. You couldn't do that now, but that's the kind of help we got and that's the kind of help I try to hand out.
Q: How have you evolved over the years as a driver?
WORSHAM: I've tried not to change anything. I have a lot more experience now than I did, obviously. That really helps. I think I am a little better now at shutting the engine off when the engine is hurting or something is going to blow. I try to shut it off, save the parts and not put myself into a compromising position out on the race track. You just never know what is going to happen. These cars do some crazy things. I try to be the constant as the driver. There are a lot of things that I can't control. The one thing I can control out there is the driving. I work a lot harder now at having a routine more than I did a few years ago when I was more of a loose cannon out there.
Q: What is the reality of a young, inexperienced driver making a run for a NHRA title?
WORSHAM: People out here have so much experience such as your Kenny Bernsteins and your John Forces. It took them 13-15 years to be able to win. Any good driver could hop in the car and win once or maybe twice, like I did the first year. To be able to put together enough wins and a good enough team to win a championship, it takes years. I look back at the first two years of my career and we had a great car. It was a fast car. I could have won a lot more races than I did but I lost some of them as a driver. We lost a lot of them in the pits. As a crew we made mistakes, but we came out with a couple of wins and some runner-ups and we didn't have the experience. My Grandma made me a scrapbook and I look back at the 1991 season and I think we could have won five or six races that year. I just gave some of them away by not having the experience.
Q: What do you think about POWERade's involvement with the NHRA?
WORSHAM: I think it's a good thing. No alcohol or tobacco, that is going to be pretty nice. What most impressed me about POWERade was the five-year commitment. Any company would come in here for a year or two and give this thing a shot. The NHRA draws great crowds with great demographics. But POWERade has decided to stand by us for five years and that tells me that they have the level of commitment that we are all looking for. I am sure my sponsors were glad to see that. A five-year commitment is nice.
Q: Do you think competitors will see immediate improvements from the POWERade sponsorship announcement?
WORSHAM: I think we have another small problem right now and that is the Olympics. The last time that happened here (in the United States in 1992) that was the same year that I had a really great winning car. There were some great corporations that I was having meetings with and everything was going good. But the Olympics just snatched everything up. So I think once we get past Sept. 11 and the Olympics, then we'll be able to take advantage of the POWERade announcement. But it might take some time.
Q: Tell us about the "MegaRita" machine - a 5,000 horsepower mixer that shoots three-foot flames and makes five gallons of margaritas.
WORSHAM: I don't remember the exact moment I thought it up, but the concept was based on various margarita mixers you see on lakes or hear about from friends. So one day I was looking around our shop and I figured we had enough old stuff there in the shop to build a fully running motor. It would be made of parts we don't use anymore, from the days of a 5.30 elapsed time run. I was looking ahead to our pit party that we throw on Sunday night in Pomona to close out the season and I just envisioned the world's most powerful margarita mixer, plain and simple. I built it in my spare time during the last two months of the season, which took me off the golf course for two months. I got an old motorcycle trailer, mounted the block on that, and built the full motor. We built it differently than we would a real race motor. All the seals and gaskets are silicone to cut out any leaks. When it was time to build the blades, I almost just welded up something that looked like blades. So I just took apart our blender at home and copied the blades, only five times bigger. My wife loved that one. I figured the thing would be pretty popular at the season-ending race. It has become a legend.