SEATTLE, Wash. (July 20, 2000) - Changes in latitudes mean changes in attitudes, but after the challenges endured by many Fuel Car teams at the schedule's last stop in Denver's mile-high atmosphere, a change in altitude will be what puts a...
SEATTLE, Wash. (July 20, 2000) - Changes in latitudes mean changes in attitudes, but after the challenges endured by many Fuel Car teams at the schedule's last stop in Denver's mile-high atmosphere, a change in altitude will be what puts a smile on the faces of most of drag racing's top competitors. As Del Worsham and his crew mates begin preparations for the 13th annual Prolong Northwest Nationals at Seattle International Raceway, the Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird driver has even more reason to look forward to the next race on the NHRA championship tour. It was at SIR last year that the 30-year-old Californian picked up a much- needed victory, one that helped propel him to a seventh-place finish in the Winston points standings.
So far in 2000, it's been an interesting season for the Worsham & Fink team. At the beginning of the year, they embarked on a two-car program that is beginning to bear fruit, and although neither team has won a race, both Worsham and teammate Frank Pedregon have successfully qualified at every event, not an easy task given the competitive nature of the Funny Car division. Heading into Seattle where he hopes to defend his Funny Car title, Worsham is ninth in the points standings with Pedregon quietly lurking outside the top 10 in the No. 13 spot.
The Prolong Northwest Nationals is the 14th event on the NHRA championship tour. Qualifying highlights can be seen on ESPN2 on Saturday, July 29, beginning at 10:30 p.m. Eastern. Final-round coverage can be seen on Sunday, July 30, starting at 7 p.m. Eastern.
Can you explain how the two-car team has been effective and how it came about? "It was the idea of Checker Schuck's Kragen to have a two-car team. We had one last year with Jim Head - one Top Fuel Car and one Funny Car with two different owners. When that went away the plan then became to have two Funny Car teams under one owner in much the same way that John Force and Jerry Toliver had run their two-car programs. We saw the success that they were having and that was the determining factor in our team going that route. The information going back and forth between the Top Fuel and Funny Car really wasn't very transferable because it took different tune-ups to make each car run fast. There were some things from Jim Head's program that helped us, but having two identical racecars on the racetrack has made a big difference. The first thing we had to do was find the right person to run the second team as crew chief and be the guy in charge. That's where Dave Fletcher came into the picture. We were going to hire him anyway to run our car, or when the second team came along, move him over to that side. He was the perfect guy for the job. Once we had Dave in that position, we went ahead and bought all of Tom Hoover's equipment which included transporters, trucks, tools, parts, you name it. But there was one small catch. Tom Hoover's transporter opened on the right-hand side, and we needed a trailer that opened on the left-hand side. We sold that transporter and bought one from John Force. There's only about a half dozen transporters that open from the left side and Force had about three of them."
Has it taken you awhile to fully take advantage of the two-car concept? "It has. We're halfway through our first season, and originally we made both cars identical but they didn't run identical. The cars are just different and it takes awhile to get them dialed in. For example, figuring out the information from one racecar and deciding what that means to the other racecar. Now after 13 races into the season, we can watch what one cars does and get a pretty good idea what the second car will do. Anybody starting a two-car team will run into that same scenario."
How do the crew chiefs work off of each other? Basically, it's a different style, a different point of view and a different outlook. My dad and I have done this for so many years, and we've been trying our same ideas over and over. It was time for some new perspectives, so to speak, and to see someone else's point of view of things. At the same time, you have to get somebody that you respect and trust. That's what we found in Dave Fletcher and that's what we're starting to find in Rob Flynn."
How has the addition of Rob Flynn helped your program? "There are a lot of things that I do on the racecar that keep me pretty busy. I download information from the race computer, I build all the clutch controls and fuel control boxes, I set all the timers, I change all the jets and I mix all the fuel. With Rob coming on board, he knows how to work on timers, he knows how to work on jets, and along with my dad (Chuck Worsham) he knows how to analyze data. I'm going to let him start working more on that stuff, and I'm going to turn more of my attention to driving the car and working with our sponsors. I'll definitely stay involved with the racecar because I would never relinquish everything to anybody, but with Rob Flynn joining the team, that's going to take some of the load off of me."
Once one of the cars makes a pass down the racetrack, how quickly can you adjust the second car? Is that something that can be done in the staging lanes? "We can make the adjustment very quickly in the staging lane if we have to. In Denver this last weekend, in the first qualifying session, no one knew for sure what the track had to offer. We had Frankie's (Pedregon) Firebird setup a certain way and he was two pairs in front of us. If his car did what it was supposed to do then we were going to make the same modifications to our car. If it didn't then we were going to make a change the other way. Having the two cars at Denver with the unpredictability of the track and the conditions definitely paid off for us."
What have been some of the high points for the Checker Schuck's Kragen Pontiac Firebird team this year? "I think being able to qualify both cars at every event has been one of the high points. Where having the two-car team has paid off the most was probably in Chicago when Frank's blue Firebird was running well and our car wasn't. They had run a 4.97 and the next day we took a look at the information, set up our car exactly the same, and bang, the next pass we ran a 4.96. That showed me that the two-car team was beginning to pay off, that the cars were now close enough and that information was transferable. The low point has been racing my teammate three times already in the first 12 races. We knew we would have to race each other here and there, I didn't expect it to happen as often as it has."
How has the 90-percent rule increased the competition in the Fuel classes? "I believe that the fields have narrowed and tightened up, but I'm not so sure it's all because of the 90-percent rule either. In our case it was more of having to start all over again from scratch. We needed to start with a new team and a new combination. We had fought what we had for so many years and it just wasn't working. We went to 90-percent and went to a fresh slate again. I think we could run just as well on 100-percent now that we've discovered a more effective setup, but either way it definitely has tightened up the field. Making a 16-car field nowadays is tougher than it's ever been. When you look back at most of the races you'll find a lot of cars that were able to make one good pass that got them in the show. That makes being able to qualify both cars at every race that much more impressive and something everyone on our Checker Schuck's Kragen team is very proud of."
Talk about last year's win in Seattle? "We were surprised and thrilled that we were able to win there. The car wasn't running as well as it could have been but it was starting to show a lot of promise. Being able to go up there and get the win when we did was incredible - I just can't believe that it's been a year since it's happened. I'd like to think that we can go in there and do it all over again. I've had a pretty good history in the past of returning to races that we've done well at and being able to run well all over again. The first two races that I won in 1991 we came back the following year and was runner-up. Hopefully we can do that and maybe even a little more. We have a pretty good notebook on SIR. I've been looking at all the data we collected from last season, but then we were running 97 percent and now we're running 90 percent. I've kept mental notes of the track, and we have everything on video so we know what to expect. We'll just make the right adjustments when we need to. At last year's race, we ran pretty good in qualifying but ended with a little slower run than we wanted to. I hate to end qualifying and not make a full pass or smoke the tires because then you don't know if you're going to make it by first round. We backed it down a little bit, got it down the track and ran somewhere in the neighborhood of a 5.19 in the first round. We put together four consistent runs, and even though we put a cylinder out in the finals and ran the 5.28, it was good enough to get the win."
What's the gameplan for the next three races before you head east for the U.S. Nationals? "Our gameplan is just to win the rounds we're supposed to win. If somebody breaks next to you, you don't want to lose by smoking the tires or making a mistake worse than your opponent. We need to take advantage of all opportunities and win as many rounds as we can. Hopefully we can string enough round wins together that we can win a race."
Has the 2000 Pontiac Firebird been a good racecar? "Absolutely. It's night and day when compared to the 1999 racecar. I think at Denver you were able to tell how good of a racecar it actually is. The 2000 Pontiac Firebird has tremendous downforce and it is easy to adjust. You can take spoiler or downforce out of it when you need to, or you can add it just as easily. Over the next few months it will continue to show more and more that it is a superior body. There's been a little bit of a learning curve getting used to tuning for the new car. It definitely takes more power to run the 2000 Firebird down the racetrack than it did the 1999. We put the 1999 body on at Norwalk and it just didn't have the downforce. The new Firebirds help us get down the slicker racetracks, especially during the summer months. We had to change our tune-up for the new racecar and everyone that goes to the new body will have to do the same. You can feel how good the car is because you're not spinning the tires. That tells you that you have good traction. For example, in years past at Denver, we couldn't hardly make a run without spinning the tires, and this year we made seven runs and five of them were without tire spin."
Where do you see the team going as the season heads into the Autumn months? "I'd like to see both cars end up in the top 10. I'd like the red car to move in even deeper and have Frankie get in there as well. That would be quite an accomplishment as far as I'm concerned."
Is there any track coming up that you particularly run well on? "Brainerd. That's my favorite race of the year. I've always done pretty good there and I can't wait to get back. The first year I went there, in order to qualify for the Big Bud Shootout, we had to qualify either No. 1 or No. 2 and Tom Hoover had to qualify No. 15 or No. 16. We ended up No. 1, he ended up No. 16 and I was able to make the Big Bud Shootout. As the years have gone by, a lot of good things have happened to us up there. I love the fans, I like the facility and it's a great place to race."
How much did the crash at Norwalk set you back? "Not too much. We were really able to bounce right back from it. Our spare car was ready to go, and we had been wanting to run it anyway just not under those circumstances. It could have set us back in the sense that we might not have had a spare car for two races, but now we're home and we'll have a spare heading into Seattle. So really it wasn't a setback, financially sure, but from an equipment standpoint and being ready to race, not too much."
Where do you see the Worsham & Fink program heading over the next few years? "I would like to be a Winston champion sometime in the next five years - I definitely see the team heading in that direction. With the financial backing from Checker Schuck's Kragen and Pontiac, and with the crew and talent we have, it appears that we have everything in place now to get that done."