Worsham seeks drag title in honor of late driver

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Ypsilanti — Del Worsham will be attempting to hand the Kalitta Motorsports team its first NHRA series championship in 20 years this weekend in Pomona, California.

And, Worsham will try to get it done in the DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car in honor of the late Scott Kalitta who was killed in a crash at Englishtown, N.J. in 2008.

Worsham, who won the Top Fuel championship for Alan Johnson/Al-Anabi Racing in 2011, joined the Kalitta team the following year as crew chief for Alexis DeJoria’s Funny Car team. He moved over to the DHL car in 2013 as a driver.

Worsham, 45, was the youngest driver to win a Funny Car event at age 21 during the 1991 season and was Rookie of the Year. Still, he never won the Funny Car title, finishing second in 2004 and third on two other occasions (2003, ’09) with John Force always in his way.

“It’s exciting to be in this position, driving for Connie Kalitta who is such a legend and being in Scott’s car which is a great honor for me,” said Worsham, who lives less than an hour away from Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. “The entire team and organization is pulling hard. We want to get this done for all of them, especially after the tragedy they suffered through.

“The guys on our DHL team have done a great job led by Jon Oberhofer and Nicky Boninfante (co-crew chiefs) and Dave Boyer (car chief). They’ve upped their game. We have a great motor and clutch program and they find parts that won’t break in the third and fourth rounds.”

Oberhofer, Boninfante and Boyer are joined on the DHL team by Todd Battagler (clutch), Matt Bynum (bottom end), Mike Morris (cylinder heads), Alex Diekfuss (cylinder heads), Stephen Hashey (rods and pistons) and Isaac Mallett (clutch assistant).

Oberhofer, who has been with the Kalitta team when Scott won consecutive Top Fuel championships in 1994 and ’95, recalls when Scott persuaded his father to start a Funny Car team.

“After Scott flew up for his mother’s funeral, it seems like it was in the winter of 2005, he stayed at Connie’s house,” Oberhofer said. “We were down in the basement drinking a 12-pack of beer and I remember Scott telling Connie he wanted to start a Funny Car team. I know I protested because we were a dragster (Top Fuel) team.

“I remember him telling Connie, ‘Let’s make it happen,’ and well it did. After his death we dedicated ourselves to making that car competitive because that’s what Scott and Connie wanted. We didn’t want to compromise anything or anyone so it took time. For me it was a start of a project and a labor of love. We got better and better over time and now we have a chance to win the title."

Things didn’t always go smoothly for Worsham & Co. which entered the Countdown for the Championship without a win and as the No. 4 seed. However, no one has been better than Worsham during the five Countdown races, winning three times — at Charlotte, N.C., St. Louis and Dallas —- and owning a 38-point lead over Jack Beckman who won the Funny Car title in 2012.

“We have a 38-point lead so basically he (Beckman) has to go two rounds further than us to win it,” said Oberhofer of this weekend's season finale. “I’ve been telling people the DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car is in a happy place. It wants to run well. We were close before (during regular season). We’ve been able to take the next step during the Countdown and Del’s an awesome driver, getting it down the track and handling the equipment.

“It’s been a total team effort. We have a good motor program and a good clutch program and Del has a great understanding of everything we want to do. We bounce ideas off of him on tune-up decisions. We’ll be just as aggressive as we have been and take it up a notch at Pomona. We’re going there to win the race, that’s the goal, what Scott would have wanted.”

Said Worsham: “Personally, this has been a huge goal of mine, to win the Funny Car championship. When I started, I just wanted to qualify and not hit the guy in the next lane. Then, I’ve had some good years, great years, but I’ve driven in a generation when John Force dominated.

“I was behind (Spencer Massey) by two points heading into the final race in Top Fuel (in 2011) and won the race. Now. I’m leading which is even better. I’m lucky to run with these guys at Kalitta. It’s been a long time coming for them and we want to win the championship. I’m ready to go. We’ll see what we’re made of.”

Well, Worsham knows how to win at Pomona, winning in Funny Car in 2001 and ’03, along with the 2011 title-clinching win in Top Fuel.