Del Worsham's amazing run continues
BAYTOWN, Texas -- No one would blame Larry Dixon if he walked up to teammate Del Worsham and said, "Hey buddy. I know you're having fun, but I'd kinda like that car back now."
Worsham, the new kid on the block in Top Fuel (if you can call a 41-year-old man with 20 years of nitro drag racing experience a kid), is beating his defending champion teammate with Dixon's 2010 championship dragster.
The Al-Anabi Racing duo matched up side by side Sunday in the finals of the O'Reilly Spring Nationals with a memorable event-ending pass at Royal Purple Raceway.
Worsham won his second consecutive NHRA event, edging Dixon with a run at 3.88 seconds and 318.99 mph. Dixon was close, racing to 1,000 feet in 3.90 seconds at 316.82 mph.
It was the third victory for Worsham in five races this season. Not bad for a guy who sat exclusively in the Funny Car for the previous 15 years.
"It's surreal," Worsham said. "I'm just a small part of this team, in reality, and the lucky guy who gets to stand here now. I'm at a loss for words."
Sunday was the first time Worsham and Dixon ever squared off in a traditional final, but they finished 1-2 in the Four-Wide Nationals at Charlotte two weeks ago.
So it isn't like Dixon is struggling, but Worsham is in a class by himself at the moment.
Maybe he should have switched to Top Fuel a long time ago. Or maybe he has a car every driver dreams of racing.
Dixon drove that chassis last season and dominated the competition en route to his third championship, going a perfect 12-for-12 in final rounds. But team boss Alan Johnson gave Dixon a shiny new dragster this season to defend his title.
Dixon is winless in the new ride, but Worsham is 3-for-3 in finals with the old car. That dragster is 15-for-15 in final rounds over the past two seasons.
"The cars are nearly identical," Worsham said. "They are so evenly matched. A lot of it is timing. When I got to the line in the final, I was thinking, Larry is the world champion and a great racer, but it's just a matter of who's hot."
Worsham is as hot as it gets. The last time a Top Fuel driver won three of the first five events was Tony Schumacher in 2004 (winning three of the first four), and he went on to win the championship.
It's surreal. I'm just a small part of this team, in reality, and the lucky guy who gets to stand here now. I'm at a loss for words.” -- Del Worsham
If Worsham does that in 2011, it will be his first NHRA title. He came close several times in Funny Car. He was the runner-up to John Force in 2004 and finished third in 2001 and 2002 while driving for his dad, Chuck, and their family team.
Worsham, who had Funny Car victories in Baytown in 2001 and 2008, is only the second driver to win in Top Fuel and Funny Car at RPR, joining Mike Dunn.
The Worsham family operation was a good team for a long time, but Del finally got a shot at a big-money operation in 2009 when Johnson offered him the Funny Car ride on the new team that was owned by a member of Qatar royalty, His Highness Sheik Khalid Al Thani.
Worsham finished in the top 10 for two seasons, but Johnson and Sheik Khalid decided the team would be better served this year to switch to two Top Fuel dragsters.
Worsham thought his days at Al-Anabi might be over. Johnson, one of the greatest tuners in NHRA history, was certain Worsham could make the transition. Johnson knows a driver when he sees one and he offered Worsham the pilot's seat in the second dragster.
From the first day, Worsham has looked like a guy who raced in Top Fuel all his life. And Sunday's team final had Johnson grinning like he knew it all along.
"That was pretty fun," Johnson said after the final. "That's what we dreamed about seeing when we put those two together [in Top Fuel]. Obviously, Del is driving great. It's going to be a fun year."
Worsham only made one quality pass in qualifying on Friday and Saturday, but he has learned it's not a concern while racing under Johnson's mastery.
"Pretty much, that's the way the whole year has gone," Worsham said. "I kind of see what's going on. Alan just feels his way through it. He doesn't get excited. He pushed it a little [Saturday] and knew today not to push it that far. He knows exactly what he's doing."
Apparently, so does Worsham. After two decades in the sport, he's found his niche in a car he never expected to drive.
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.