GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Al-Anabi/Toyota dragster that Del Worsham drove Sunday to the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals victory and to the head of the National Hot Rod Ass’n Top Fuel standings has a special history.
It’s the one that teammate Larry Dixon used last year to perform perfectly in 12 final rounds and carve out his third series title.
“I have a great car and a great team,” Worsham said at Gainesville Raceway. “I’m driving Larry’s car from last year. That thing’s won 12 races. Now it’s won 13. The fact that it won shouldn’t surprise anybody, but it surprised me.
“Basically, we’re just riding on Larry Dixon’s coattails, his tune-up,” he said. “I’m just lucky to be the driver. I’m the rookie at this point.”
He admitted he’s still trying to get used to his new label as “a dragster guy.”
“Funny Car’s cool, man. I love Funny Cars, and I have a lot of great memories in Funny Cars,” he said, recognizing that he needs to consider himself a Top Fuel racer now. He said his team owner, Sheikh Khalid Al Thani, approached him last spring with the idea of switching to a dragster and, he said Sunday, “What am I going to do? Say no? I like my job.”
However, he said, “To tell you the truth, I’m uncomfortable. I get in the car and I don’t have that comfort level I had in the Funny Car. I’m sure it’s going to be awhile before I do. I’ll go out there and do my best.”
– Although Tony Schumacher lost to Del Worsham by eight-thousandths of a second, he said, “It was a great race. Those were two quality teams battling it out right there. Even though Del hasn’t been in Top Fuel for a lot of years, he’s still a very talented driver. I sensed it was going to be a very close race.”
He was right. They left virtually at the same time, Schumacher posting a .044-second reaction time and Worsham a .040.
“Despite losing to Del, we still had a very good weekend,” the U.S. Army dragster driver said after making his 104th career final round. “We got down the track with consistency and made plenty of power.”
Schumacher set low elapsed time and top speed of the meet with his qualifying-best 3.814-second, track-record 325.45-mph performance and had low e.t. and top speed in both the quarterfinals and semifinals.
He beat Dave Grubnic, Doug Foley and Larry Dixon to reach the final round and his first meeting with the savvy drag-racing veteran Worsham. But his 555th round-win will have to wait until the next race, at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
– Larry Dixon earned his 600th elimination-round victory in beating Terry McMillen in the opening round. It was payback, for McMillen upset him at the season-opening Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., from the No. 16 slot.
– Doug Foley, joining the tour late, never starting his Dote Family dragster before Friday’s first qualifying session. But Saturday he vaulted 12 positions, from unqualified and dead last among 20 Top Fuel drivers to the top half of the field at No. 8. Foley opened eliminations Sunday, winning by mere inches against veteran Doug Kalitta, who won here in 2000 and 2005. He did so with low elapsed time of the round.
So Foley had lane choice against Tony Schumacher in the quarterfinals, but his chance of advancing past the seven-time champion fizzled when his parachutes fell out before the car even got to the starting line.
“We need to find some money. This team would be good if we could run 22 races,” Foley said.
– Mike Neff’s Funny Car victory put John Force Racing within two of its 200th victory. It was the organization’s 11th Gatornationals victory, after seven by John Force, one by Tony Pedregon, one by Gary Densham, and one by Ashley Force Hood in the Top Alcohol dragster class.
– Sunday marked Neff’s first final-round appearance and victory at the Gatornationals as either a driver or crew chief. He tuned the cars for Scotty Cannon and Gary Scelzi, as well, but his previous best at the Gatornationals was two semifinal appearances with Scelzi.
– Pro Stock winner Jason Line, accused of spoiling teammate boss Greg Anderson’s 50th birthday party Monday by beating him in the final round, said, “Greg’s a big boy and he’s won a lot of races. He’ll be OK.”