K&N Filters NHRA SuperNationals
Worsham out in round two, Gray a round earlier
Englishtown, Sunday: Team CSK was the picture of consistency during qualifying, here in Englishtown's historic Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. As valuable as that is, it can't compete with consistency on race day, and both Del Worsham and Johnny Gray ended the day on Sunday with more questions than answers and more disappointment than satisfaction.
After rain washed out Funny Car and Top Fuel qualifying on Friday, the pros put it all on the line in a shortened two-lap qualifying effort on Saturday. When the day was over, Worsham had grabbed the number four spot with 4.82 in the first session, and then ran a 4.88 in the second and final lap. Gray was even more consistent, as he ran consecutive 4.87's on Saturday, putting him in the number ten spot. Team CSK had gone 4-for-4 with solid qualifying laps on a tricky race track.
As the number four qualifier on Sunday, Worsham lined up first against Dale Creasy, and he fully expected to post a very strong number. "We left a little on the table in qualifying, though we ran well and we were real happy with the number four spot," he said. "The conditions were very good out there, and I figured we'd be able to run a very low 4.80 in round one. But things got a little messed up in a hurry."
What happened next, "in a hurry," was actually something that took too long to occur, as Worsham and Creasy were not in sync during the staging process and Worsham had to wait while his clutch heated up. Both cars also then smoked the tires, but in the end the CSK driver got his Pontiac to the finish line first, with multiple pedaling efforts.
"Our tune-up was okay, we just got the clutch heated up waiting at the tree and that threw everything off. We got the round win, which is really all that mattered. I was pedaling this car as quickly as I could and wasn't giving up."
Johnny Gray and his blue crew went next, facing Ron Capps in their first-round pairing. Though Capps got a slight edge at the lights, the blue CSK Pontiac equaled the Skoal machine for 1,000-feet, but it then gave up the motor and slowed as Capps pounded through the lights with a 4.88.
"He was beatable at 4.88, I know that," Gray said. "We were aiming to run a lot better than that, and I bet they were too, but neither of us exactly hit the jackpot there. Our problem was traced to a broken lifter, which left us dead in the water at 1,000-feet. That was just a bad break, and we gave one away."
In round two, Worsham's task was not an easy one, as he lined up next to Whit Bazemore for a chance to move on to the semi-final. As the number two and three drivers in the POWERade points standings, this was surely a big-time drag race.
Both drivers staged quickly, and when the lights went amber another thing happened "in a hurry" and this one ended the race before it started. Worsham left early, lighting the red bulb and giving the win to Capps, but his drama wasn't over as his car quickly spun the tires violently and made a hard move for the left-side wall. Only Worsham's quick reactions and great driving skill kept the Checker, Schuck's, Kragen Pontiac unscratched.
"I don't know, I guess I just jumped the deal," Worsham said. "I know I saw yellow, but I also knew it felt early, and I actually took a peek at the lights to see the red light. Right about then it blew the tires off and the next thing I knew I was staring at the wall instead of downtrack. For a weekend that had such a good start, I can't say I'm all that thrilled with the outcome.
"We're playing at a very high level here, aiming for things we've never really been in reach of before, and that all means that you hold yourselves to a much higher standard. Today, we weren't happy with ourselves. Overall, I'm very proud of the team and totally confident we'll get back in stride in just a few days."
As Worsham mentioned, the CSK team won't have long to stew on this less than stellar outing, as the tour now heads directly to Topeka, where professional qualifying at the O'Reilly Summernationals begins on Friday.
Worsham solidly in the .80s
Englishtown, Saturday: Del Worsham streaked to a 4.826 on his first run to grab the No. 4 spot after one session:
"It was pretty stout out there, but it's not a gimme to just go out there and run fast. There's a lot of shaking going on, and a lot of tire smoke, so to get both of our cars down there solidly is awesome and we're really happy with that. We ate a piston up at the top end, but I'll sacrifice some pistons to run up front in the top half. Now we can either go out there and step all over it, or try to make another solid run. I'll let you know which we're doing after the run!"
On his second pass, Worsham made another fine lap, this time a 4.88, though his motor was eating parts at the finish line:
"I'm not totally sure what it did to itself down there, but it was chewing itself up down there. It leaned out and starting munching pistons, so we'll take a look at the fuel pump and make sure everything's okay before tomorrow. Still, we had two runs today and got down there both times, in the 4.80's. That's a great baseline to take into race day. We're happy with the number four spot, and we'll do the best we can from there."
Englishtown memories abound for Worsham
Englishtown, pre-race: Good memories, bad memories, memories of just about every shape, color, and size fill Del Worsham's head when he thinks of Englishtown, N.J., and the 34th annual K&N Filters NHRA SuperNationals presented by Pep Boys, to be held this weekend at venerable Old Bridge Township Raceway Park.
Worsham, the driver of the Checker, Schuck's, Kragen red team Pontiac Funny Car, sees Raceway Park as other racers do, a truly historic landmark on the NHRA landscape. But he also sees it as a place where he has personally etched his name into the rich lore of New Jersey drag racing history.
"Even if I'd never raced there, I'd think of Raceway Park in very special terms," Worsham said. "I'm a west coast racer, and places like Orange County, Lions, and Pomona are our historic places, where all the legends came from. But even out west, you knew about Englishtown, and you knew about the stars who raced there. This is a very special place. It's kind of like the Yankee Stadium of drag racing."
Worsham may have learned to appreciate Old Bridge Township Raceway Park from afar, on the "other coast," but since his first season as a Funny Car driver in 1991, the historic track has provided him and his team a wide range of vivid experiences, both good and bad.
During his stellar rookie season, Worsham came to Englishtown still a shy kid who was learning to deal with the "facts of life" as a professional race car driver. Having worked on his father Chuck's cars for years, in near total anonymity, the 21-year old Worsham was thrust into the spotlight when he took over the driving chores, and he found that attention more difficult to deal with than the race car.
"That first year, the first couple of years really, were hard on me when I was outside the car," Worsham said. "I loved the fans, that part was easy, but the media attention was something I had no training in, and was totally intimidated by. The car didn't bother me at all, but the media scared me to death."
One way to bring media attention to yourself is to win, and that's exactly what Worsham did in Englishtown during his rookie year. It was his second victory of the season, as he marched toward an NHRA Rookie of the Year award. The win at Raceway Park still holds a special place in Worsham's memory.
"The fans in New Jersey are just so knowledgeable," he said. "They know the details of the sport, the history of the sport, and the challenges. They were smart enough to know we were underdogs and I was just a nervous kid, but I think they liked us because we were just working hard and trying to make it. They kind of adopted us right then, and we still see people every year who come up and talk about 1991 and how they rooted for us. It's very cool."
Worsham's next Englishtown memory is one he'd like to forget, but never will. He suffered serious burns in 1994 when his engine let go, sending him to the hospital for an extended stay in the Garden State.
"The fire thing was bad, but the people of New Jersey were amazing," he said. "Talk about being taken care of! I felt like I had a huge family looking after me, as I sat there in the hospital 3,000 miles from home."
Heading further down the E-Town memory trail, Worsham's next Raceway Park highlight came in 2001, when he posted a stunning e.t. of 4.779-seconds in round one on race day. The number matched the all-time quickest run in NHRA Funny Car history, but Worsham's earned an unofficial asterisk, as he ran the time on 90-percent nitro, while the earlier mark had been earned before the 90-percent restriction rule. Worsham sees that run as a defining moment in his team's history.
"We'd won the Houston race that year, and we knew we were definitely running better and better, but there's a mental thing you have to get over about either battling the big boys, or being one of the big boys," Worsham said. "You can run well, and you can have success, and you can even win races without really being one of the big boys out here. There's a lot of luck involved in all of that. But to run 4.77, on 90-percent, before anyone else had ever done it, well you have to earn that. That run gave us a lot of confidence, and kind of changed how we approached each race. We got more aggressive, and we began to believe that we were a pretty good team. Things have really been different ever since."
How different have things been for Worsham since that day? Considering he'd won a total of four races in the previous 10 years prior to that Sunday in Englishtown, and has won eight races in the two years since, the answer is apparent.
"We enter each race thinking we can win now, and we're coming to Englishtown this weekend with that plan," Worsham said. "We love racing there, we love the fans there, and we get excited about going to Englishtown. It's got to be one of my favorites stops on the tour, and I hope we can add another big positive highlight to our list there this weekend."
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