Garys cause trouble for Team CSK
Topeka, Sunday: You'd have to excuse Del Worsham and Johnny Gray if you approached them Sunday afternoon, saying "Hi, my name's Gary!" only to get a menacing look in return. After another solid qualifying effort, which featured the return of big speed to both sides of the Checker, Schuck's, Kragen camp, a pair of Garys took Team CSK out of eliminations in the first round. Though both CSK Pontiacs made solid full passes, neither was quick enough to vanquish either Gary Densham, who outpaced Worsham (4.88 to 4.95,) or Gary Scelzi, who pulled away from Gray (4.84 to 4.92.)
"I don't know, we just didn't go quick enough," was all Worsham could say moments after the twin losses. "Whether we were too conservative or both cars just didn't want to run quite well enough, I can't say yet, but the other guys ran better, and we lost, and that's that. What a rude ending to a promising weekend." This midwestern event was yet another weather-related race in the Great Plains, as rain drops, hot sun, big wind, and fluctuating temperatures kept tuners and drivers guessing throughout qualifying. Entering Saturday afternoon, it appeared both CSK cars would start this race from the bottom half, as the sun was baking the racing surface while Worsham and Gray were in the field, but slightly off pace.
Then, moments before the final session, a classic late spring midwestern storm rolled through the area, and when it left, two hours later, conditions were prime instead of dodgy. Worsham and Gray took advantage of the cool overcast by posting their best runs of the weekend, with the red car crossing the finish line at 4.828 with a big speed of 322.50 mph. It was Worsham's first pass over 320 since the final race of 2001, and it nearly was a new career mark for him (not quite outrunning his 322.58 best.) The run moved Worsham into the top half, in the number seven position.
Gray and his blue team also picked up in the last session, running a 4.837 to grab the number nine spot, and his mount showed big velocity as well, crossing the beams at 321.42 mph, which did reset his career best. There was plenty of reason to be confident going into race day.
"We all felt confident, despite the fact we were running two very good cars," Gray said. "This was one of those killer races where the whole lineup was stout. We ran 4.83 and were tenth, but 4.81 would've gotten you fourth, and 4.89 got you 13th. The whole field was tight, and it was a matter of who could outrun who."
Worsham agreed with his teammate, and was excited to be on the track on Sunday.
"Yeah, I felt great and felt great about our chances," he said. "The sun was back out, the conditions were very good, and I knew we were completely capable of not only getting out of first round, but winning the race. But sometimes things just don't go according to our plan. Sometimes guys like (Densham's Crew Chief) Jimmy Prock make their car get their first, and all you can do is watch the win light go on in the other lane, even though you're running fast too.
"It's just a bad way to end the weekend, going 0-for-2," he continued. "First round is so hard, and it's also so critical. It's not easy having to beat two cars like that in any round, much less the first. This time, it didn't go well for us, but we're already over it and looking ahead. Nobody's heads are hanging. We didn't mess up and do something stupid to give the lap away. We got beat. That's drag racing. We'll get 'em in Chicago."
Worsham has some history on his side when looking ahead to next weekend's race in Chicago. He has won the event each of the last two years.
Moments later, Chuck Worsham found the speed robbing culprits, when an examination of the red car's rear-end showed significant damage, and computer analysis showed the blue car suffering from bizarre clutch wear.
"Just one of those things, well actually two of those things," the elder Worsham said. "We just about knocked the rear end out of the red car, it's no wonder it slowed down but it's a little bit of a wonder it held together. The blue car just mowed through the clutch, like maybe it had a bad disc or two in it. This sort of stuff happens to everybody, believe me, but you'd much rather see it happen on Friday."
Prior to the Chicago race, Team CSK and Team Artisan have some unfinished business to complete, as they plan to conclude Arnie Karp's licensing runs in Topeka on Monday. Karp will then be ready to debut the Artisan Home Entertainment "Terminator 2" Pontiac in Chicago.
Worsham hopes seventh spot is lucky
Topeka, Saturday: Today was another classic Topeka meteorological marvel. The day began with rain and cool temps, which then gave way to bright sun, high temps, and summer-like humidity for session one. Between sessions one and two, the clouds moved back in, bringing rain with them as the Funny Cars waited in the staging lanes for their final passes. After a two hour rain delay, the wet stuff abated but the clouds remained, and the temperature dropped accordingly, creating completely different conditions for the final pass.
Del Worsham smoked the hoops just past the 330-mark, leaving him in the No. 10 spot with one session left:
"Well, that was uninspiring! We just missed on the tune-up, that's all. We started this day with rain, then went to cool overcast, and by the time we ran it was sunshine, hot, and humid. We were over center on it, and for this last one we'll have to calm it down through that section and try to get the patented hot weather tune-up going. It's looking like this is going to be the weather for tomorrow, maybe even sunnier, so we'll go that way and see how we do."
Worsham then stepped up 6-hundredths to a 4.828 at 322.50 mph, nearly matching his career best (322.58) leaving him in the No. 7 spot for tomorrow's race:
"Wow. It was absolutely killer out there, and I knew some big numbers were going up. I'm really happy with the 4.82, because other than Tony Pedregon (who ran an out-of-this-world 4.74 as the only car in the 4.70's) we're really right there with everyone. I mean, our 4.82 is 7th, but 4.81 got you 4th. What I'm really happy about is the speed. We haven't been able to crack 320 all year. We've been 318, 319, but not 320. So, to get back over 320 and almost set a new mark for ourselves, is just great. Now keep in mind, the weather could be anything tomorrow. Who knows, we'll just try to go as fast as the track and the air will allow."
Worsham had actually not posted a speed over 320 mph since the final race of the 2001 season.
He will face Gary Densham in round one.
Del ninth, Gray 10th after first day
Topeka, Friday: Del Worsham, who, like the vast majority, lost traction at mid-track, leaving him in the No. 11 spot with an early shutoff 7.46:
"That was not a pretty session. After one run, the qualifying order looks like you tossed all the names in the air and this is how they fell, with great teams scattered all over the 18 slots. And here we are in 11th, right between John Force (who finished the session 10th) and Tony Pedregon (12th.) If the rain holds off, I'm sure you're going to see a lot more cars make it in the second run, working off the data we got from this one. We plan to be one of those teams making a big move."
Johnny Gray, who was one of only four drivers to post a time below five seconds, running a 4.914 to grab the No. 3 spot after one run: "Marc (Denner) and Chris (Cunningham) saw enough tire smoke out there before we ran to make what changes they could in the lanes, but the key was the tune-up calls made before we went up there. We were close enough to right on to allow us to tweak things in the lanes and it went right down there. On a tricky race track, that's a great way to get started."
Worsham, who stepped up to a 4.88, to hold 9th place overnight:
"We were conservative, I'm not going to deny that. When you smoke the tires in the first run, and the conditions are so good in the late run, it's hard to stand all over it and risk not getting down there at all. Had we put a good number up on the first run, maybe we would have gone for it, but we wanted to get a good solid run on the board and be ready to tweak on it tomorrow."
Gray, who smoked the tires at half-track, slipping to the No. 10 spot:
"It was just running beautifully down there, and then it rolled right into tire smoke, which surprised me to no end. It wasn't abrupt, it just kind of gently spun them until they broke loose. Right now, no one on the team really understands why, but it did it so we'll go on and make two good laps tomorrow."
Worsham ready to exploit the common Topeka/Englishtown denominator
Topeka, pre-race: It's likely that no other back-to-back races on the NHRA POWERade tour feature such diverse settings as the Englishtown and Topeka events. Coming straight from New Jersey to the plains of Kansas, Del Worsham and his Checker, Schuck's, Kragen red team will face widely disparate environments, noticeably varied venues, and a completely different atmosphere, in just a matter of days. One thing, however, will stay very much the same. Topeka and Englishtown are both very fast race tracks.
Only a few, short, travel filled days after completing the Englishtown event, Worsham and team will be set up and ready to go this Friday, deep in America's heartland at the aptly named Heartland Park Topeka. Moving so quickly from the congestion and frenetic pace of the New York/New Jersey area, to the placid environs of the state of Kansas, can be startling.
"Englishtown is one of the oldest venues on the tour, and it's very compact and therefore pretty claustrophobic when the huge crowd packs in there," Worsham said. "I guess that fits, because you're in the middle of one of the most crowded parts of the country, where even going down the street to get something to eat is a complicated operation. When we get done there, we load up, hit the road, and come straight to Kansas where the most striking thing is all the space. Even the track, Heartland Park, is enormous and spread out all over the place. It's about as 180-degree different as you can get, but we love getting to Heartland Park and racing in front of these Midwestern fans.
"The one thing that isn't as different as night and day between these two places is the speed. When the conditions are right at both of these tracks, the speeds are up and the elapsed times are down. Records have been set at both places, despite how different they are. And then, a few days after Topeka we'll be in Chicago, another incredibly fast track. This is a three-week speed festival, with Topeka being the middle act of a great three act show. "
Worsham enters this weekend's O'Reilly Summernationals hoping to step up his performance on race day, having been eliminated in the second round in Englishtown. Despite the loss, he maintained his third place standing in the POWERade Funny Car rankings, and sports a 14-7 won/loss record, with one event victory.
"We were right on our game qualifying up there, ending up number four, but Sunday didn't go well," he said. "It's not all bad news, though. We weren't at our best on Sunday, but we qualified great and we still managed to get that first round win, which is critical. It's the first round losses and the DNQ's you have to avoid at all costs, and we did that. We just need to get wound up with a good qualifying effort at Heartland Park, and then string some rounds together on Sunday in Topeka."
Weather is always an issue in Topeka, and conditions have been known to range from blistering heat to frigid cold on any given race weekend. Worsham plans to be ready for all variables.
"Hopefully it will be beautiful, and the air will be great, and everything will be right with the world," he said with a smile. "But we've seen just about everything in Topeka, from cold to hot to very wet with huge midwestern storms rolling through, like they're straight from The Wizard Of Oz. And one thing's almost a constant, and that's the Kansas wind. If the weather's cool, and the track is like it usually is, we'll be loaded up and we'll do our best to run with the quickest guys out there. If not, and things get trickier, we think we're among the best and handling tricky race tracks. We'll be ready."
Ready or not, Team CSK heads from the land of subway trains, classic diners, and eight lane turnpikes to the sprawling wheat fields, steak houses, and narrow country roads of eastern Kansas. It's nearly enough to make your head spin, but Worsham and his group plan on feeling right at home at Heartland Park, beginning with qualifying this Friday.
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