Worsham's mood intense as Chicago approaches
Chicago, pre-race: Del Worsham is known to be many things, but "intense" is one adjective that is rarely used to describe the high-energy driver of the Checker, Schuck's, Kragen Funny Car. Usually known as more of a carefree spirit, whose outgoing and gregarious nature is readily apparent to both fans and teammates alike, Worsham is rebounding from his surprising DNQ last weekend in Topeka, and is entering this weekend's Torco Racing Fuels Route 66 Nationals with a look and demeanor more associated with his favorite basketball coach, the Lakers' Zen-like leader Phil Jackson. Worsham is all-business, and all-focus, as he prepares to race in Joliet.
The surprising nature of Worsham's failure to make the field in Topeka most certainly wore on the popular driver, as well as on the collective psyche of his team. It was a combination of fluke failures and surprising outcomes that led to a best run of only 5.124 at a race which featured a somewhat pedestrian 5.042 bump spot, and it left Worsham nearly speechless in the end. This weekend, he has the chance to not only redeem himself and his team, but can also restart a string of great success at beautiful Route 66 Raceway, where he has visited the Winner's Circle on more occasions than at any other track, taking the trophy three times.
"I was, literally, stunned when we didn't get in at Topeka," Worsham said. "To tell you the truth, I still don't really understand why it didn't go A-to-B with a solid lap during the final session. It was just one of those deals where it was obviously not meant to be, because there's nowhere to point the finger and there was nothing wrong with the tune-up. This is a tough sport, and the cars don't always do what you expect them to do. That was a perfect case of it.
"The guys took it hard, but they got back to work and put it behind them. Now, all we're thinking about is Route 66 and how we're going to do there. On its worst day, Route 66 is still one of the greatest tracks in the world, but we've had so many great days there it's hard to consider it as anything other than one of our favorite places to be. If it stays dry, and we get some cloud cover, we'll all be going for it and we'll see some big numbers. I know we have a fast car, and had we not had some dumb stuff go wrong in Topeka I firmly believe we'd have been well up in the top half, so we'll just outlaw the dumb stuff for Chicago and come out firing."
Worsham's Chicago history has many highlights within its various chapters. There was a runner-up finish back in 1998, when Worsham and his fledgling CSK sponsorship were just starting to find a way back to top performance. There was a huge win in 2001, when he not only dominated the field, but scored major "highlight reel" airtime by jettisoning his now-famous Mountain Dew Funny Car body about 30 feet in the air on the final qualifying lap. There was another win, a year later, when Worsham barely edged an out-of-power John Force in round two, despite the fact his own parachutes had deployed early. And there was 2004, when his Chicago win was the final of five victories during a season in which he finished a career-high 2nd in points. All good memories, and all good fodder for more success.
"We know the track, we've raced there in all sorts of conditions, ranging from hot and sunny to a day when we arrived at the track to find frost all over our hospitality area. We've even had a tornado pass over, and a thunderstorm that was so bad it almost blew our huge hospitality tent away, with about 16 guys holding onto it. All in all, though, we love racing there. If there's one spot I'd like to be going after what happened in Topeka, it would be Chicago."
Worsham's prospects for success this year took a hit in Kansas, but he's fully aware that there's still time left on the clock, and he's ready to emulate his favorite pro sports team, the Lakers, from here on out.
"Kobe (Bryant) and the Lakers sometimes get down in games, but you never count them out because we've all seen them come roaring back," Worsham said. "I'm no Kobe, there's only one of him, but I think of our team as the same sort of group, who never give up and never think they're out of it. We fell out of the 10th spot in Topeka, but we knew that could happen because everyone is so tightly bunched in the points right now. It wasn't fun, and it wasn't what we wanted, but now we start our comeback. I bet Phil Jackson tells his guys the same thing, 'If they can get up on us by 15, we can do the same to them,' and they go out there and make it happen. That sort of attitude has the Lakers in the NBA Finals, and I think we can do the same. We'll come back. We'll make it happen."
It won't be on the hardwood, but on the concrete and asphalt of Route 66 Raceway. He won't be nattily attired in a stylish suit, but rather in a logo-adorned fire-protective garment. And, while the Lakers take on the Celtics in a historic NBA Final Round, it will be Worsham, his team, his focus, and his demeanor, that are apt to carry the day just south of Chicago.
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