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Del Worsham finally ending his long quest for a title.
|The economy. the pros may survive, but the sport's backbone -- the sportsmen -- are taking a hit. it's the sportsmen who provided promoters with the back gate that keep them afloat and as fewer guys decided to spend money on family, everybody gets hurt.|
When Del Worsham thought twice about moonlighting in any other nitro-powered race car besides the professional entry that, professionally speaking, buttered his bread, the Al-Anabi Top Fuel
Dragster. In September, while Al-Anabi was in the hunt for NHRA's Full Throttle Championship, Del agreed to shake out Head Racing's AA/Funny Car at Famoso Raceway's Saturday Night Nitro event, but re-evaluated his decision before a wheel was turned. He never suited up that weekend. He said that it was not dictates from Al-Anabi per se, but more a decision he made in order to focus on his quest for the NHRA Points Title. Del's realization of the old saw that "you can only follow one master" paid off. He won the Championship two months later.
|After claiming the Top Fuel Title at Pomona on a Sunday, but before the trophy could be handed over at NHRA's black-tie Awards Ceremony in Los Angeles on a Monday, Worsham announced his retirement from driving professionally. It was an astute, informed decision. Yes, he worked his entire life to be the undisputed champ in Top Fuel, but only a chump sticks around when there is nothing left to prove. His hanging up of the driver's yoke could be interpreted as yet another sign of Big-Time drag racing's further contraction of professional teams, as well as its slide towards cultural and commercial insignificance, if not actual obsolescence. Word is that Del will apply his knowledge of all-things-nitro to professionally tune an NHRA Funny Car in 2012. But don't bet on seeing his used firesuit on eBay. Now he no longer has a conflict if he wants to shoe, say, Head Racing's vintage flopper at a remote drag strip north of Bakersfield.|
Being that I’m pretty much jaded with modern-day NHRA drag racing after watching the sport I grew up with and fell in love with during the ‘60s and ‘70s turn into what it’s become today. I don’t usually get excited about what happens at NHRA National events as the current crop of politically correct drivers spout incessant sponsor mentions and don’t show their true emotions.
Well, that all changed while I was watching the 2011 AAA Texas Nationals at the Texas Motorplex live on ESPN3.com this past September.
Bob Vandergriff, a true underdog that Sunday, marched through the very stout Top Fuel field taking out Troy Buff, Tony Schumacher, Brandon Bernstein and the red-hot Spencer Massy in the final round for his first NHRA National event victory after 10 years of trying.
Then came the moment which will be etched into my mind forever.
Vandergriff stopped his car right on the drag strip, hopped out and started running back towards the starting line as he wanted to celebrate the win with his team on the starting line instead of waiting for them to come collect him on the return road. Now he did this without taking off his firesuit or even his helmet in the over 100 degree temperatures! To say that Bob was jacked up on adrenalin is an understatement and the highly vocal crowd cheered him on for the entire run back to the starting line.
The tape-delayed ESPN2 broadcast showed only a few moments of that historic run but for those of us who witnessed it live, as it happened on ESPN3.com, it was the highlight of the 2011 NHRA season.
Too many oil downs. Who doesn’t hate oil downs? Everybody does from the car owner, to the driver, to the guys who have to clean it up and most importantly the fans. Now blowing up nitro engines has been part of drag racing since guys started experimenting with the rocket fuel back in the 50s. It’s what happens in these engines when too much of something or a part breaks causing a catastrophic explosion.
A few years ago NHRA came up with a program that takes away points and fines teams who cause down time. How’d that work? Not too good. Even though teams have worked relentlessly to keep oil off of the track using diapers, belly pans and anything else they can think of there was still a lot of down time at the NHRA national events in 2011.
I sat in the stands at the spring Charlotte race for a round of nitro qualifying and along with the fans around me, we endured numerous oil downs, one even lasting 45 minutes! Instead of watching racing we had to suffer the t-shirt shooting guys who NHRA thinks are entertaining the fans, guess what? They aren’t.
Is there a solution to this problem? Better minds than me are working on it but I do think that there is one rule that could be implemented that would really get the crew chiefs attention. Make the oiling the track penalty the same as crossing the centerline or touching the wall. Do it and the run doesn’t count. Whether it happens during qualifying or eliminations, if the race is stopped to clean up your mess the run is thrown out. No money, no points, that’s it.
Will the sport of drag racing will ever be oil-down free? Never. Hopefully advancements in oil retention systems will cut down on the amount of oil downs in 2012.