Del Worsham returns as a Funny Car driver with Kalitta Motorsports
(AP) -- Del Worsham was hesitant to use the word "retirement" when he stopped racing cars because he never had any intention of not being involved in NHRA.
Worsham will be back in the driver seat in 2013 when he returns to Funny Car with Kalitta Motorsports. He had walked away at the top after finally winning an NHRA's 2011 Top Fuel title.
Just days after wrapping up his 21-year career, Worsham was chosen crew chief for rookie Alexis DeJoria with the Kalitta team, and that ultimately opened the door for Tuesday's announcement that Worsham will be back next season in Funny Car.
"I never had any intention again of driving," Worsham said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "I was totally cool with what I was doing, working with Alexis, I had plenty on my mind and was content. Being a crew chief was something I figured I could do for the next 20 years and that would be the second phase of my career."
Worsham had 33 wins when he stepped aside at the end of 2011. Of them, 25 were in Funny Car and eight were with Al-Anabi in his Top Fuel dragster. His 2011 title was his first in NHRA but his second overall - he won the 1992 IHRA Funny Car championship. That was enough for Worsham until the NHRA Nationals at Las Vegas in late October, where he watched Ron Capps beat Jack Beckman in the finals to cut Beckman's series lead to four points with one event remaining.
"I thought I was good. I had won a championship, I'd been driving 21 years," he said. "Up until the finals, when I watched Ron Capps win Vegas, that's when I got that little itch again."
And that's when Kalitta Motorsports said it might have a seat open for the 42-year-old Worsham, who first had to talk it over with his family. But there was no trouble convincing anyone at home that he should get back in the car.
"They never wanted me to stop driving in the first place," Worsham said. "They were really kind of sad when I stopped racing, and I really thought they'd be the opposite way."
Worsham will replace Jeff Arend, who drove the DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car from late 2008 through this last season. He'll be teammates with DeJoria, who nearly won rookie of the year with Worsham as her crew chief.
Worsham said he found the adjustment from driver to crew chief to be more challenging than he expected, but that DeJoria was a strong student.
"I always wanted to be a crew chief, and it was a great opportunity when Alexis came along. She has a great family and a great relationship with the Kalittas," he said. "But man, it's more stressful than being a driver. The driver stress is in short bursts. But for the crew chief, it's the whole entire week. It wasn't something I expected."
Tommy DeLago will replace Worsham as crew chief for DeJoria. He guided Matt Hagan to the 2011 Funny Car title.
"Our goal for the 2013 NHRA season is not to change what was already put into place on the Patron Funny Car, but be an addition and keep improving on what Del and the team have implemented this past year," DeLago said. "We look forward to being a part of a prominent and competitive team for years to come."
The Kalitta team is owned by racing icon Connie Kalitta, and Worsham will be taking over the car driven by Kalitta's late son, Scott. The two-time NHRA Top Fuel champion died from injuries suffered in a 2008 Funny Car accident.
"Connie and everyone at Kalitta Motorsports have been our friends for years and to be able to continue racing with them is truly an honor," Worsham said. "Scott and I were good friends, and I'm humbled to be taking over the controls of his race car. The DHL Funny Car will always be Scott's car."