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Del Worsham wins top-fuel national championship

The drag racer defeated Spencer Massey in the third of four elimination-round runs Sunday at the National Hot Rod Assn. Finals. Worsham then beat Tony Schumacher for the event title.

November 13, 2011|By Larry Stewart
  • Del Worsham celebrates after winning the top-fuel national chamiponship on Sunday at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.
Del Worsham celebrates after winning the top-fuel national chamiponship… (Mark J. Rebilas / US Presswire )

Del Worsham can now call this a dream season, as he wrapped up the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series top-fuel national championship in dramatic fashion at the National Hot Rod Assn. Finals in Pomona.

After establishing himself as a solid favorite during the final day of qualifying on Saturday, Worsham had said, "If it is really going to be a dream season, we need to finish it off like we want to."

On Sunday, it was mission accomplished once he defeated his closest rival, Spencer Massey, in the third of four elimination-round runs on a picture-perfect day at Auto Club Raceway. And he punctuated that feat by beating Tony Schumacher for the event championship.

"Calling it a dream season doesn't come close to describing it," Worsham said. "I'm just coming down from racing and can't find the words right now. It's been unreal."

In the title-clincher against Massey, the margin of victory was .008 of a second. Worsham covered the 1,000 feet in 3.800 seconds with a top speed of 322.27 mph. Massey's numbers were 3.808 and 322.73, and he was gaining on Worsham at the finish line.

The win over Schumacher was even closer. Worsham won by .003 of a second, and that was the margin that left Schumacher winless for the year, the first time that has happened since 2001.

In funny car, Matt Hagan made up for last year's disappointment at the NHRA Finals by winning a Full Throttle national championship in only his third full season of drag racing. Hagan, driving his DieHard Dodge Charger, edged his closest rival, Don Schumacher Racing teammate Jack Beckman, in the second round of the eliminations.

Then Hagan, who lost his shot at winning a national title last year when he was upset in the first round of the eliminations, erased that memory Sunday by beating Cruz Pedregon in the third round. It was another thrilling title-clinching race. Hagan had the quicker start and faster time, 4.096 seconds to Pedregon's 4.113, and Pedregon had the better top speed, 311.77 mph to 309.34.

Worsham and Hagan, who both won $500,000 for their national championships, followed the same script. Hagan also capped off his year with an event championship. Hagan's final-round victory was over Robert Hight in a rematch of the Winternationals finals at Pomona in February. Hight won that one but couldn't catch Hagan in Sunday's event final.

Hagan's elapsed time of 4.009 was the best of this event and the third-best in funny car since the NHRA went to the 1,000-foot distance in 2008. Hight's run was almost as impressive. His top speed of 318.92 mph was the fourth-fastest ever.

Asked to describe his year, Hagan said, "It's truly amazing. I hate the phrase that you have to lose one to win one, but in this case it is sort of true."

At last year's NHRA Finals, Hagan's first-round eliminations loss led to the legendary John Force's winning his 15th national championship.

Force made it to the elimination round this year but lost the first run to Johnny Gray. In a prerace ceremony, Force was honored and the premier seating area at Auto Club Raceway was officially named the John Force Grandstand.

Pedregon, third in the funny car points standings coming into Sunday, stayed in contention by defeating Melanie Troxel in the second round of eliminations. After that race, down at the end of the racetrack, Troxel's car somehow re-fired and she ended up going through a fence and crashing into a trailer. "Fortunately, no one was hurt," said a shaken Troxel after the freak accident.

Jason Line had clinched the national championship in pro stock two weeks ago at Las Vegas. Greg Stanfield was the event winner at Pomona. In pro motorcycle, Eddie Krawiec needed to win his first two runs Sunday at Pomona to clinch the title, and he did that. But he lost to Andrew Hines in the event final.

For Worsham, 41, his top-fuel championship is the high point of a 21-year career that began at Pomona in 1990. He competed primarily in funny car through last year, though he split time between funny car and top fuel for three years in the mid-1990s. His first full season in top fuel has included eight event wins, 11 final-round appearances and seven top qualifying positions.

Worsham, who was the top-fuel points leader for most of the 22-event NHRA schedule, is a native of Southern California. He was born in Whittier, raised in San Clemente and currently lives in Chino Hills but is in the process of moving to Villa Park with his wife, Connie, and 9-year-old twin daughters.

Worsham said he is moving to be closer to his shop and his father, Chuck. Worsham drove for his father's racing team before joining Al-Anabi Racing in 2009 and then joining 2010 top-fuel champion and Al-Anabi driver Larry Dixon in that division this year. Both drive Toyota-sponsored dragsters.

Dixon was mathematically still in contention for another national championship until losing to Schumacher in the semifinals. He survived a first-round breakdown when Keith Murt red-lighted. Dixon's car went only about 100 feet down the track because of an ignition problem. Dixon jumped out of his dragster with a fist pump after he saw the lights on top of the scoreboard showed that he was the winner.

But in the end, Worsham and Hagan were the big winners.

sports@latimes.com

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