Al-Anabi/Toyota Dragster driver Del Worsham ran the quickest elapsed time in National Hot Rod Association Top Fuel history -- and lost.
In the final round of Monday's rain-delayed Auto-Plus Nationals at Reading, Pa.'s Maple Grove Raceway, Spencer Massey beat him on a holeshot. Thanks to a much better reaction time at the starting line -- .056 seconds -- the Don Schumacher Racing driver won with a 3.770-second pass at 323.12 mph over Worsham, who registered the quickest pass in Top Fuel's 1,000-foot history at 3.735 seconds.
What makes that all the more bizarre is that Worsham ran that elapsed time, setting the national E.T. record and gaining its accompanying 20 bonus points, despite a snoozy .101 light.
It's just another example of why Worsham might feel like he has tumbled down the rabbit hole and come out in Wonderland, where everything seems backward, illogical, and odd.
Worsham's performance against Massey gave him three of the four quickest E.T.s in NHRA history, all of which came in eliminations at Reading. And while Worsham can't say all he got was a lousy T-shirt for his effort, he didn't get back the points lead he had had following all but the first race of the season until the Countdown began.
And he was in such a terrific position to keep hammering the competition -- and finally getting a return on his investment after paying his dues to the sport in the Funny Car ranks. Playing catch-up as soon as the Countdown started was not what he or anybody else expected.
Worsham worked alongside dad Chuck Worsham since 1990, mostly in the Funny Car class but simultaneously in Top Fuel for three seasons (1993-95). John Force said he remembers sitting on a plane next to Worsham's wife, Connie, and hearing her say that her husband wanted with all his heart to win a Funny Car championship. The often-tenderhearted Force said he almost wanted to let him have his dream -- until he reminded himself that he, too, had the same dream and that he couldn't let Worsham have his way.
The closest Worsham and his dad got was second, in 2004, when the team won five times and finished second overall -- both career-bests -- in his family-owned Checker, Schucks, Kragen Auto Parts entry. Worsham did have five top-five finishes and 13 top-10s.
But this year, oh, this year . . . It was special. He had accomplished so much in Top Fuel after a 15-year hiatus from the class. He had the resources at his fingertips that he and his dad worked so hard for two decades to acquire. And his hopes were so high coming into the Countdown.
"I'm excited to get the Countdown. We've been waiting for this all year. Everything our Al-Anabi team did in the regular season was to get ready for the Countdown. We've been working to position ourselves the best we can to be prepared in every way," he said last month. "We have built a combination of setups through the 16 races of the regular season, and we're prepared. I can't imagine our model would change now. It's a six-race shootout among 10 of us now, and we'll just see where we all stand when it's all over in November."
While his situation isn't looking as promising as it once was, it's not dismal, either.
He said he knew "that we have six races and no time to make up for mistakes." And surely it's hard for him to understand how he can be so prepared, so skilled, and so successful -- c'mon, the quickest elapsed time in Top Fuel history -- yet lose a final round and watch somebody else celebrate.
"The reality," Worsham said, "is if you just go out and do the best you can do, that's all you can give. So hopefully that'll be enough for all of us."
It's the same sentiment three-time champion Larry Dixon has said all along.
Said Worsham, "It's gratifying and exciting to think that 21 years into doing something, an opportunity like this is in front of us. I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to win a Full Throttle championship my whole career. I just want us to get to the end of the season, know that we did everything we could do to win the championship and that we didn’t leave anything on the table. If we do that, I think we'll all be happy with the effort."
Never behaving as though he's entitled to anything, Worsham said, "This is exactly what I signed up for."
So no matter what he gets at the end of the season, he can't complain.
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