Drag racer Del Worsham announced his retirement Monday a week after winning the first NHRA top-fuel championship of his career.
Worsham, 41, won the title for his Al-Anabi Racing team during final eliminations in the National Hot Rod Assn.'s Full Throttle Series event, the NHRA Finals, at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. Worsham also won the Pomona event.
"I’ve been thinking about retiring for a while; after winning the Full Throttle championship last week I made my final decision and it was 100% my decision," Worsham, whose driving career spanned 21 years, said in a statement. "It wasn’t easy, it was sad, but at the same time I am comfortable with it."
A Whittier native who lives in Chino Hills, Worsham formerly mostly drove in the NHRA's funny car class, where he had 25 victories. He switched to top fuel this year and had a series-high eight wins.
"I enjoyed driving the Al-Anabi top-fuel car this year, but it really is the right time for me to retire," Worsham said. "I’ve driven for a long time, and I’m just ready to move to the next chapter of my career."
-- Jim Peltz
Photo: Del Worsham celebrates after winning the NHRA Full Throttle Series top-fuel championship at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona on Nov. 13. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas / US Presswire
Kenny Bernstein, a legendary NHRA drag-racing driver and team owner who was the first to break the 300-mph barrier, announced Tuesday he was retiring from the sport at age 67.
"My wife Sheryl and I have come to a place in our lives where we want to pursue other interests," Bernstein, whose Lake Forest-based team competed in drag racing's premier top-fuel class, said in a statement. "It's time to enjoy life while we still have our health."
After the season finale Sunday at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Brandon Bernstein finished sixth in the championship standings of the National Hot Rod Assn.'s Full Throttle Series.
Kenny Bernstein was a versatile six-time NHRA champion as a driver. He won four consecutive titles in the sport's other top division, funny cars, in 1985-88 and also won two top-fuel championships in 1996 and 2001.
On March 20, 1992, in Gainesville, Fla., Bernstein was the first NHRA driver to surpass 300 mph on the drag strip, a speed now routine in top-fuel and funny-car racing.
Bernstein initially retired as a driver after the 2002 season, returned in 2006-07 as a funny car driver and then retired again at age 63 to focus on his team.
After the death of drag racer Scott Kalitta in a mid-2008 crash, the NHRA took the dramatic step of temporarily shortening races for the 300-mph funny cars and top-fuel dragsters in its premier Full Throttle Series.
As the series heads to Pomona for its season-ending races next week, the change -- shortening races to 1,000 feet from the traditional quarter mile, or 1,320 feet -- is still in effect. And that's fine by several drivers in contention for series championships this year.
"I think it was actually brilliant on NHRA's part," Jack Beckman, who is a single point behind Matt Hagan in the funny car title standings, told reporters Wednesday. "They solved a whole lot of issues with one change there."
The National Hot Rod Assn. in Glendora took the step both to limit speeds of the 7,000-horsepower dragsters and to give them extra distance for slowing in case of catastrophic problems. Another benefit: Cars and parts last longer, lowering costs.
"Slowing these things down, especially if you have a [para]chute failure, and at some of these racetracks, it's gotten to be a dangerous proposition," Beckman said.
Del Worsham, a seven-time winner this season in the top-fuel class and only two points behind Spencer Massey in that division's title hunt, said "I'd rather accelerate as fast as we are right now to 1,000 feet than have to slow down to [race on] a quarter mile."
"I'd rather keep going faster," Worsham said. "If we have to shorten the track a little more to keep accelerating, so be it."
A bit of controversy hangs over the start of NASCAR’s Chase for the Cup, the 10-race championship playoff that opens Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, with four wins apiece in the Sprint Cup Series so far this season, lead the 12 drivers in the Chase with 2,012 points each. Four-time champion Jeff Gordon follows with 2,009.
Harvick won last week’s race in Richmond, Va., after his Richard Childress Racing teammate Paul Menard spun out late in the race to bring out a caution flag. Harvick then beat Gordon off pit road and held off Gordon for the victory.
But team owner Richard Childress said in a statement Friday “there were no team orders” given to Menard to spin to help Harvick's cause and that Menard “wouldn’t have spun out on purpose even if he had been asked.”
Jimmie Johnson, aiming for a record sixth consecutive title, also is back in the Chase along with 2004 champion Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch’s older brother.
Johnson and Kurt Busch have had a running feud in recent weeks, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- another Chase contender and teammate of Johnson's at Hendrick Motorsports-- was asked Friday if he was curious about how the Johnson-Busch spat might play out this weekend.
“It bores the [expletive] out of me, to be honest,” Earnhardt said. “I’ve got my own damn problems to worry about.”
The Izod IndyCar Series, meanwhile, is racing Sunday for the final time at the Twin Ring Motegi track in Japan, where Danica Patrick won her only IndyCar event in 2008. Patrick is moving to NASCAR stock-car racing next year.
With three races left in the season, the IndyCar championship is coming down to a battle between current point leader Dario Franchitti, who is shooting for his third consecutive championship and fourth overall, and Team Penske’s Will Power, who is only five points behind Franchitti and seeking his first title.
In drag racing, the six-race title playoff in the National Hot Rod Assn.’s Full Throttle Series opens this weekend with the O’Reilly Auto Parts Nationals in Charlotte, N.C.
Photo: NASCAR drivers Jimmie Johnson, left, and Jeff Gordon take in the sights of Chicago ahead of Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race at Chicagoland Speedway that opens NASCAR's Chase title playoff. Credit: David Banks/Getty Images
Can Antron Brown break the Dixon-Schumacher stranglehold on drag-racing’s crown jewel?
Brown on Monday captured his fifth win this season in the premier top-fuel class of the National Hot Rod Assn.’s Full Throttle Series, where the cars routinely top 300 mph as they roar down the 1,000-foot drag strips.
Brown also is second in the point standings behind Del Worsham, who Brown defeated in the finals of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals on Monday at Lucas Oil Raceway in Clermont, Ind., near Indianapolis.
And the question is whether Brown, 35, can win the top-fuel championship over reigning title holder Larry Dixon and seven-time champion (and Brown teammate) Tony Schumacher. Both also qualified for the playoff.
Dixon won his third title last season to go along with his championships in 2002 and 2003. Between Dixon’s titles, Schumacher won the top-fuel title six consecutive years.
Randy Johnson, a former flame-throwing pitcher who is bound for the baseball Hall of Fame, is spending time this weekend at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona perfecting his craft as a sports photographer during the NHRA Winternationals.
Johnson, the owner of 303 victories in the majors and two no-hitters, including a perfect game, spent Saturday in a photographer's pit near the starting line as top-fuel dragsters and funny cars accelerated from zero to more than 300 mph in five seconds.
"It’s amazing," said Johnson, who was a photographer for the Daily Trojan while majoring in photojournalism at USC. "It’s adrenaline. When one of those cars goes by I want to grab a baseball and throw it through a brick wall. It’s been a pleasure to come out here and meet some of the drivers and take it all in."
The five-time Cy Young Award winner said he received a few tips from several of the veteran photographers who travel with the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.
"You see this on TV and you can’t put it in perspective," Johnson said. "I had the pleasure to go out to Phoenix and shoot a NASCAR race and you don’t realize how fast those cars are and how close they race together, but this is at another level.
"You can’t put it in perspective from watching TV how powerful these cars are. I had a great time today. I met a lot of photographers. To experience this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing."
Quotes provided by NHRA Communications.
Photo: Former major leaguer Randy Johnson gets a close-up view of the action at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. Credit: NHRA/National Dragster
Big-league drag racing kicks off its season with the Winternationals this weekend in Pomona as the National Hot Rod Assn. celebrates its 60th anniversary.
In the sport’s premier top-fuel class, where the cars routinely exceed 300 mph, a key question is who might provide an early challenge for Larry Dixon and his Al-Anabi Racing team, which ran away with the championship in 2010.
Although Dixon won 12 times last season, including the Winternationals a year ago, Tony Schumacher expects to provide stiff competition in 2011. Schumacher had won six consecutive top-fuel titles and seven overall until Dixon snapped his streak last year and earned his third championship.
“We’re all going to have to step it up this year if we’re going to chase [Dixon] down,” Schumacher said. “If you win the Winternationals, it’s a great way to get the ball rolling.”
Various classes of dragsters run throughout the day, but qualifying for the premier top-fuel and funny-car classes starts at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday. Final eliminations start at 11 a.m. on Sunday.
-- Jim Peltz
Photo: NHRA funny-car driver Robert Hight during qualifying in the Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona on Feb. 13, 2010. Credit: Jennifer Stewart / US Presswire
Ashley Force Hood, daughter of funny car legend John Force and herself one of drag racing's most popular drivers, said Tuesday she's pregnant and will miss this year's NHRA season.
Force Hood, 28, is married to Dan Hood, a crew member for the three-car team of John Force Racing, and she said they're expecting their first child at the end of the summer.
Her announcement was one of several made at a news conference at the team's Yorba Linda headquarters. The team also said Robert Hight -- Force's son-in-law and the team's other driver besides Force and Force Hood -- succeeded Force as president of John Force Racing.
In light of that accident, Force said he'd been giving increasing thought to turning over the management reins to Hight, 41. Hight's wife and Force's daughter Adria also is an executive at the team.
"If anything goes wrong, who's going to run the team?" Force said. "Robert knows the business. He's running it now."
Force also named Mike Neff to replace Force Hood in the driver's seat this season. Neff had driven a fourth funny car for the team until last year, when the weak economy prompted the team to park Neff's car. Neff had remained with the team as a key crew member.
The team also said Force Hood would run its John Force Entertainment division, which hopes to develop a new television reality show along with a written John Force biography that could lead to a feature-length film, among other projects.
Force and his family previously starred in a reality show, "Driving Force," in 2006-07 but it was halted after the death of team driver Eric Medlen in early 2007 from injuries in a practice crash.
Force Hood said a new series probably would focus on another of Force's daughters, Courtney Force, 22, who currently races in the NHRA's second-level series but is being groomed to drive in the Full Throttle Series next year.
The NHRA, celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, opens its season with the Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona from Feb. 24-27.
-- Jim Peltz
Photo: NHRA drag racer Ashley Force Hood gets ready for a practice run at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 31, 2009. Credit: Isaac Brekken for The Times
But this is John Force, whose oversized personality and fast and furious way of talking never wind down, which is one reason why he’s a legend among fans of 300-mph drag racing. In fact, Force is revved up more than ever on the call.
And why not? After recovering from a serious racing crash three years ago, a crash that prompted him to curb his free-wheeling lifestyle and become a zealot in the gym, Force had a banner season and on Sunday overtook 27-year-old Matt Hagan at the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona for yet another title.
Hagan was leading in the standings when Sunday dawned, but unexpectedly he lost in the first round of eliminations while Force went on to win the event and capture the championship.
Some of Force’s comments:
On whether he thought he could really beat Hagan: “You know, I pray to the good Lord a lot. But you know what I'm saying? He just ain't going to come down and bless John for us. Maybe he does have another plan for me, and I don't know what that is. But I do know I have the thing of positive thinking.
“And I looked at my guys, and I said it so many times. You've got to believe. That Hagan kid is too good, too focused to fail. And at the end of the day, I was preaching: ‘Believe. Believe.’ I never allowed myself to believe that it couldn't happen.”
On being back in the gym the day after the race: “The gym is a way of life for me. I haven't had a beer since the day of the crash, not one, and I was a beer drinker. I've had a couple shots of wine at Christmas with my family, but, no, my party days are done.
"I've changed my lifestyle. And I'm not saying there's nothing wrong with -- you know, with a little alcohol, you know what I mean, in moderation. But John Force, I didn't know how to do it with moderation. I was a party guy when I won, and I just -- I can't go back."
On how long he’ll keep racing: "I'm going to try to have knee surgery over the winter. They wanted to do it last year, and I said -- I keep putting it off. I just want to make my body stronger where I can still run the run. Hell, I believe, if I could get my knee right, I'd go another 10 years.
“I've got nowhere to go, guys. I ain't trying to be no cool dude here that says things to make a story. I got nowhere to go. I go to the racetrack. It's where I live.”
Photo: Drag racer John Force, 61, after winning his record 15th NHRA funny car championship Sunday at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
Matt Hagan was only 8 years old when John Force won the first of a remarkable 14 NHRA funny car drag-racing championships. Now Hagan is hoping to block Force from winning a 15th title.
The 61-year-old Force, head of a Yorba Linda-based team and long among the sport's most popular drivers, led the funny car points in the National Hot Rod Assn.'s premier Full Throttle Series for much of the season.
But Hagan, 27, assumed the lead after the most recent race, and the Virginian -- who is seeking his first championship -- now leads by 64 points over Force with two events left, at Las Vegas on Oct. 28-31 and at Pomona on Nov. 11-14.
"That Force camp over there is a first-class operation and John is a world champion for a reason," Hagan said in a teleconference with reporters Tuesday. "I'll try not to add any extra pressure on myself."
Force, in turn, said "I'm going to give that kid everything I've got."
"We can't count on Hagan to make mistakes," said Force, who has rebounded from serious injuries in a drag-racing crash in Dallas in 2007. "I'm going to need every point I can if I'm going to catch this kid."
In the NHRA's other leading division, top fuel, two-time champion Larry Dixon has 12 wins this season and an 89-point lead over Cory McClenathan in the title standings. If Dixon wins his third title, it will snap Tony Schumacher's streak of six consecutive top-fuel championships.
-- Jim Peltz
Photos: Top, legendary funny car drag racer John Force greets fans at an NHRA race at zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C., on Sept. 19. Credit: Rusty Jarrett / Getty Images. Botton, Matt Hagan completes a funny car qualifying run Oct. 9 at Maple Grove Raceway in Mohnton, Pa. Credit: Jerry Foss / Associated Press.
It's only the third race of the season, but Formula One is watching closely to see if Michael Schumacher starts flexing the muscle that made him an unprecedented seven-time champion.
After tantalizing the sport by emerging from retirement to join the Mercedes GP team, Schumacher, 41, finished sixth in the season opener in Bahrain (won by two-time champion Fernando Alonso of Ferrari) and 10th last weekend in a soggy race in Australia (won by reigning champion Jenson Button of McLaren).
Schumacher's day in Melbourne got off to a rocky start when a first-lap accident damaged his front wing, forcing him to the pits for repairs and dropping him to the back of the field.
The German driver's next chance comes Sunday at the Malaysian Grand Prix on the Sepang International Circuit outside Kuala Lumpur, where weather is again a major concern, owing to the almost daily dose of heavy rain in the area. Indeed, last year's race was shortened by a deluge at Sepang.
On Friday, Lewis Hamilton -- the 2008 champion and Button's teammate -- posted the fastest laps in both practice sessions. Schumacher was fourth- and fifth-fastest in both practices, respectively.
But Schumacher cautioned that he's keeping his expectations in check for the race, which is scheduled to start at 1 a.m. Pacific time Sunday.
"I felt we had good pace," he said. "However, we have to be realistic about our
performance here and we might still be lacking a little compared to the
In U.S. motor racing, meanwhile, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the Izod IndyCar Series and drag racing's National Hot Rod Assn. Full Throttle Series all will be off on Easter Sunday.
-- Jim Peltz
Photo: Seven-time Formula One champion Michael Schumacher leaves the pits Friday during the first practice session for the Malaysian Grand Prix near Kuala Lumpur. Credit: Srdjan Suki / European Pressphoto Agency