Just over a week after finishing seventh in the 2016 NHRA Funny Car standings, Del Worsham surprised not only his team, Kalitta Motorsports, but the entire drag racing world when he announced Tuesday he was leaving and rejoining his family’s Funny Car race team for 2017.
Worsham’s departure caught everyone by surprise.
Worsham’s status with his family team – whether to continue racing or become a crew chief or an administrator – is unclear. He left Al-Anabi Racing after winning the 2011 Top Fuel championship and became a crew chief in 2012 for Team Kalitta.
By becoming only the third driver in NHRA history to win both Top Fuel and Funny Car championships, Worsham’s racing days could be over.
Then again, maybe not.
“It was a hard decision to leave a championship-caliber team such as Kalitta Motorsports,” Worsham said in a statement, acknowledging that he became the first driver to earn a championship for Kalitta, who has been drag racing for over 50 years. “However, there is so much unfinished business with my family’s team, and I felt now is the time to do it. I am excited to see what the future holds.
“I cannot thank Connie Kalitta enough for giving me a shot in Scott’s (the late Scott Kalitta, who was killed in a crash in 2008) car, and helping me achieve one of my ultimate goals: a Funny Car championship. I also want to thank Jim O (Oberhofer), Jon O (Oberhofer), Nicky Boninfante, the ‘YellaFellas’ and my Kalitta Motorsports teammates.
“I walked away from one of the best rides in 2011 after I won the Top Fuel championship, and I feel the same way now. The time is just right, and I know this is the right decision for me and my family.”
The parting was amicable.
“Del has been a big part of the Kalitta Motorsports family for many years and we are sad to see him go,” said Jim Oberhofer, Vice President of Operations, Kalitta Motorsports. “He gave Connie his first Funny Car championship and has been a valuable asset for DHL, Toyota and our entire group of supporters. We wish him the best of success in his next endeavors.”
Typically, teams or drivers announce they will split ties generally late in the season. But it’s rare to have last year’s champion call it quits nine days after the 2016 season ended.
During his driving tenure for Team Kalitta, Worsham compiled six wins, 10 runner-ups and eight No. 1 qualifiers.
Worsham will have to look for a new sponsor for his family operation, as DHL – which had been with Kalitta for several years – will remain with the organization going forward in 2017, a team spokesman told NBCSports.com.
As for potential replacements, Team Kalitta has reportedly made its decision, but is not ready to announce it yet. It’s possible that Team Kalitta could shift current Top Fuel driver J.R. Todd to Funny Car to fill Worsham’s spot.
Another possibility – particularly if the Todd from Top Fuel to Funny Car move occurs – is to bring in former three-time champion Larry Dixon to drive Todd’s Top Fueler in 2017. Dixon already has plans to return to competition next season, but with a solid team like Kalitta and strong sponsorship, he could be a perfect fit.