Timing unusual for Del Worsham’s departure from Team Kalitta to return to family team

Photo courtesy Gary Nastase
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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.

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Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

Roczen Progressive Ecstar Suzuki
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ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).

“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.

“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”

For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.

“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.

“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”

Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.

“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.