Del Worsham, left, and Shawn Langdon. Photo courtesy Kalitta Motorsports

NHRA: Del Worsham back at Kalitta Motorsports in new role with Shawn Langdon

Leave a comment

Del Worsham, one of only three NHRA drivers to win championships in both Top Fuel and Funny Car, has returned to Kalitta Motorsports, where he won the 2015 Funny Car title.

But instead of being behind the wheel, Worsham has stepped out of the cockpit and will move into a new role, serving as co-crew chief for another former champion, Shawn Langdon.

“For me, one of the huge plusses is the fact that Del is a championship driver and there are a lot of things that I can talk to him about,” Langdon said. “We speak that driver language to one another where I come in and say certain things that a lot of people don’t really understand.

Shawn Langdon. Photo: Kalitta Motorsports

“But I can walk right in and tell Del about it and he understands exactly what I’m saying and he can tell me how to improve.

“I grew up getting Del’s autograph when I was a kid. I was always a fan of Del because he was a younger kid coming in and he worked for everything he got. He was in a great position, but he excelled in what he did. He was a great driver, but he was always a little bit of an underdog – and I think it played into his favor. Del is one of the best out here, not only from a driver standpoint, but also from a crew chief perspective.”

Worsham will partner with Team Kalitta crew chief Nicky Boninfante on the Global Camry Funny Car. Boninfante was co-crew chief on Worsham’s Funny Car in 2015 when they won the championship.

Being a former Kalitta employee and champion, then watching J.R. Todd put the DHL Funny Car back into the championship for Team Kalitta (in 2018), and adding the excitement and commitment of Steve and Samantha Bryson, I figured we couldn’t go wrong,” Worsham said. “(Co-crew chief Nicky Boninfante) and I have worked magic together before and I would love nothing more than to bring that to the Global Funny Car.

“They have a championship-caliber driver in Shawn Langdon, the guys on the crew that have been part of our former championship team, a team owner that will give you every resource to succeed and a sponsor/friend who shares the same goals and enthusiasm.”

Del Worsham. (Photo courtesy NHRA)

It will be the second time Worsham has gone from the cockpit to crew chief. After winning the NHRA Top Fuel title, he retired from driving and moved to Kalitta Motorsports in 2012 as a crew chief before going back behind the wheel, culminating in his 2015 Funny Car title. He left the team after 2016 to return and drive for his family’s Funny Car team, Worsham Racing.

“I’ve worked with and been friends with Nicky Boninfante for 30 years, and we had magic together when we worked together when we won the Funny Car championship in 2015,” Worsham said. “We have spent a lot of time together on and off the track. We have raced together since the ‘80s. We compliment each other pretty well. Now, we need to go out and just produce and make this thing happen.”

Worsham is with Team Kalitta for this weekend’s NHRA preseason test at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, in preparation for next weekend’s NHRA season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California.

Langdon won the NHRA Top Fuel championship in 2013, after replacing Worsham at Al-Anabi Racing. The two have been longtime friends and Worsham served as a consultant to the team in the final two races of 2018. Now, Worsham is a permanent fixture back again at Kalitta Motorsports going forward.

The timing was right and it was a terrific opportunity,” Worsham said. “It’s a great group of guys. There’s a lot of dedication here. I didn’t have a lot happening with our Worsham Racing and this was a great opportunity for this point in my career.

“We’re lucky to have Shawn. He was a big part of this. He’s a championship level driver. He’s proven it by winning multiple championships anywhere from junior dragster all the way to Top Fuel. He replaced me at Al-Anabi and went out and won a championship there. He has the credentials and he’s a proven winner.”

Langdon had equally high praise for being paired with Worsham.

“It’s a huge benefit to our team to bring on a guy like Del Worsham, who has a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge with these cars,” Langdon said. “He came on at the end of last year and helped me a ton.

“Not only will he help on the technical side, but there’s details he knows and can help me with on the driver’s side. We have a great opportunity to take our program to the next level and I’m really excited to have Global Electronic Technology on board along with Del and Nicky Boninfante. This is about as good as it gets and I’m really looking forward to this season.”

It was a difficult season at times for Langdon in 2018. He had never driven a Funny Car before last season, having a long tenure previously in Top Fuel and Super Comp, the latter which he also won two prior championships in.

“Last year was the first time in probably 20 years when I didn’t win a race in any car,” Langdon said. “So for me, that was a tough pill to swallow. It just makes me more motivated, probably more motivated than I’ve ever been. It would mean a lot to get a win for myself in Pomona.”

The transition from Top Fuel to Funny Car was difficult, Langdon readily admits.

I expected it to be a big learning curve, yet at the end of the year, it had been an even bigger adjustment than I had ever thought it was going to be,” he said. “It was a major learning curve.

“Even with a year under my belt, I’m still learning. The Funny Car was like nothing I’ve ever driven before. There’s no other car that reacts the same way this does. There’s really nothing to compare it to. You basically have to take something from each run you in make in a Funny Car and then start over again.”

But last year is in the past and 2019 is ahead. Langdon said he has just one goal for the upcoming season: “To win a championship.”

Kalitta Motorsports, based in Ypsilanti, Michigan, is celebrating its 60th anniversary in the NHRA this season. It has won two of the last four Funny Car championships with Worsham in 2015 and Todd last season.

The organization also announced its other crew chief pairings for the 2019 season:

* Kurt Elliott will serve as co-crew chief along with team owner/crew chief Connie Kalitta for the Top Fuel dragster driven by Richie Crampton.

* Rob Flynn continues as co-crew chief with Troy Fasching for the Top Fuel dragster driven by Doug Kalitta.

* Jon Oberhofer and Todd Smith return as co-crew chiefs for the Funny Car championship winning car driven by J.R. Todd.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

Leave a comment

Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).