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Worsham Grabs Funny Car Lead

Times Staff Writer

Del Worsham didn’t see his time at the finish line scoreboard, but he heard it in his ear when a crew member yelled into his radio, “4.73, Force 4.74!”

And with that elapsed time under darkening, overcast skies, the affable driver from Chino Hills held the provisional No. 1 position through the first round of funny car qualifying Thursday at Pomona Raceway for the 40th Automobile Club of Southern California Finals.

As good as Worsham’s elapsed time was in his Chevrolet Monte Carlo, his 328.54-mph pass was a track record -- he was more than 4 mph faster than Force (324.12 mph) and Cruz Pedregon (324.51). The previous record (328.38) was set by Gary Scelzi at last year’s race.

“I was a little bit surprised, to come into the weekend a little bit conservative and still have it run that good,” Worsham said. “It’s a great track. To run those times on Thursday, by Sunday, this is going to be a heck of a place. I’m excited for the race on Sunday.”

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The top qualifier through four rounds will get an additional eight points, and every point matters to Worsham. He is deadlocked with Scelzi for second place in the championship, 275 points behind 13-time champion Force.

“It ought to steal everyone’s thunder,” Scelzi said of Worsham’s run.

It certainly stole Scelzi’s. With consecutive victories -- both over Force in the final round -- Scelzi is the NHRA Powerade Series’ hottest driver. He and Worsham are engaged in the only real battle left in the pro divisions.

Second place in the championship is worth $100,000, twice what third is worth. For Worsham, who owns his team with his father, Chuck, “the extra $50,000 will go a long way this winter in testing and some things we want to do. These cars definitely run on money and experience.”

Worsham, 34, has never driven anything but a nitro-powered funny car on a drag strip. He was 20 when he made his professional debut, and the family-owned team learned to make the most with the least. He won 10 races his first 10 years, and has won 16 in the four years since.

Scelzi smoked his tires and, at 19th among 24 cars, has not yet made the field. But the three-time top-fuel champion has been down this road before.

He’s not thinking about points, qualifying or second place in the series.

“I’m here to win this race,” he said. “I won this race several times in top fuel, I won my first national event here in 1985 with my own top alcohol dragster, I won three Bud Shootouts here, I’ve had great success here.

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“There’s nothing like winning Pomona in the last race of the season because everybody over the winter is thinking about you.”

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Doug Kalitta was the No. 1 qualifier in top fuel with a 4.472-second elapsed time and 328.62 mph. David Baca, driving a 2001 McKinney chassis, was second at 4.487 seconds and 327.43 mph, and champion Tony Schumacher was third at 4.503 and 318.99. Brandon Bernstein of Lake Forest was sixth, but he was the only driver faster than Kalitta at 330.31 mph.

Pro stock champion Greg Anderson was the top qualifier with a time of 6.717 seconds at 205.94 mph.

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Chip Ellis led qualifying in pro stock bike with a track-record 7.063 elapsed time at 187.36 mph. Andrew Hines, who needs to only qualify to wrap up the championship, was last in the 21-rider field when his Harley-Davidson slowed at half track and posted an 8.44 at 117.64 mph.

With a 117-point deficit, Antron Brown must be No. 1 qualifier, win the event and set a national elapsed-time record to overtake Hines.

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Automobile Cup Finals

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* When: Today, qualifying, 2 p.m.; Saturday, qualifying, 11 a.m. (ESPN2, 7 p.m.); Sunday, eliminations, 11 a.m. (ESPN2, 3 p.m.).

* Where: Pomona Raceway.

* 2003 winners: Kenny Bernstein (top fuel), Del Worsham (funny car), Greg Anderson (pro stock) and Craig Treble (pro stock bike).


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