Dozens of drag racers arrived in Pomona this week for the start of the Auto Club NHRA Finals, but with champions already crowned in the top fuel and pro stock categories, all eyes will be on two Southern California born-and-raised funny car drivers: Del Worsham and Jack Beckman.
It’s not that the other categories don’t matter at the last event of the season — they do.
Pride and prize money are at stake as drivers fight for a better position in the point standings, and top-fuel winner Antron Brown along with pro stock champion Erica Enders will still be competing. There’s also a relatively open battle between pro stock motorcyclists Andrew Hines (the current leader) and Jerry Savoie (46 points back).
But Worsham and Beckman are separated by just 38 points, a margin that could be erased in a couple of qualifying rounds.
“I almost wish the season ended in St. Louis, because when you’re racing at the track closest to your house, it means all your high school buddies want free tickets, everybody that you talked to twice in your life wants to come hang out, and it’s just a lot of extra demand on your time that you wouldn’t have necessarily if you were at an out-of-town race,” Beckman said. “Del and I are in exactly the same situation there.”
Beckman struggled early this season but recovered in a big way, breaking the funny car world record for the fastest time covering a 1,000-foot track — a blistering 3.897 seconds.
“I would be absolutely disheartened to not win the championship, especially because of the year that we’ve had,” Beckman said. “We’ve won more races than any funny car team this year, we set the world record three different times. I think we kind of turned the category on its ear.”
Worsham, however, has outperformed Beckman since the beginning of the Countdown to the Championship, which is essentially the NHRA’s postseason. After the first 18 events, the point systems are readjusted for the final six, concluding in Pomona this weekend.
“We’ve won several races,” Worsham said. “We’ve had a very strong car, probably pretty much the strongest car through the Countdown.”
Beckman isn’t a fan of a postseason system. He insists his beef has nothing to do with the fact that he’s in second place going into the final weekend.
“I’d like to see some changes made to the format, but I have to be very careful about this, because you’re going to get people who say, ‘That’s just sour grapes, you’re saying it because it affects you.’ No, I made this phone call to NHRA I think four years ago, voicing my opinion on the modifications I’d like to see them make,” Beckman said.
Regardless, Beckman is aiming for his third NHRA title, while Worsham hopes to get his second, as he also won the top-fuel category in 2011.
But finishing first in funny cars this season, Worsham said, would be even more satisfying because it’s been 25 years since his professional debut.
“It will definitely be pretty amazing,” Worsham said of a potential victory. “When I came into funny car racing, I was 20 years old, my goal was just to get a license and possibly qualify for an NHRA event. I didn’t really start off, let’s say like Antron Brown or Jack Beckman, in a professional race, in a car that could win races or a championship.
“I started off with my dad, one partner, little trailer, one car, one spare engine.”