WORSHAM PLAYS THE ODDS, MAKES SWITCH TO MONTE CARLO IN LAS VEGAS


In a city where people roll the dice 24 hours a day, Del Worsham might be seen as a real gambler when he makes the switch to the new Chevy Monte Carlo Funny Car body this weekend's SummitRacing.com Nationals in Las Vegas. After all, Worsham is headed to "The Strip" fresh off back-to-back wins in Phoenix and Gainesville, and those wins were just the two latest victories in a string of 13 such triumphs he has posted since the beginning of the 2001 season. For Worsham, all of this recent success has come with the venerable Pontiac Firebird body atop his racecar, but the driver of the red Checker, Schuck's, Kragen Funny Car doesn't see the move to the Monte Carlo as a risky proposition at all.

"I think it would be far riskier to keep racing with a body that is more outdated every week," Worsham said. "The old Firebird has been great, and we've had a wonderful ride with it. But the truth is, we're playing against stacked odds every time we race with it these days, because the other guys have cars with better aerodynamics. If you don't think it's a gamble to race against guys who can be running five or eight miles per hour faster at the finish line, then you aren't paying attention.

"I know people are wondering why we'd come in here on a two-race winning streak and change bodies, but we have to do it to keep up, and it's something we're looking forward to. Our goals are a lot bigger than winning Phoenix and Gainesville so we have to look ahead. And, yes, we might need a short transition period to really learn what the Monte Carlo wants and needs, but we'll be a better team with this better body on the car. That, I'm sure of."

Though Worsham has managed to put his old Firebird in the Winner's Circle regularly for three years, the combination of cunning, guile, driving ability, and sheer determination that was needed to produce those wins simply has to be nearing it's limits. Worsham wants to get back "ahead of the curve" instead of having to constantly play "catch-up."

"When conditions are really good, and everyone is running flat-out, we have a very fast car but we know we'll be running behind some of these other guys," he said. "Through years of tweaking on our tune up and learning with every run, we've squeezed about every ounce of E.T. and speed out of the Firebird. We have almost no room for error, and everything has to go just right for us to get there first, including the driver being on top of his game.

"We have a better shot at winning when the conditions aren't so great, like in Phoenix and Gainesville, because we've put together a pretty good team here and we're pretty good at handling hot tracks. There's only one problem with that. Conditions won't always be sketchy. As we get to the rest of the tour, you better be able to run with the big dogs because some of these race tracks are going to be very fast. With the Monte Carlo, we hope to be able to step up when the conditions allow, and yet still be able to finesse our way down there when the track isn't all that stout."

When Worsham brings his new Monte Carlo to the line for his first qualifying lap on Friday in Las Vegas he'll be lined up with John Force, as the final pair for that session. Since the first session's line-up is set by taking the POWERade points standings and inverting the order, one can quickly surmise that Worsham must be doing well in points. In a town full of overstated spectacle, that would be the ultimate understatement. Worsham not only will bring his red CSK Chevy to Las Vegas as the number one driver in Funny Car points, he also comes in with the largest lead in all the professional classes. His 110 point edge on second place Force translates into six rounds of racing.

"I guess, if we're lucky enough to keep having success, that I'll have to acknowledge this points thing some day," Worsham said. "Put it this way, it would be a fantastic honor to talk about points in a couple of months. If we're still right in the thick of things in mid-summer, then we'll have something to talk about.

"Until then, we'll just do what we've always done," he continued. "We'll concentrate on getting qualified. Once we do that, we'll work on how we're going to beat the other guy in round one. We'll focus everything we have on getting by round one. That's the one that keeps you up at night. I know it's a horrible cliche to say we take it one round at a time, but it's the truth. Get qualified, then worry about the round in front of you. That's how you keep the odds in your favor."

Spoken like a man who understands risk and reward.