Worsham, Johnson nab drag victories

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff

   BRISTOL -- Del Worsham came through one of the toughest imaginable Funny Car ladders and Kurt Johnson had to get past the fast car of his father in Pro Stock to score wins at the 2003 MAC Tools Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.
   To win on Sunday, Worsham had to beat the last two winners of the event and 12-time NHRA champion John Force.
   "I look back at the wins I've had in the past and it's usually the tough ladders where before the race you think you're doomed," said Worsham. "It's the races you think you should win where you get ambushed."
   To score the win, Worsham got by 2001 winner Ron Capps in round one, Force in round two, his teammate Johnny Gray in the semifinals and defending Bristol race champion Whit Bazemore in the finals.
   "I had to race my teammate in the semifinals and that was tough," remarked Worsham. "I know how fast that car can be because it has an identical set-up to mine."
   About his runner-up finish Bazemore said, "We're not quite there, but we are awfully close. We're winning rounds, but we're not winning races. But as long as we are winning rounds, the race victories will come."
   Capps was disappointed as his loss to Worsham was the second straight year, he was tossed in round one.
   "This place has still been real good to me," commented Capps. "We had a malfunction in the clutch and it broke a pilot bearing. It's unfortunate, but you have no control over it."
   With the win, Worsham moved to third in the NHRA Funny Car standings. No. 1 qualifier Tony Pedregon, a semifinal loser to Bazemore, leads the standings and Bazemore is currently second. Force remains absent from the top ten, with the extension of his season-long winless streak.
   The Pro Stock road for Johnson took him to a semifinal match-up against his father Warren, the race's defending champion and the fastest car of the weekend up to that point.
   The younger Johnson received an unexpected gift when his father redlighted in their semifinal race.
   "We've had a little luck out there, but we're also making the right calls at the right time," said Johnson. "It was a tough semifinal race against dad. He's obviously one of the best drivers out there. It hurts if you win, it hurts if you lose. He was driving his butt off and I was too. He was the best car until that point."
   After winning that pass, Johnson beat Mike Edwards in the finals.
   "If we had lost in the finals, it would have hurt," said Johnson. "I gradually picked up and had my best light in the finals and that's when I needed it because the difference at the finish line was only four-thousandths. It's just brutal out there."
   The Pro Stock ranks also had the weekend's Cinderella story, as Taylor Lastor, a 28 year-old from Austin, Texas, eliminated No. 2 qualifier Greg Anderson and defending tour champ Jeg Coughlin, Jr. in the first two rounds, before losing to Edwards in the semis.
   With 34 cars vying to make a field of 16 cars, one might expect Lastor to have been happy to just to race on Sunday, but that was not the case.
   "It was one of those days where everything went right and everyone was doing their jobs," said Lastor. "We know we have the power and the right parts together. I think we have the power to win. I don't think that we were a lucky car here."
   For Johnson, he scored a third win of the season and remained firmly a top the series point standings.
   "We're paying attention to details and that's the biggest thing right now," said Johnson. "In Winston Cup they talk about how important chemistry is and we have it going with our team in NHRA Pro Stock."