Movers and Shakers Making A Major Difference in 2012
The dust from the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle season didn’t take very long to settle for the annual ‘silly season’ to begin.
When Del Worsham announced his retirement after 21 years behind the wheel of his Al-Anabi Top Fuel world championship dragster, he set out on another challenge, securing his place as crew chief for the Kalitta Motorsport’s Alexis DeJoria Tequila Patron Toyota Camry Funny Car.
"I started working on Funny Cars before I was 10 years old," the 41-year old Worsham said. "My dad (Chuck) and I tuned our family-owned Funny Car from 1990 until I joined the Al-Anabi team in 2009. Dad and I won 22 races together, so hopefully I can draw from that experience and knowledge in this next phase of my career.
"I’m really excited to be working with Alexis. She's an extraordinary talent with a great desire to win. When she got her license to drive nitro cars, she did it in my car and I could tell right away that she was going to be a winner in the nitro Funny Car class.
“Technically she’s a rookie, but she already drives likes she’s has years of experience with these cars and a tremendous amount of respect for the car and its power, and that's very important.
"I wouldn't take this position if I didn't think it's going to be a winning combination. I think Alexis is going to be a winner and ultimately an NHRA champion someday. I'm also really looking forward to working with Connie (Kalitta, team owner and drag racing legend). Connie knows more about nitro motors than anyone on the planet and getting to work with him is truly an honor."
Then Morgan Lucas Racing’s GEICO-sponsored Top Fuel team announced the addition of respected tuners Aaron Brooks and Rod Centorbi taking over tuning duties on his dragster. Both men have extensive experience in drag racing, most notably alongside multi-time world champion Alan Johnson.
Brooks will head the operation. His most recent stint came at R2B2 Racing where he tuned the In-N-Out Funny Car driven by Melanie Troxel and the Rite Aid fuel flopper of past world champion Frank Hawley.
Before working at R2B2, Brooks tuned Worsham in the Al-Anabi Racing Funny Car. He also served as assistant crew chief to Gary Scelzi when he won the 2005 title with Don Schumacher Racing. Brooks spent his formative years working for four-time world champion Don "the Snake" Prudhomme.
"Aaron's worked with some amazing drivers in the past and he brings a lot of experience to our team, especially for a younger guy," Lucas said of the 38-year-old from Hemet, Calif. "He's someone we want to grow with and I'm really excited he's joined our organization."
Fresh off winning the 2011 Top Fuel title with Al-Anabi Racing driver Worsham, Centorbi also brings a wealth of experience to his role of assistant crew chief. The 20-year pro served in the same capacity at Al-Anabi, both on Worsham's dragster and Funny Car. He also worked with Brooks in the past at Don Schumacher Racing when he took care of the cylinder heads on Scelzi's hot rod.
"Rod's skill set is significant," Lucas said. "The fact he's coming off a championship-winning season is really invigorating for everyone in the shop. It makes it real. I know he and Aaron will be able to turn this team around quickly and we cannot wait to get started with them. The off-season will go by in a flash, I'm sure."
Snap-On has extended its sponsorship of Cruz Pedregon’s Funny Car for an additional three years. The 2012 season will mark Pedregon’s 20th year driving Funny Cars as well as the 20th anniversary of his first world championship.
As part of the sponsorship agreement, Pedregon will partake in franchisee ride-a-longs where he visits with Snap-On customers at their shops. He will also continue to host hospitality events for Snap-on franchisees and customers during race weekends and make personal appearances on behalf of the company. In addition, Snap-on will sponsor Pedregon’s dirt track car in such events as the prestigious Prelude to a Dream charity race.
Pedregon, a two-time world champion, finished the 2011 season third in the NHRA Funny Car points standings. He posted his 29th Funny Car victory with a win in Dallas. The Snap-On Funny Car also finished second on two occasions and reached the semifinals at seven additional races.
The Snap-On Funny Car will enter the 2012 campaign with a new crew chief, veteran Lee Beard, who takes the helm of Cruz’s team. The unflappable Beard was one of the noted tuners in Pedregon’s bid for his 1992 Funny Car championship and was the crew chief for the 1989 Top Fuel champion, Gary Ormsby.
John Force announced this week that crew chief Danny DeGennaro has joined John Force Racing Inc. and that Dickie Venables, who helped Tony Pedregon win a pair of NHRA Funny Car Championships, is set to return to JFR as part of the crew chief "brain trust" that includes Jimmy Prock, Mike Neff, Dean "Guido" Antonelli, Ron Douglas and Bernie Fedderly.
DeGennaro, most recently tuned side by side with Cruz Pedregon, who finished in third place for the NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car title, will assume a similar role on a JFR Ford Mustang Funny Car. With DeGennaro, Pedregon started from the No. 1 position a category-best six times last year and won the Countdown event at Dallas, Texas.
First hired by Prock to work on Joe Amato's Top Fuel dragster in the mid-1990s, the 36-year-old DeGennaro also spent time at Kenny Bernstein Racing where, in 2007, he worked with Jimmy Walsh on the Monster Energy Funny Car.
Venables, whose resume includes stints with some of the top teams in the sport including Joe Gibbs Racing, Don Schumacher Racing, Al Anabi Racing and Kalitta Racing, was co-crew chief in 2003 when Pedregon won the NHRA championship at the wheel of the JFR-owned Castrol Syntec Ford.
After leaving JFR, he and Pedregon won a second championship in 2007. He subsequently worked with Worsham at Al-Anabi Racing, with Lucas at GEICO Powersports and with Johnny Gray at DSR.
The son of Dick Venables, who drove Top Fuel dragsters for partner Buggs Threadgill in the 1960s, the younger Venable, developed his skills working initially with Rahn Tobler on Shirley Muldowney's championship-winning Top Fuel dragsters. He then worked for 1989 Top Fuel Champion Gary Ormsby, Pat Austin, Don "the Snake" Prudhomme, Connie Kalitta, Whit Bazemore and Cory McClenathan.
"The opportunity to work with Dickie again is exciting," Force said of Venables' return. "I'm expanding my 'brain trust' with more engineers and new technology and getting someone with Dickie's experience is important because he knows how we work."
"My interest in getting back together with Dickie also has to do with the opportunities for longevity at JFR which is important because that helps keep the continuity of our program building."
"Danny is another great addition and he has been in our Brownsburg shop this past week working with Jimmy on some exciting developments for 2012.
“We are expanding and looking at running a Top Fuel dragster with the Ford BOSS 500 engine, where they have experience. But we also want to strengthen our run for an 18th NHRA Funny Car championship."
Venables' input could prove invaluable should the team opt to launch a Top Fuel dragster effort in support of the world's fastest female schoolteacher, Force's third daughter, Brittany.
"What got me started in the whole thing was my dad racing Top Fuel," acknowledged the 47-year-old Venables. "He used to drive in the '60s and he had cars all the way up to 1980. I was always around (and) that's what got the hook set.
"The summer of my junior year in high school, after (Tobler) had already gone to work for Shirley, he offered me a job to help them during the summer. So naturally, I jumped at the chance. Once I graduated high school (Houston, Texas, Waltrip High School), I went right to work for Shirley."
As a crew chief, Venables has won 19 NHRA tour events, the most recent a 2011 Top Fuel victory with Lucas at the Kragen O'Reilly Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif.
Every year since 1998, ESPN The Magazine has recognized an elite group of emerging athletes to watch in the year ahead - athletes they call NEXT. They are competitors not only on the cusp of stardom, but also on the verge of transcending their sports.
NEXT is what happens when the hype is real. This year John Force Racing driver Courtney Force is in the motorsports group going head to head with Darrell Wallace Jr. (NASCAR), Chase Elliot (NASCAR), Ryan Truex (NASCAR) and Josef Newgarden (Indy Car) as the NEXT big driver in motorsports.
“This is really a big honor. I honestly didn’t know I was being considered as one of the NEXT athletes. I am really excited about my future and getting on the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series full time,” said Force, winner of the 2009 Seattle NHRA national event in the Top Alcohol Dragster category.
“The chance to race with my father, John Force, is exciting but I also want to chart my own path. Ashley (older sister Ashley Force Hood) has been a big help and she has been a great person to lean on and get good advice. I want to make my current fans proud to be my fans and I want to try to introduce a new audience to NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing. It is a great sport and I am looking forward to having a long racing career.”
Force has spent the 2011 season testing her Brand Source Ford Mustang Funny Car with plans to race full-time on the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series in 2012.
John Force Racing has not made an official announcement about Courtney’s future.
She began her racing career in the Super Comp ranks in 2006 and has steadily moved up through the ranks following a similar career path as her older sister Ashley Force Hood, who is a four-time Funny Car national event winner including back to back Mac Tools US Nationals titles in 2009 and 2010.
Voting for the NEXT athlete competition ends December 18, 2011. Fans can vote online at http://espn.go.com/espn/next2012/story/_/id/7303218/courtney-force-chase-elliott-espn-mag-next-issue
Shelor Motor Mile will celebrate DieHard/Shelor Motor Mile Dodge Charger driver Matt Hagan’s first NHRA Funny Car championship by throwing a party on Friday, Dec. 16, for fans, media, competitors, and anyone else wishing to attend.
The celebration will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Event Centre, 1655 Roanoke St., Christiansburg, Va., and will include free food and beverages, free autographed posters, free photo opportunities with world champion Hagan, and free collector’s cards.
“This is a great opportunity for us to celebrate our first championship with our friends, fans, and even fellow competitors,” said Hagan, who, at 28, became the second-youngest NHRA Funny Car champion when he claimed the crown at the final event of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series at Pomona. “It’s finally sinking in that we’re the 2011 Funny Car champions, and we want to share that feeling with all our friends.”