Until recently the only drag race Nostalgia AA/FC racers and fans considered a must-attend event has been the historic March Meet held at iconic Famoso Raceway near Bakersfield, California. Lately, 30 or more teams have made the trek to battle for a spot in the 16-car field, the annual Mickey Thompson Tires Dragracingonline.com AA/FC Challenge race, which is part of the annual World Series of Drag Racing at Cordova Dragway Park. Putting their name in the history books as a winner of this World Series has become a very big deal indeed.
The Nostalgia F/C teams attending this event are among the best this class has to offer. This year’s participants travelled from California, Florida, Texas, Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana and included 2011 NHRA Top Fuel World Champ Del Worsham, driving the family’s AA/FC Arrow; 2012 March Meet winner Chad Head; defending DRO Series champ John Hale from Texas; and the Texas two-car team of Henry Gutierrez, tuned and maintained by Big Show vet Paul Smith.
For the DRO Challenge regulars this race is especially important because all championship points earned at this event are multiplied by 1.5. As it turned out, those extra points made this race one of the most dramatic in the history of Nostalgia Funny Car racing.
At the World Series this year the qualifying process was changed, instead of one qualifying session on Friday and one on Saturday, both qualifying sessions were run Friday night, making the AA/FCs the main attraction.
Chad Head and Del Worsham were the first pair out, and both lived up to their advance billing. In front of the largest Friday night crowd in World Series history, Head ran right down the track, recording an impressive 5.875 at 251.34 mph. In the other lane, Worsham, who hadn’t driven a car since March, had his hands full when the car yanked up the front end, spun the slicks and used up all of the track. He wowed the crowd by manhandling his ride to an impressive (considering the theatrics) 6.074 at 244.38.
The series regulars followed the two Big Show teams and proved they weren’t intimidated. Marc White, driving his Fred Mandoline-tuned Pontiac, ran a career-best 5.70/244.71, but sparks and smoke in the lights indicated a wounded motor and the team was done for the night. Shawn Bowen, in the Violator ’77 Firebird, ran a career-best 5.823/249.44, also wounding his engine in the process. Then the 393-ci Donovan-powered Crop Duster Mopar, tuned by team owner Frank Ousley, delivered a career-best speed and E.T. recording a 5.857/235.51—and they didn’t hurt a single part. This qualified them for their first DRO event after two seasons of trying.
The most unexpected performance in qualifying came from defending DRO AA/FC Challenge champ and winner of this season’s first two races, John Hale. On the first attempt his Camaro did a huge wheelie, banged the bars hard and had to abort the run. His second attempt produced the same result, relegating him to spectator for eliminations.
The first round of eliminations was set for Saturday evening, so with all day to prepare their cars the teams were ready to do battle. Low qualifier Marc White staged against Henry Gutierrez’s Brand X Mustang driven by Don Schumacher Racing VP Mike Lewis. Lewis left first but immediately spun the tires and White eased by him with a 6.11/214 to Lewis’ 9.83.
Worsham dispatched #2 qualifier Bowen with his best E.T. and speed of the meet, 5.83/248.66. What no one knew was Worsham had problems with a new batch of pistons, so he had to make one set of pistons last the entire race, which lead to a major thrash between rounds for his crew.
Joe Haas in the Crop Duster and Chad Head both advanced to the second round.
In the semis, the level of drama and performance increased significantly. Haas was paired against White in a battle of Midwest fuel racers. Haas left first and ran a 5.90/232.9 to White’s shut-off 10-second effort. It’s worth noting that the Donovan in the Crop Duster AA/FC is exactly the same engine that Ousley runs in his Heritage points-leading Top Fuel Dragster.
In the other semi-final pairing, palsWorsham and Head lined up against one another. Both cars have a pedal clutch, which is not commonly used in the class. When staging a pedal-clutch car, the driver brings up the rpms much like a blown alky racer. Head appeared to have a little trouble staging, and as a result he had a .362 E.T. to Worsham’s .143. Worsham’s 5.87/249.03 easily covered Head’s game, 5.89/249.95.
That race set up a classic AA/FC final round. It was an old school Nitro Funny Car fan’s dream with Haas driving a 393-ci Donovan-powered ‘Cuda and Worsham in a vintage Hemi-powered Arrow. Pre-finals pit action got very interesting. The Worsham crew was not only racing the Nostalgia AA/FC, but also Del’s dad Chuck Worsham’s Flopper. It was booked as an exhibition car with Jon Capps driving. In the process of trying to service both cars, a mistake occurred. The crew installed a couple of rods out of their Big Show motor into the Nostalgia motor, and they didn’t find out until they started to set the valves. As a result, it was about two hours before both cars were ready.
With the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd on its feet, the two nitro cars staged, and at the green, Haas left on Worsham and ran straight down the track, turning the lights off in 5.93 seconds at 233 mph, while Worsham again struggled with tire spin, running a respectable 6.10/229.98. For driver Joe Haas and owner Frank Ousley it was a career race and win, and they did it by beating some of the premier AA/FC teams and drivers in the sport.
This race completely turned the Mickey Thompson Tire Dragracingonline.com AA/FC Challenge points standings upside down. Defending series champ John Hale scored zip for this race, while Marc White and Anthony Bronge are back in the hunt. White, now a mere 15 points behind Hale and Bronge, is within striking distance with several races remaining.
Text by Jeff Burk
Photos by Jeff Burk and Matt and Dennis Mothershed