At this weekend’s Winternationals in Pomona, they will finally – officially – become full-time teammates. Worsham owns and operates two Funny Cars on the NHRA Powerade tour, driving the red Checker, Schuck’s, Kragen Auto Parts car, while hiring a driver to pilot an identical blue version of the Chevy fuel coupe. Since 2000, Frank Pedregon, Johnny Gray, and Phil Burkart have taken their turns in the blue car’s seat, and all had legions of fans and a good share of success. Arend was selected to take over the coveted ride in early December, as Worsham instituted a shake-up throughout the organization following a disappointing 2006 campaign. “2006 was not a good year, starting with me and extending throughout the program,” Worsham said. “In the past, we’ve always looked at ways to keep things moving in the same direction, but when 2006 ended, I knew it was time to think differently. Staying on that course wasn’t going to get us very far, so we started with a clean sheet of paper.” “Letting Phil Burkart go was a tough decision, one of the toughest I’ve ever had to make, but I’m the one who put Jeff in the car and I stand by the reason why. I brought in Jeff Arend because I think he makes us a better team.” Arend wasn’t the only change. “We’ve also brought in a number of new crew guys, we have a new custom-built transporter that we designed for our specific needs, and the one key thing we seem to have developed over the off-season is a fresh new attitude. Del Worsham and Jeff Arend are both still young men, but between them they have been driving Funny Cars for nearly 40 years. They’ve known each other since 1995, have been good friends for much of that time. With Worsham in Chino Hills and Arend in San Dimas, they have lived within a few short miles of each other for a half-decade. “With some new guys on the team, and with Jeff taking over the seat in the blue car, there’s a buzz and an energy around here, and it feels good. We’re excited to get going.” The fact Worsham would want to erase memories of his winless 2006 season is easier to understand when one recalls the final days of the campaign, at the same Pomona track. Worsham’s car was finally coming around after a major tune-up overhaul, and he was sitting in the No. 1 qualifying position as he readied himself for the Friday night qualifying session. There was, actually, nothing he could do to truly be ready for what happened next. As television viewers from coast-to-coast saw, on a regular basis for the next 24 hours, Worsham crashed heavily into the sand pit and catch fences at the end of the Pomona strip, somersaulting his car and breaking his tailbone, though he was lucky to walk away with such limited injuries. “What I remember when I look back at the end of 2006 was the fact the car was finally coming around and it was fast,” Worsham said. “What everyone else remembers is the crash. That’s understandable, because it was big, and nasty, and very violent. “But, all I wanted to do was get back in the car.” The changes made to the car by the crew appeared to have taken hold before Worsha, became “an ESPN highlight for a day.” “”Once the race was over, it was time to focus on what we wanted to do, and I wanted to jump-start this team a little,” said Worsham. “I’ve known Jeff since 1995, and I have a huge amount of respect for his driving skills. He hasn’t always been able to race as much as the rest of us, because of sponsorship issues, and he hasn’t always had the best stuff to race with, but when it comes to driving the car he’s very good. “I was excited to bring him in, and so far it looks like we really made a good choice. Throughout winter testing, he’s done a great job and his team is pumped up.” Arend was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, but the young hot rodder made the move to the mecca of drag racing, Southern California, in 1997. With one early win under his belt (Reading, Penn. in 1996) Arend had high hopes for a quick rise to the top of the sport, but the difficulty of finding and maintaining a full sponsorship kept him mostly sidelined until 2004. He did manage to put enough backing together to complete most of the tour in ’04 and ’05, but was again on the sidelines in 2006 when Worsham came calling with a one-race deal. “Del had three cars going for the first half of last year, but the third car was a contracted deal with Mike Ashley, who had his own sponsorship arrangements,” Arend said. “When Mike decided to go on his own, Del wanted to run three cars in St. Louis, so they brought out the team’s “special edition” Murray’s Discount Auto car, to support that chain of midwestern stores that CSK had just purchased. He asked me to drive it for the weekend, and I jumped at the chance to work with Del and his guys. “We qualified for the race, but lost in the first round. Just like that it was over, and I figured it was back to work for me, at my real job.” But the labor force will have to wait. “At the end of the season, Del talked to me about the future,” Arend said. “I told him I’d be honored to ever have the chance to work for him and be a part of his organization. “I think Del is as good as they come, as a driver and a boss. Within a few days we worked it out, with me bringing an associate sponsorship with me, and now here I am. After 12 years of trying to bust through in this sport, I wake up one morning and I’m finally driving one of the best cars in the game, with major sponsorship, for a great team. “On top of that, I get to be teammates with one of the best guys out here, who is a really good friend.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!