How different does it feel for you than it did a year ago when you made your first real runs in the Funny Car?
It feels quite a bit different. Obviously, having a year under my belt gives me a better understanding of how these cars react. We’re taking baby steps early and adjusting to some of the changes we made in the off-season. I feel great. I’m ready to go and I’m really excited about this season.
What was it like moving from a Top Fuel car to a Funny Car in 2018 after winning a championship in Top Fuel, as well as in the Junior Dragster and Super Comp classes?
I tried to prepare myself for the transition. I talked to a number of other drivers who made the move and I expected it to be a big learning curve. Yet, at the end of the year, it had been an even bigger adjustment than I had ever thought it was going to be. It was a MAJOR learning curve. Even with a year under my belt, I’m still learning.
The Funny Car was like nothing I’ve ever driven before. There’s no other car that reacts the same way this does. There’s really nothing to compare it to. You basically have to take something from each run you in make in a Funny Car and then start over again.
How do you feel about your team heading into this season, particularly with the addition of Del Worsham to join Nicky Boninfante as co-crew chiefs?
I feel great with this group. Nicky Boninfante does a great job. His past success speaks for itself and now we have a year under our belts together.
The addition of Del is monumental for this team because what he brings to the table. He fully understands these cars and can help each individual crew guy to be better in their area. He and Nicky have a great relationship and work really well together, in fact, they have won a title together. I think for me, one of the huge plusses is the fact that Del is a championship driver and there are a lot of things that I can talk to him about. We speak that driver language to one another where I come in and say certain things that a lot of people don’t really understand, but I can walk right in and tell Del about and he understands exactly what I’m saying and he can tell me how to improve.
I grew up getting Del’s autograph when I was a kid. I was always a fan of Del because he was a younger kid coming in and he worked for everything he got. He was in a great position, but he excelled in what he did. He was a great driver, but he was always a little bit of an underdog – and I think it played into his favor. Del is one of the best out here, not only from a driver standpoint, but also from a crew chief perspective. You could see that last year when he’d come out and make runs in their car doing it under-budget fashion, but he’d still go rounds. He makes the most of what he’s got. We have a great opportunity with Global Electronic Technology coming back and having all the tools in place at Kalitta Motorsports and great technical partners like Toyota and TRD.
I think we have the total package. Now we have to work together and learn from each other and progress up.
What’s your goal for this year?
To win a championship.
Some have talked about you potentially becoming just the fourth driver ever to win a championship in both Top Fuel and Funny Car. What are your thoughts on that?
I’m not sure how to respond to that. I get very humbled by some of the names that my stats get put in with. When my name gets compared to guys like Del Worsham, Gary Scelzi and Kenny Bernstein (the three Top Fuel and Funny Car champs), I still think of myself as a little kid and have to pinch myself. It’s an elite category and I’m very proud to have my name potentially mentioned with them. I really don’t even think about something like that. I come out to win races and win championships. When it’s all over, we can look back at we’ve done.
How would it feel to get your first Funny Car win at your home track in Pomona?
I love Pomona. I always enjoy going back. I grew going to the track to watch my heroes and trying to get autographs. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of success on the track there, winning in junior dragsters and in the sportsman classes and winning four times in Top Fuel. It’s also where we clinched the Top Fuel championship. To start the season off with a win there would be monumental for this team.
Last year was the first time in probably 20 years when I didn’t win a race in any car. So for me, that was a tough pill to swallow. It just makes me more motivated, probably more motivated than I’ve ever been. It would mean a lot to get a win for myself in Pomona, but that’s not really what it’s about. I really want to win a race for Steve and Samantha Bryson of Global Electronic Technology, who have helped give us all the tools we need to compete, for Kalitta Motorsports who provides me the opportunity to compete with a top-level team, for Toyota and TRD, which has been instrumental in progressing a lot of the technology with our team. It’s a huge benefit to what we do – and, really, all of the companies that have supported us.
Del Worsham, Co-Crew Chief, Global Electronic Technology Toyota Camry:
Del, how did the decision to become a co-crew chief at Kalitta happen?
I worked with the Global Camry team during the final two races of last season and I’ve worked with, and been friends with, Nicky Boninfante for 30 years, and we had magic together when we worked together when we won the Funny Car championship in 2015 and we’re hoping to repeat that. We have spent a lot of time together on and off the track. We have raced together since the ‘80s. We compliment each other pretty well. Now, we need to go out and just produce and make this thing happen.
All in all, the timing was right and it was a terrific opportunity. It’s a great group of guys. There’s a lot of dedication here. I didn’t have a lot happening with our Worsham Racing and this was a great opportunity for this point in my career.
What are your thoughts about working with Shawn Langdon?
We’re lucky to have Shawn. He was a big part of this. He’s a championship level driver. He’s proven it by winning multiple championships anywhere from junior dragster all the way to Top Fuel. He replaced me at Al-Anabi and went out and won a championship there. He has the credentials and he’s a proven winner.
Can you guys win races and a championship in the Global Electronic Technology Camry?
Yes. J.R. Todd won a championship last year and all that information is available to us. We’ll use that information to our advantage. I’d like to think that we can – that’s the reason I’m here – to, hopefully, put ourselves into position to win a world championship.
I can see the amount of support Toyota has with this team right now. They’re forging ahead and putting more into this team. They’ll be a big part of our success.
Have you considered that if you help Shawn to a championship, he would join you as one of only four drivers ever to win a title in both Top Fuel and Funny Car?
(Laughing) I’ll still have one up on him, winning a championship in both Top Fuel and Funny Car – and one as a crew chief!
Nicky Boninfante, Co-Crew Chief, Global Electronic Technology Toyota Camry:
Nicky, what’s your outlook on this season?
Last year was Shawn’s first year as a Funny Car driver and we had some crew changes so it was a learning curve for everyone. This year, we brought Del Worsham in and Shawn has a year under his belt. We made a few other changes, but for the most part, everyone on the team has worked together and that’s going to really help us.
Can the team win races and a championship?
We’re going to win races in 2019. We’re looking to build upon the consistency that we demonstrated at the end of the season. We were right there in the thick of things with some good runs at Vegas and Pomona.
What are your thoughts on Del Worsham joining the team?
Del and I have worked together for 30 years. We worked together on a lot of projects and with a lot of teams. We won the championship together in 2015 (Boninfante was co-crew chief on Worsham’s championship winning Funny Car) – and besides working together, he’s one of my best friends in the whole world.
Your thoughts on Shawn’s progression in a Funny Car?
You can see that Shawn is much more comfortable. When we started here last year, Shawn had only made four previous runs when he got his Funny Car license. These cars are just different animals. You have to steer a Funny Car different than you do a dragster. It’s a lot more finesse. You have to be thinking ahead with the Funny Car and anticipate what’s going to happen. Shawn’s been able to do all this.
Can you contend for a title?
I think we saw that with the DHL team last year. In 2017, J.R. was new to the Funny Car and they had a number of new guys on the team and, while the team won a few races, it was a hit-and-miss operation with a lot of learning. I think we’re in the same boat. Last year was a learning year for all of us. This year, with the addition of Del, I think the Global Electronic Technology Toyota has a serious shot of building momentum and racing for a championship at the end of the season.
Toyota Racing PR