WORM BECOMES FIRST FEMALE TOP FUEL OWNER-DRIVER SINCE TRAILBLAZER MULDOWNEY
For the first time since legend Shirley Muldowney’s career, the NHRA will have a female Top Fuel owner-driver.
With a financial boost from Strutmasters.com boss Chip Lofton, Audrey Worm will pull into Bristol Dragway this week as owner of her own dragster team. She is in the process of finalizing details to purchase her own operation to race next season.
Worm, 27, who licensed in late 2017, has been competing in the Leverich Family’s dragster, with her husband, Aaron Grant, and Gary Leverich tuning. She raced at Charlotte, Atlanta, and Richmond.
At Virginia Motorsports Park, she recorded her first sub-four-second elapsed time (3.968 in the final qualifying session) after five consecutive 4.000s. Worm made the field at six of the nine events she entered in 2018, bolstering her candidacy for the Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award among 10 other contenders. She finished 17th in last year’s final standings. “For a single-car, low-budget team, we were very happy,” she said.
Lofton, who also helps support Pro Stock racer Wally Stroupe and Pro Fuel Harley motorcycle racer Janette Thornley, said, “What my company is going to try to do for her, because my budget is pretty much used up for this season, is to get her to the races,” “But she’ll have to have her own parts, her own crew. And all of the [administrative] things are still on her back.
“She wanted to make the race at Bristol. She exists because people are kind enough to give her parts, used parts. We don’t want to do anything to make people feel like she has a fulltime, big sponsor now so she doesn’t need the parts,” he said. “She needs the parts.”
Lofton said they’ll discuss at the end of the year how to proceed for the 2020 season: “We’re going to evaluate everything that we have going and what she has going and see where we can go with everything. We would like to do more next season and think that we will. This year we’d like to get her to a few more races and run more rounds. They’ve been having to strategize and not run so many rounds if it takes so many parts. This year maybe we can run more rounds than they did in the last few races. She can’t make all the races, but she’ll make every one that she can.”
A mutual friend of Lofton and the Leveriches spoke at the Virginia Nationals at Richmond to Lofton about Worm. Her feat, she said, “was getting pretty good ink,” and Lofton struck up a congratulatory conversation with her via a social-media outlet. They didn’t meet face to face until the Joliet event less than two weeks ago.
Worm said her immediate goal is “to get to Bristol and race and hopefully do all four qualifiers. We’d like to get out there and get more ink with the car and more data with all four runs. We’re just going to take it one step at a time, baby steps.”
Lofton is as energized about the partnership as Worm is. He said, “NHRA has been very, very supportive of her. They really, really want her to be involved a much as she can. NHRA is real excited to have her there. They need the [improved] car count. They see how the fans relate to her, being young, being female, being a low-budget team, and still fighting and working it and trying to live the dream.”
Worm smiled and said, “Living the dream . . . that’s exactly what we’re doing, every weekend – every day.”
But the sanctioning body isn’t the only one encouraging Worm.
“A lot of the big teams have been gracious in helping her get parts and offering things to her and making things happen for her,” Lofton said. “Unlike some of my NASCAR friends, these guys remember getting started. And it’s real exciting to hear some of the names and some of the people helping her.”
Worm shared who some of her benefactors are: “John Force helped us out with a block and a diaper and some cranks. Bobby Lagana and the whole Torrence crew helps us. They helped us out with some clutch discs and floaters. Everybody helps us. We scuff everybody’s tires, so that helps us. Tim Wilkerson helps us with some gaskets and other different stuff.
John Worm, Audrey’s father and mentor and the one for whom she christened her dragster theme “Outrun Parkinson’s Disease,” said, “Individual crew guys do everything they can to help us, just tons
of crew people.”
The Grantville, Pa., racer said her dad always has been her biggest mentor and that she learned a lot from former Funny Car racer and NHRA pioneer Bruce Larson and, of course, the Leveriches. Among the current racers who have helped shape her young career have been Jack Beckman, Dom Lagana, and Steve Torrence, as well.
“Jack Beckman has given a lot of driving advice. I met him through the NHRA and through nostalgia events. When I drove the front-engine nostalgia dragster that Dad built, I got to know him as a friend,” she said. “Dom Lagana and Steve Torrence . . . just being able to sit and talk with those guys after a run, download and compute and have them give feedback is just incredible.”
Last spring, as Worm and her team traveled through East Tennessee on the way to Atlanta Dragway, thieves broke into her race hauler and stole a supercharger, cylinder head, electric bike, rods, pistons, and assorted parts with a total value in the $8,000-$10,000. But this time she’ll hit the Volunteer State with a renewed spirit and sense of hope – and a spirit of self-direction.
“It shows the sport’s embracing women,” John Worm said.
“It shows women are embracing the sport,” Lofton said.
Both are right, and Audrey Worm, Top Fuel team owner, is the beneficiary.