Twenty-two-year-old Danny Worth is carrying on a proud family tradition. Dannyís grandfather, Ray Worth, not only founded what has become a family of Kansas City area Harley-Davidson dealerships, but also raced, with great success, in the Pro Stock Class in the 1970s and 80s. David Worth, Dannyís father, is the owner-operator of Blue Springs Harley-Davidson, and formerly raced in the Super Stock Class. Currently David is Dannyís crew chief/mechanic. Danny resides in Grain Valley, Missouri, and works in the Parts Department at the family Harley dealership.
Danny races at events sanctioned by the All Harley Drag Racing Association (AHDRA). He competes in the Street Pro Class in which engine displacement is limited to 140 cubic inches and modifications are somewhat limited. Wheelie bars are not permitted. Bikes must have electric or kick starters (no external starters or push starting) and D.O.T. approved lighting systems with working headlights, taillights, and brakelights. Computers are permitted only for data gathering. Class quarter-mile records are 8.5 seconds e.t. and 158.59 m.p.h., both set by Andy Simon. Dannyís best so far is an e.t. of 8.77, and he nearly broke the speed record last year.
I recently had the opportunity to attend the Gypsy Rendezvous Nationals at Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Illinois, near downtown St. Louis, Missouri. Danny and the other competitors put on a terrific show. A few days later, I sat down with Danny at Blue Springs Harley-Davidson for a conversation about his racing career.
CC: You came from a well-known motorcycling family. How long have you been riding?
Danny: I started really young, when I was maybe six or seven. I started out on a 1984 Suzuki 80 that was Grandpaís pit bike. A few years later my dad got me another dirt bike that was a little bigger and faster. That was when I learned to love going fast.
CC: Obviously that love stuck with you. Did you do some off-road racing?
Danny: I wanted to. For a long time I did a lot of woods riding with my dad near Chadwick. When I was old enough to drive, I started spending a lot of time at the motocross track at Kingsville.
CC: When did the interest in drag racing develop?
Danny: Iíve always loved drag racing, even just to sit and watch. I enjoyed going through the photos of Grandpa racing in the old days and watching Dad.
CC: When did you start racing, yourself?
Danny: I made my first few runs on one of my dadís old bikes. I think it was an F.X.R. It was at K.C.I.R. (Kansas City International Raceway). Then I got away from bike racing for a while and started taking a car to the strip. When I was 17, I got a Buell XB 9 and started taking it to K.C.I.R. every Wednesday and Friday.
CC: How did you get into the pro racing?
Danny: Dad built a V-Rod that he raced. He was pretty much just racing it locally. We took the wheelie bar off, and I raced it in the AMA Prostar and Hot Rod Cruiser Classes. I did that for about a year until the AMA changed their class structure. I was 19 when I attended the George Bryce Racing School in Gainesville, Florida. George was convinced that I could be a successful pro racer. He built the bike for us, and I started in AHDRA in the middle of the season. When I first got it, I was running around 9.18 e.t.ís. It was a totally different thrill! I had a hard time opening the throttle all the way at first. It was a little scary at the time. We made a lot of runs at the home track getting used to the bike. I ran six races that year and finished 7th in the points.
CC: Last year was your first full season. How did that go?
Danny: We started the season with a 124-inch motor and moved up to 128-inch about halfway through the season. We found out that the clutch acted totally different after the change. The additional torque just didnít work well with the clutch we had. We kept either spinning the tire or having the front end come way off the ground. We still managed to finish in 3rd place last year. I messed up on the tree in a couple of races, so I felt we could have finished higher.
CC: This year, you made some off-season changes, and your bike wasnít quite ready for the first race.
Danny: Yeah, we ended up taking Dadís í05 Springer street bike to Gainesville just to collect a few points. Due to some good luck, I walked away with a second place finish. Iíll take that!
CC: The next race was at the Speedworld Dragstrip near Phoenix.
Danny: We had the bike put together just in time for that race, but we had to go down there cold turkey without any test runs. We ended up with a few mechanical issues to work out. Still, we managed to finish in second place.
CC: St. Louis was next. How was qualifying?
Danny: Saturday was a nasty day-overcast and cold with drizzle at times. It took a long time to get the track dried from the previous dayís rain, and qualifying started a bit late. On my first run, we had some pinched wires, and the bike was cutting out all the way down the strip. We missed the second qualifying round. On the third run, the shift light was lit all the way through the pass. Weíre still experimenting with a new ignition system. We ended up qualifying second.
CC: Sunday was elimination day, and the weather was much better. That sunshine felt good! You were confident that you had the problems worked out.
Danny: I felt very good about our chances, but Dad was really nervous. Itís not unusual for the crew chief to be nervous and the rider relaxed. After the burnout, Dad wanted me to burn out a bit longer, but I felt ready and talked him out of it. I rolled up to the spot he had picked out on the starting line and was ready to go.
CC: What happened next was totally unexpected.
Danny: Thatís for sure! The bike launched like it had never launched before. It REALLY hooked up! The track was sticky, and the tire was sticky. The bike lunged forward, and then the front wheel instantly went straight up. Itís a strange feeling when the bike is nearly vertical, and you canít see around it. I closed the throttle and clutched it and saved it from going completely over backward. As soon as the front end slammed down to the ground, I got back into it.
CC: Most people with a start like that probably would have given it up. Apparently you had in mind that the race isnít over until somebody's win light comes on.
Danny: I wasnít going to give up. Danny (Arnold) must have slowed down a bit, because he had been running in the 9s. Iíve seen his bike go high 8s. He beat me with a pass of 10.004 to my 10.027. Thatís a close race-maybe half a tire length.
CC: After you crossed the finish line at over 145 m.p.h. you got another shock.
Danny: When the front wheel came down, the handlebars bent and the banjo bolt for the front brake lever went through the riser and punctured the brake line. When I grabbed the brake lever, I was just spraying myself with brake fluid. Without any front brakes, it didnít take long to smoke the rear brakes, and I was scraping the foot pegs on the track to try to get the bike slowed down. It wasnít happening!
CC: How fast were you going when you went off the pavement and into the pea gravel pit?
Danny: I might have had it under 70.
CC: Wow! You were still cooking! You must have though you were going to flip when you hit the pit.
Danny: If I had been going any faster, it probably would have been end-over-end. That would have destroyed the bike. When the front wheel went in, it went down some, but when the back wheel hit the pit, it leveled out some. Somehow, I managed to keep it upright. The gravel was all the way.
CC: Was the damage bad?
Danny: Not really. Two of the front wheel spokes were cracked. Itís amazing the wheel didnít come apart at high speed. The wheel bearings were shot. The handlebars were bent. The bike will soon be ready for the next race in Texas. Some of the repairs are already done and parts are on the way for others. Weíre adding a quick-turn throttle that opens up really quick. It has a position sensor on it, so Dad will be able to tell on the computer whether Iím opening the throttle wide open.
CC: Is there any doubt?
Danny: Nope. Thatís the only way it will be.
CC: You had quite a wild ride in St. Louis.
Danny: It was a fun ride!
CC: Yeah, you were smiling when you got back to your pit area. It was like looking at a kid that just got off a roller coaster ride and loved it.
Danny: A launch like that is like a roller coaster. You are way up there, and when you start down, itís really a rush, but itís kind of scary.
CC: O.K., thatís enough about the past. What would you like to see in your future drag racing career?
Danny: I would love to move up into a wheelie bar class. Pro Stock or Pro Mod would be a lot of fun. There are lots of bikes in those classes, and you have to qualify well just to make the program. The competition is intense! Itís high dollar stuff. It will take some more sponsors.
CC: Danny, I enjoyed watching you race, and I appreciate being able to introduce you to our readers.
Having spent some time with Danny, I was really impressed with his dedication to his sport, his confidence, his outgoing personality, and his fearless attitude. I am confident that he will go a long way in the sport of drag racing, one quick quarter-mile at a time. Good luck, Danny!
Interview and photos by Stripe