Veteran ready to win again since his return to Funny Cars
Del Worsham has watched with great delight as his Kalitta Motorsports teammates have put together a brilliant start to the 2014 season in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. His recent performance in Englishtown, N.J. indicates some of that magic might also be headed his way.
The Funny Car standout put together his best showing of the year at the most recent event, qualifying No. 2 and advancing to his first final round of the year. It was also Worsham’s first final round appearance in a span of 30 races, giving him reason to believe that more success is right around the corner.
The next step is winning for the first time since returning to the Funny Car ranks in 2013 and Worsham and his 10,000-horsepower DHL Toyota Camry will get that chance this weekend at the 14th annual Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.
“I do feel like we took a step forward in Englishtown, mainly because we were able to make some good runs without running into mechanical gremlins,” Worsham said. “I think if you really look back to our performance starting at Indy last year we have really made some huge gains in terms of consistency. Last year, although we ran well, we just couldn't seem to put any Sunday round wins together. This year we started off doing pretty well and ran into some mechanical gremlins. After Englishtown I feel we have moved past those issues and we are ready to catch up with the rest of the Kalitta (Motorsports) teams with some wins.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car) and Rodger Brogdon (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised nationally on ESPN2. It is the 10th of 24 events during a 2014 NHRA season that has already featured a number of successful moments for Kalitta Motorsports.
Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta is the points leader in his class having advanced to five final rounds while Funny Car’s Alexis DeJoria earned her first two professional victories earlier this season. Worsham, who was DeJoria’s crew chief in 2012, figures he could be next to taste success on the team, though his own solid start to the season has him currently fourth in points.
“It’s been very exciting to see this amount of success,” Worsham said. “Doug has been winning for years so I really am not surprised by his success, but to watch Alexis go out and win two races already makes me proud. When I left the Al-Anabi (Racing) team to work with her I knew she had the skills and determination. It’s nice to see that I was correct.”
Worsham, who has 33 career victories and won the 2011 Top Fuel world championship title, is also confident heading into historic Thunder Valley and for good reason. On top of his recent success, Worsham was also the No. 1 qualifier at Bristol a year ago, running 4.00 to earn the top spot.
With two previous victories at the scenic facility (2009, 2003), Worsham is well aware of what it takes to be successful at a track that can often be difficult to solve.
“I would love to look back at the end of 2014 and say Bristol is where we really turned our season around,” Worsham said.
Standing in his way is an array of championship talent, headed by points leader Robert Hight, who won at Bristol in 2011. Reigning world champion John Force knocked off Cruz Pedregon in the final round last year, giving him four victories at the facility, while Ron Capps has three wins at Bristol.
Matt Hagan, Jack Beckman, Courtney Force and Tommy Johnson Jr. will also challenge for the Bristol win, but Worsham is determined to put on a show on Father’s Day weekend for a fan base he has long admired.
“My memories of Bristol are the fans,” Worsham said. “Bristol has very loyal and passionate fans, and a lot of the spectators I can remember from the late 1980s coming here with my Dad. Bristol is a great racing city and the race has so much heritage. When you win Bristol you know it’s one of the races you can knock off your bucket list of things to accomplish.”
In Top Fuel, Torrence recorded his first win at Bristol a year ago, but is after his first win in 2014. Everyone is chasing current points leader Kalitta, who is a three-time winner in Bristol. Other marquee challengers at Bristol include five-time event winner Tony Schumacher, 2012 world champion Antron Brown, reigning world champion Shawn Langdon, J.R. Todd, Spencer Massey, Richie Crampton, who is the most recent event winner, and 2013 Auto Club Road to the Future Award winner Brittany Force.
Texas native Brogdon secured his first career Pro Stock win at Bristol last season, knocking off Erica Enders-Stevens in the final. This season Enders-Stevens has won twice, is the class points leader and two weeks ago in Englishtown reset both ends of the Pro Stock national record (6.464 seconds, 215.55 mph). Other talented drivers chasing her include local favorite Allen Johnson, who has three victories this season but has never won at his home track in Bristol, reigning world champion Jeg Coughlin, Greg Anderson, Dave Connolly, Vincent Nobile, Chris McGaha, V Gaines, Shane Gray and Jason Line.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
The event will also showcase the thrilling action in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series and the NHRA Pro Mod Series and feature side-by-side exhibition runs by eight Top Fuel Nitro Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, June 13, with sessions at 5 and 7:30 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, June 14, at 12:30 and 3 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 15.