BRISTOL, Tenn. — Throughout a standout NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series career that has totaled more than 500 races between Top Fuel and Funny Car, Del Worsham has learned to roll with the ebbs and flows of the sport.
A consistent approach and mindset has served his Kalitta Motorsports team well in 2015 and Worsham knows it could set-up for a big run later in the season in his 10,000-horsepower DHL Toyota Camry.
Worsham has advanced to the semifinals or final round five times this season and that consistency puts him right in the thick of the Funny Car championship chase heading into this weekend’s 15th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway. Next up on Worsham’s list is picking up his first win of the season and it could come at a track where he has posted two career victories.
“I feel like we have had a consistent DHL Toyota Camry,” said Worsham, who has 34 career wins and won the 2011 Top Fuel world championship. “It has just got to be about the timing. You have to make the right run at the right time. Sometimes you can win and not run well all day, and other times you make a great run and go out in the first round. It is just going to take a little bit of luck.”
Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock) are the defending winners of the event. The race is the 11th of 24 events in the season and Worsham currently sits in fourth place in the points standings nearing the halfway point.
The three drivers ahead of him – defending world champion Matt Hagan, Ron Capps and John Force – have all posted two wins in 2015, with Force winning last weekend in Epping, but Worsham has been one of the most consistent competitors in the ultra-talented class. He has final round appearances in Phoenix and Charlotte and three more semifinal appearances as well, giving Worsham reason to believe that his team has the ability to deliver results and round wins no matter the conditions.
He credits an early-season test session in Las Vegas for that. His Kalitta Motorsports team, led by crew chiefs Nick Bonifante and Jon Oberhofer, found a strong warm-weather tune-up after the event and it could pay dividends throughout the summer months and approaching the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
“We got very lucky early in the season in Las Vegas,” Worsham said. “The DHL team stayed back and used one of our test days when the track was very hot preparing for the summer weather. It turned out to be a great idea. The summer conditions got here very quick and we had the opportunity in the spring to get the DHL Toyota Camry ready and I think we are now well-versed. We can make a three-second run on a track in great conditions or a solid pass in the heat.”
Worsham has dipped into the three-second range on multiple occasions this season in both qualifying and eliminations, which gives him every indication that he can dial up a great run when needed. That will be a must throughout the season and certainly in Bristol as well.
A different driver has won every year since 2011, with Tommy Johnson Jr. claiming the victory in 2014. Worsham will face a host of superstar challengers, including Force, who has five Bristol wins, three-time Bristol winner Capps, Hagan, Courtney Force, Robert Hight, Charlotte and Topeka winner Jack Beckman, and Atlanta winner Tim Wilkerson.
Bristol also wraps up a string of three straight race weekends, meaning it is a good opportunity to close this segment out strong with the three-race Western Swing looming just around the corner.
“We have done well on this busy stretch,” Worsham said. “It is not life-or-death to end this stretch on a high note. We have had good races all season, but just for the morale for the whole DHL team you want to have a good finish to end the swing. It proves to them that the team has depth and we can go three races in a row and compete well at all three.”
The historic venue has always been a fan and racer favorite, and the Thunder Valley Nationals will also take place on Father’s Day weekend for the sixth straight year. That fact isn’t lost on Worsham, who has always enjoyed what Thunder Valley offers.
“I love Bristol,” Worsham said. “I love the fans in Bristol. It is a racing town, we are in the south and the people love NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing. The best part of Bristol is definitely the fans. I am not going to have my family there this year, so it’s a little bit of a bummer on that end. To bring home a win for my girls on Father’s Day would be the most special thing about racing on that day.”