CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Del Worsham got red-hot at the perfect time a season ago, winning four races in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship to claim his first Funny Car world title.
This year, Worsham is ahead of that remarkable pace and has a head start on what appears to be another late-season surge. He has advanced to the past three final rounds heading into this weekend’s Countdown to the Championship opener, the ninth annual NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway.
Returning to the site of where he started his impressive string in the playoffs, Worsham is hoping to recreate similar magic this year in his 10,000-horsepower DHL Toyota Camry. Worsham, who recently won in Brainerd and enters the Countdown to the Championship in second place, believes his team is in a better spot than it was a year ago but he also knows that doesn’t guarantee anything in a star-studded Funny Car class.
“Last season’s start gave my DHL Toyota team the confidence that we could win,” said Worsham, who became just the third driver in NHRA history to win world titles in both Top Fuel and Funny Car. “It gave us the points lead leaving Charlotte and that was what we were after. I definitely feel like we are in a better position than we were last year. However, lots of teams are fast and we will not be able to surprise anyone this year.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also bettered the competition a year ago. Everyone who won at the first of the six races in the Countdown to the Championship ended up as a world champion and Worsham certainly built on the momentum he gained by winning in Charlotte.
He followed that up with victories in St. Louis, Dallas and Pomona, never relinquishing the points lead he earned with the victory at zMAX Dragway. Worsham appears to be more than ready to defend his Funny Car crown, advancing to the final round in Seattle, Brainerd and Indianapolis heading into the Countdown to the Championship.
Worsham, though, insists his mindset isn’t different this time of year, even as the stakes continue to get bigger with each race.
“Nothing changes,” said Worsham, who has 39 career victories, 31 of which have come in Funny Car. “Every time I go to the line I want to take this DHL Toyota Camry to the next round or to the winner’s circle.”
Worsham and his team, led by crew chiefs Nick Bonifante and Jim Oberhofer, found the formula a year ago, but there’s nine other championship contenders in Funny Car ready to make sure that doesn’t happen in 2016.
Ron Capps, who won a class-best five times during the regular season, takes the points lead into the Countdown, while other championship hopefuls include Courtney Force, Robert Hight, 16-time world champion John Force, two-time world champion Matt Hagan, Jack Beckman, Tommy Johnson Jr., Tim Wilkerson and Alexis DeJoria.
But despite the championship a year ago and the hot stretch heading into the playoffs, Worsham doesn’t believe there is a target on his back as the reigning world champion.
“No, I do not think so,” said Worsham, who has jumped from seventh to second over the past five races. “I think that all 10 cars are going to run at the highest level. Everyone knows what is at stake and everyone is going after the title.”
Worsham and his team, though, have worked for months on a tune-up capable of winning a second straight championship and that has become evident in recent races.
Worsham has been a model of consistency and performance at the past three events, routinely running in the 3.80s, including a career-best 3.832 elapsed time in Seattle. It’s exactly the type of runs that are going to be necessary to succeed in what should be a thrilling race to the event win this weekend in Charlotte.
“Consistency is key,” Worsham said. “Jon O, Nicky and the whole DHL team used all summer to work on a tune up. We have been able to master going down a hot track and cold track. We have minimized mistakes and are focused on the end prize.”