JOLIET, Ill. – Del Worsham didn’t post a victory during the four consecutive race weekends in June that fans and teams are labeling the “Eastern Swing,” but a pair of impressive runs during that stretch has the reigning Funny Car world champion believing things are starting to go his way during the 2016 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.
Worsham qualified a then season-best second in Bristol with a blistering performance of 3.888 seconds at 329.42 mph in his 10,000-horsepower DHL Toyota Camry, following it up a week later with his first No. 1 qualifier of the year, a 3.875 at 328.70 at the most recent race in Norwalk.
While Worsham is still clamoring for more consistency in hopes of his first win of 2016 at this weekend’s K&N Filters Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway, with the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship approaching, seeing those two standout runs let him know he and his team are moving in the right direction heading to Chicago.
“I feel like the DHL Toyota Camry got faster,” said Worsham, who is currently fourth in the Funny Car points standings. “We have been working hard, and we have some of our performance back. I believe we are in contention to win races again. The next step is being more consistent. The more consistent you are, the better your race day is going to be.”
The event just south of Chicago will mark the official start of the second half of 2016, and just five events follow it before the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship begins.
That’s where Worsham was incredible a season ago, winning four of the six playoff races to claim his first Funny Car world championship and becoming just the third driver in NHRA history to claim world titles in both Top Fuel and Funny Car.
Worsham didn’t win a race before the Countdown to the Championship a year ago, but was building toward something special for the NHRA’s playoffs. That reassures him that his Kalitta Motorsports team is working to peak again at the perfect time, but he would gladly take some wins along the way.
“I always want to win races with the DHL team, but the Countdown is the most important,” Worsham said. “We want to start peaking around September like we did one season ago and have consistency built in at that point.”
That consistency is still a work in progress, though Worsham and his team – led by crew chiefs Nick Bonifante and Jim Oberhofer – aren’t missing the mark by much. He already has two final round appearances and two more semifinal berths, along with the pair of standout runs in Bristol and Norwalk.
But to knock off the best in Funny Car, Worsham knows his team has to step it up even more. Veteran driver Ron Capps has been red hot in his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger, winning three of the past four races to take control of the series lead in the star-studded class.
Others to watch at Route 66 Raceway include last year’s winner Tommy Johnson Jr., three-time Chicago winner Matt Hagan, 16-time world champion John Force, two-time season winner Tim Wilkerson, Jack Beckman, Courtney Force, Gatornationals winner Robert Hight and Worsham’s Kalitta Motorsports teammate Alexis DeJoria, who won in Las Vegas.
Worsham, though, is up for the challenge given his team has shown a constant ability to rise to the occasion when the stakes are at their highest.
“The biggest thing is that the DHL guys perform at a high level,” said Worsham, who has 38 career victories, including 30 in Funny Car. “They keep their heads down and make very few mistakes.”
Performing at a high level at Route 66 Raceway is also the norm for Worsham, who has four career victories at the facility. The most recent came for Worsham in 2011 in Top Fuel, but that total also includes three Funny Car wins, which matches the Top Fuel win total of teammate and series points leader Doug Kalitta.
Worsham hopes that all of those factors will carry over into a winning performance at the K&N Filters Route 66 NHRA Nationals.
“A lot of things stand out about Chicago,” said Worsham, who shared the winner’s circle with Kalitta in both 2004 and 2002 in Chicago. “It is very big and has a stadium effect. I have won there several times with Doug and we had a great time in the winner’s circle. It is a fast track with a great surface. The facility is also very clean and well taken care of.”