BAYTOWN, Texas – During his 21-year career as one of the top Funny Car drivers in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series, Del Worsham held the points lead following seven races early in the 2004 season.
Prior to his quick to the front performance this season in his first full tour of duty behind the wheel of a 7,000 horsepower Top Fuel dragster, that was the only time the 41-year-old Chino Hills, Calif. driver had ever claimed the title ‘points leader.’
Worsham has got off to a hot start this season by winning the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals in Florida and the recent VisitMyrtleBeach.com NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, N.C. He earned semifinal finishes at the Pomona, Calif. season-opener and at Las Vegas. With four races down in the 22-race campaign, he holds a 77-point lead over teammate and defending world champ Larry Dixon as the NHRA Full Throttle Series heads to the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals presented by Pennzoil, April 29-May 1, at the always quick Royal Purple Raceway near Houston.
Dixon (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending winners of the event which will be televised on ESPN2 HD.
Worsham, a two-time Funny Car winner at Royal Purple Raceway (2001 and 2008), is pleased with his start. Now he is focused on keeping the momentum going for the rest of the season and being in the best possible position for the six-race Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s playoffs.
“It’s really been a great start to the season, and we’ll do everything we can to keep the Al-Anabi team where it is right now at the top of the point standings,” Worsham said. “There’s a lot of competition in Top Fuel, and to come out and have the kind of success we’ve had in these first four races really shows the kind of team we have at Al-Anabi Racing. It shows the level of excellence that (team owner) Sheik Khalid and (team manager) Alan Johnson require and expect. They expect perfection, and that’s what we all want to deliver. Having the points lead hasn’t really set in because we’re only four races into the season, but now we’ve actually built a little points lead. We could certainly lose it though if we don’t keep working as hard as we can. If we have a bad day, someone else can catch up to us in one race so we have to stay focused and continue to improve our race team. We’re just trying to build the Al-Anabi team to be ready for the beginning of the Countdown in September. It’s all about being ready for those last six races because they determine the Full Throttle championship.”
Prior to this season, Worsham competed in 22 Top Fuel races over three seasons in the early ’90s. Back then, he drove Top Fuel and Funny Car simultaneously. Today NHRA rules allow a driver to compete in only one professional class. Given that he last strapped himself into a dragster during the 1995 season, is he surprised that he’s quickly adapted to his new cockpit in his longer and significantly faster race car?
“Top Fuel cars have changed a lot since I last drove them,” Worsham said. “The Top Fuel car accelerates very hard. The sensation of speed is so great in a Top Fuel car. You can just really feel the power and how fast you’re going. Dragsters are faster than Funny Cars by nature, but sitting so low, you can see things going by which gives you a reference of how fast you’re actually going; Funny Cars don’t give you that at all. Top Fuel is exciting. In the dragster, it’s almost like someone is behind you and pushing you; in the Funny Car, it feels like you’re being pulled. It’s completely different.”
Another thing that is different for Worsham are the faces he sees in the opposite lane. Starting with teammate Dixon, who has three career wins at Royal Purple Raceway, there are a strong cast of drivers battling Worsham for race wins and the series crown. Seven-time world champ Tony Schumacher, who ruled the class for most of the 2000s in his U.S. Army dragster, is a two-time winner at Houston, as is Copart dragster driver Brandon Bernstein. Antron Brown and Doug Kalitta are consistent top five contenders in the class who have also earned victories at this track in the past.
“The level of competition in Top Fuel is unreal,” Worsham said. “The number of fast cars and great teams is amazing. Three of our round wins have been by a margin of less than eight-thousandths of a second. That’s tight racing. Top Fuel competition this year is just extremely, extremely close. “
Worsham wasted little time in joining two exclusive nitro clubs. By winning the Gatornationals, Worsham became the 15th driver to win in both of NHRA’s nitro categories. With his No. 1 qualifying performance at Charlotte two weeks ago, he became the 17th driver to grab a top qualifying position in both Top Fuel and Funny Car. While each racer that fills those two elite clubs are widely recognized as the most talented pure drivers in NHRA history, Worsham doesn’t necessarily feel that driving the wildly unpredictable Funny Car for so many years automatically makes his cross over to Top Fuel any easier.
“I think just 20 years of drag racing helps me with my confidence as a driver, but I don’t believe being a good Funny Car driver will make you a better dragster driver,” Worsham said. “The driving techniques are so different that I don’t think one can prepare you for the other.”
With a victory this weekend at Royal Purple Raceway, Worsham would join Mike Dunn as the only nitro drivers in NHRA history to win in both categories at Royal Purple Raceway. Worsham’s crew chief, Brian Husen, says all tuners will need to keep a close eye on weather conditions to maximize their setups over the weekend.
“You’re at sea level so you make good power, but when it’s sunny, the track changes a lot so it gets more challenging,” Husen said. “Getting your sea level power application in sync with the clutch is the key to running well at Royal Purple Raceway.”
In Funny Car, 2005 Royal Purple Raceway winner Robert Hight leads a strong pack of challengers, that also includes his teammates, Tire Kingdom Gatornationals winner Mike Neff and 15-time world champ and seven-time Houston winner John Force. Recent VisitMyrtleBeach.com NHRA Four-Wide Nationals winner Jack Beckman wants to keep his hot streak going, while two-time Houston winner Cruz Pedregon has been strong all season in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry. Defending winner Hagan is looking to make a climb upward in the series standings with a great performance in his DieHard Dodge Charger. Ron Capps, Bob Tasca and Jeff Arend also are among the pre-race favorites.
Several Pro Stock drivers have had great success at Royal Purple Raceway, including defending world champ Greg Anderson, who is a two-time winner in his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP. The 2009 world champ, Mike Edwards, has won here three times in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries GXP. The Professor of Pro Stock, Warren Johnson, is a six-time winner at Houston, his last coming in 2005. Erica Enders, who has compiled many test laps on this dragstrip, will be the favorite among the locals as she continues her quest to become the first female driver to win a Pro Stock race in NHRA history. She is currently in sixth place in the point standings after a solid start in her ZaZa Energy Chevy Cobalt. Others to watch in the 200 mph category include two-time season winner Jason Line, rookie standout Vincent Nobile and consistent weekly contender Greg Stanfield.
* SCHEDULE: Full Throttle Drag Racing Series qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2:45 and 5:15 p.m. on Friday, April 29 and 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 30. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 1.
* TICKETS: Tickets are available for the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals. Call Royal Purple Raceway at (281) 383-2666 or visit www.royalpurpleraceway.com/buy-tickets.
* ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 6 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, April 30. ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise three hours of eliminations coverage beginning at 7 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, May 1.
* LUCAS OIL SERIES: The O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals also will feature competition in eight categories in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series, where the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Series gain experience. In addition, the Top Sportsman category also will be featured. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 8 a.m. on April 29. Lucas Oil Series eliminations begin at 8 a.m. on April 30 and continue through May 1.
* GET SCREENED AMERICA PRO MOD SERIES: NHRA’s popular Pro Mod touring series will make its third start of the 10-race 2011 season at the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals. The series features some of the world’s fastest and most unique doorslammer cars, with an eclectic mix of vintage and late-model body styles, in quarter-mile competition. Two of three scheduled rounds of qualifying will be held on Friday, April 29 at 1 and 4:30 p.m. The final round of qualifying is set for 12:45 p.m. on Saturday, April 30. The first round of eliminations is scheduled for Saturday, April 30 at 3:15 p.m. Eliminations will continue on Sunday, May 1 at approximately 2:30 p.m.
* ON THE WEB: Get live timing, scoring, multimedia and the latest news updates from every NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event on the Internet at www.nhra.com. Visit the official NHRA pages on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.