Del Worsham and his Kalitta Motorsports Funny Car team picked the perfect time for a hot streak and for everything to come together.
Worsham opened the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship with back-to-back wins, his first two victories of the year, to stake an early lead in the race for his first Funny Car world championship.
The goal now for Worsham is one more late-season burst in his 10,000-horsepower DHL Toyota Camry to hold off a slew of Funny Car stars, including Jack Beckman, who closed Worsham’s lead to 16 points with his season-best seventh victory at the most recent race. Worsham will get that chance at the 15th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Oct. 29-Nov. 1, where he will hope to repeat as the winner of the penultimate event of the 2015 season.
“It has been what we were hoping to achieve the entire season,” said Worsham, who won a world championship in Top Fuel in 2011. “After taking some rough losses, the entire DHL Toyota team kept their heads down and were focused. I think the tough losses early in the season gave us a better idea of what we needed to achieve to make it to the winner’s circle. The NHRA Mello Yello series is very competitive, especially in the Funny Car class, so we had to stay on our game.”
Spencer Massey (Top Fuel), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) joined Worsham as winners last season of this event. The 15th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals, which will be televised by ESPN2, marks the fifth of six playoff races in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship and the race will play a significant role in world championship outcomes.
Worsham is locked in on the Funny Car battle after his fantastic start in the Countdown, which included wins in Charlotte and St. Louis. He fell in the first round at Maple Grove Raceway while Beckman had a dominant weekend, including setting the national E.T. record, but Worsham has been extremely pleased with how his team, led by crew chiefs Nick Bonifante and Jon Oberhofer, has raised its level of performance.
After watching Beckman post incredible numbers, including setting the E.T. record twice, Worsham and the DHL team worked feverishly to get to that level. It happened in splendid fashion, as Worsham shattered his personal best in St. Louis, running 3.899 to momentarily claim the national record, and also running in the 3.90s in each round during eliminations en route to the victory.
Beckman might have snatched the record back in Maple Grove, but Worsham knows he can run as quick and as fast as anyone when the situation calls for it, which it most likely will throughout the rest of the Countdown.
“I am very impressed,” said Worsham, who has 36 career wins, including 28 in Funny Car. “Leaving Sonoma and then Brainerd, we knew we needed to improve. The entire Kalitta Motorsports group is a team. We all worked together, especially the Funny Car teams, on ideas and strategies to improve on the track, and I think you have seen the results with my DHL team.”
It’s made Worsham, who finished second in Funny Car in 2004, a bonafide championship contender. There will be challenges aplenty to finish the 2015 campaign, but Worsham doesn’t mind the bulls-eye that comes with being the current points leader.
“It doesn’t alter my mindset,” said Worsham, who would join NHRA legends Kenny Bernstein and Gary Scelzi as drivers with series titles in both nitro categories if he’s successful in his quest. “It is very similar to 2011 when I had a big lead (in Top Fuel), lost it and then was able to get it back. As long as we have a chance to run at the title, it does not bother me where we are at.”
Worsham won the Las Vegas fall race in 2011 en route to the Top Fuel world championship and he hopes that same scenario plays out this season in Funny Car. Standing in his way are a host of stars, including Beckman and reigning Funny Car world champion Matt Hagan, who trails Worsham by 90 points, Tommy Johnson Jr., who is 98 points outside of first, Ron Capps, a Funny Car-best five-time Vegas winner, 16-time world champion John Force, teammate Alexis DeJoria, Cruz Pedregon, Robert Hight and Tim Wilkerson.
But with all that will be on the line with Las Vegas serving as the backdrop, Worsham is eager to tackle the challenge.
“It is a really cool event,” said Worsham, who has two career wins in Vegas, both at the fall race. “Vegas is a big race. I think back to 2011 and we were able to win the last two events and get the title. Then last season, we brought out the brand new Toyota Camry body and we were able to win for Toyota in their race. We would really love to take this DHL Toyota back to the winner’s circle.”
In Top Fuel, Antron Brown is perfect after three rounds in the Countdown, winning his third straight race at Maple Grove Raceway and opening up a 94-point lead over reigning world champion Tony Schumacher, whose eight Top Fuel Vegas wins are the most in NHRA. Other Top Fuel stars in the Countdown are three-time world champion and five-time Vegas winner Larry Dixon, Brittany Force, who moved to third, Doug Kalitta, four-time season winner Richie Crampton, J.R. Todd, Dave Connolly, 2013 world champion Shawn Langdon and Steve Torrence.
Enders will look to get a step closer to a second straight world title in Las Vegas in Pro Stock, but will have to deal with the likes of four-time world champion and seven-time Vegas winner Greg Anderson, who sits 72 points back in second, Allen Johnson, rookie Drew Skillman, who picked up his first career Pro Stock win in St. Louis, Larry Morgan, Chris McGaha, who won the most recent race at Maple Grove Raceway to move into third and 104 points behind Enders, Vincent Nobile, Jason Line, Shane Gray and Jonathan Gray.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, reigning world champion and points leader Hines, who has a class-best four wins in Vegas, picked up his second Countdown win at Maple Grove, opening up an 89-point lead over teammate Eddie Krawiec. Hector Arana Jr., who won in St. Louis, is 101 points behind Hines, while others to watch include Jerry Savoie, Matt Smith, Hector Arana, two-time season winner Karen Stoffer, Jim Underdahl, Chip Ellis and Scotty Pollacheck.
The race also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series and the J&A Service NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.
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 get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, Oct. 30, with sessions at 12:15 and 3:45 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, Oct. 31, at 12:15 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 1.
NHRA Toyota Nationals Fact Sheet
WHAT: 15th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals, the 23rd of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and the fifth of six playoff races in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas. Track is located approximately 15 miles north of Las Vegas off I-15.
COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 2,100 feet above sea level; Track direction is south to north.
WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 29 – Nov. 1
- THURSDAY, Oct. 29 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
- FRIDAY, Oct. 30 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
- NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 11:45 a.m. and 3:15 p.m.
- MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 12:15 and 3:45 p.m.
- SATURDAY, Oct. 31 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
- NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 11:45 a.m. Round 1 of eliminations at 3:15 p.m.
- MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 12:15 and 3:45 p.m.
- SUNDAY, Nov. 1 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10:15 a.m.
- MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
- Sunday, Nov. 1, ESPN2 will televise 90 minutes of qualifying coverage at 2:30 a.m. (ET).
- Sunday, Nov. 1, ESPN2 will re-air 90 minutes of qualifying coverage at 3 p.m. (ET).
- Sunday, Nov. 1, ESPN2 will televise three hours of coverage starting at 8 p.m. (ET).
2014 EVENT WINNERS: Spencer Massey, Top Fuel; Del Worsham, Funny Car; Erica Enders, Pro Stock; Andrew Hines, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
MOST VICTORIES: Greg Anderson, PS, 4; Ron Capps, FC, 4; Andrew Hines, PSM, 4; Tony Schumacher, TF, 4; John Force, FC, 3.
- Top Fuel – 3.732 sec. by J.R. Todd, Nov. ’14 and 330.88 mph by Spencer Massey, Nov. ’14.
- Funny Car – 3.983 sec. by Matt Hagan, Nov. ’14 and 325.37 mph by Courtney Force, March ’14.
- Pro Stock – 6.576 sec. and 209.88 mph by Erica Enders, Nov. ’14.
- Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.856 sec. by Andrew Hines, Nov. ’14; 196.56 mph by Eddie Krawiec, Oct. ’11
- Top Fuel – 3.680 sec. by Antron Brown, Aug. ‘15, Brainerd, Minn.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ‘15, Brainerd, Minn.
- Funny Car – 3.897 sec. by Jack Beckman, Oct. ‘15, Reading, Pa.; 330.47 mph by Matt Hagan, Sept. ‘15, Madison, Ill.
- Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders-Stevens, May ‘14, Englishtown, N.J.
- PS Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.
TICKETS: For tickets call The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at (702) 644-4444, or visit www.LVMS.com.