BRISTOL — Del Worsham hasn’t lost a thing behind the wheel of a Funny Car.
After winning the 2011 Top Fuel championship and spending last season as a crew chief for Alexis Dejoria, Worsham drove the Kalitta Motorsports Toyota to the provisional pole in Friday qualifying for the NHRA Ford Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.
The 43-year-old California driver was asked if it felt natural to be back in a Funny Car where 25 of his 33 career wins have occured.
“As far as just driving the car, it hasn’t been too big of an issue,” Worsham said. “But, trying to be as competitive as I want to be, what they want to be and driving at that level, I don’t think I’m still there yet. The car is just getting there as well. Hopefully, together we can get to the level we want to be at to beat the Schumacher, Force teams and Cruz Pedregon.”
Spencer Massey in Top Fuel and Mike Edwards in Pro Stock also won provisional poles.
There were plenty of big names at the top of NHRA qualifying after the first round.
John Force, the 15-time NHRA champion, led the Funny Car ranks with a 4.085-second elapsed time at 307.93 mph. Tony Schumacher, seven-time Top Fuel champion, paced the dragster category at 3.795 (325.77) and Edwards, going for a fifth straight Thunder Valley Nationals victory, set a speed record in Pro Stock at 208.23 mph.
Defending Top Fuel champion Antron Brown ran a stock car from the Dale Jarrett Racing Adventure around the high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway on Friday morning.
Brown, who recently made waves when he talked about trying his hand at NASCAR, was plenty excited about his 20-lap run in the No. 66 Toyota which Steven Wallace previously raced in the Nationwide Series.
“That was so much fun,” Brown said. “The car drove great, but it took me a few laps to get the feel for the track and what line to take. This was my second time running laps at Bristol but my first time in a true stock car, and it was an awesome experience. I’m definitely not in round-track shape though. I don’t know how those guys stay focused for 500 laps.”
The NHRA race at Bristol is one racing event that keeps gaining popularity.
Julie Bennett, President of Bristol Dragway, said it was the largest Friday crowd in the event’s history with fans showing up earlier than ever.
“The fans came out earlier this year and I think the weather helped that,” Bennett said. “People are learning to love drag racing. We’ve done some things to teach people more and to make it more exciting for them.”
Part of that is the Thunder Valley 101 progam developed to help fans learn about the complexities of drag racing. It’s an initiative which NHRA has shown interest in using at other tracks. As the case of any business, the dragway’s goal is to build repeat customers.
“We’re looking to create rabid fans,” Bennett said. “We want people going out and being ambassadors for us, talking about it to their friends. That’s where we’ve really grown the last three years especially.”