There is something about Route 66 Raceway that brings out the best in Del Worsham. After a week off and confident that a frustrating stretch is behind him, the Funny Car standout hopes his good history with Chicago continues at this weekend’s 20th annual Fallen Patriots NHRA Route 66 Nationals presented by K&N Filters.
The former Top Fuel and Funny Car world champion has posted four victories (three in Funny Car, one in Top Fuel) at the state-of-the-art facility, tied with Auto Club Raceway at Pomona as Worsham’s most successful track in his long and storied career. Sitting outside the top 10 and looking to get his 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season on track in his 10,000-horsepower Lucas Oil Toyota Camry, Route 66 Raceway might provide the perfect backdrop for Worsham’s turnaround.
“It’s a cool place, and I just love it,” said Worsham, who has 39 career wins, 31 of which have come in Funny Car. “There’s a cool presence when you race there. You can tell they care about this track. It’s one place that really stands out when it comes to ownership and management. Even going back to the very first event there in 1998 when I was runner-up, I’ve had tons of success there. For whatever reason, this facility seems to match up well with us.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 3 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, July 9.
It is the 13th of 24 events in a season that hasn’t featured quite the amount of success Worsham was hoping for when he returned to his family racing team with his father, Chuck. There have been just three round-wins, and Worsham currently sits in 11th, five points back of Cruz Pedregon. Worsham fell in the first round at the final three races of a rigorous four-race stretch, but a solid test session in Norwalk following that event and a week off before Chicago has Worsham and his team reinvigorated heading into the second half of the 2017 season.
“We made big improvements staying after in Norwalk, and we all felt good about it,” Worsham said. “Coming back, you can definitely see a change in everyone’s attitude. Luckily, we’ve all hung in there, and everybody is excited to be [in Chicago]. We’ve got a chance of making the Countdown, and that’s something we would love to do. Hopefully with the rest and some of the added performance we found in Norwalk, we can put ourselves in a good position.”
For Worsham to inch into the top 10, he knows that first-round losses must be kept to a minimum from here on out. That’s difficult in a loaded Funny Car class topped by points leader and reigning world champ Ron Capps, who has five wins this year, but one area of focus for Worsham is helping himself. That hasn’t happened as much as Worsham would have liked through the first 12 races and remains a major point of focus heading to Route 66 Raceway, where he last won in 2011.
“We still need to try and do as well as we can, run as hard as we can to try to win, and win all the rounds that we should win,” Worsham said. “We have to be able to capitalize on mistakes and be there to take advantage. That’s kind of been my goal the whole season, but we ran into some roadblocks. Some of those races we should have won, and we can’t give those away. Hopefully starting [in Chicago] we can take advantage of those.”
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 5:15 and 7:45 p.m. on Friday, July 7, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, July 8, at 3:15 and 6 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for noon on Sunday, July 9.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 888-629-RACE (7223) or 815-722-5500. Tickets also are available online at www.route66raceway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult.