Del Worsham reflects on monumental weekend in Brainerd
When you reach a 500-start milestone, putting an exclamation mark on the moment is a foregone conclusion.
Sunday, in Brainerd, Minnesota, Del Worsham, after securing his 500th start on Friday with the provisional No. 1, decided to add to the memories with a victory.
Joining Worsham in the Winner's Circle were Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Drew Skillman (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
Worsham, the veteran driver from Villa Park, Calif., clocked a 3.908-second time at 327.27 mph to defeat Matt Hagan, who slowed to 8.095-seconds.
A year ago, Worsham won four of the six Countdown to the Championship events to win the world championship. Those were his only four wins of the year. Sunday was his first victory of 2016 and inaugural one at Brainerd.
“We’re definitely ahead of last year’s schedule, but I will take it anytime, anytime you can win,” said Worsham. “It was our fourth shot at a final round here (Brainerd), and we finally pulled it off in the DHL Toyota Red Line Oil car. It has been a long year already, and we haven’t got to the Countdown yet. I’m really looking forward to it, our car is running great, and that was a great race for the fans.”
The victory was Worsham’s 39th career win.
“I came in here with a lot of confidence,” said Worsham, who qualified second. “We had the final round coming up, and Friday couldn’t go any better, our car was just making great runs. Saturday in the finals round, the thing just smoked the tires at the starting line, and we just didn’t know what happened, and it did again in Q4. We had to take a little step back, the entire team, the crew chiefs, John (Oberhofer) and Nicky (Boninfante) had to make some decisions and some changes, along with Tommy D (DeLago) and Jim (Oberhofer) and they were all putting it together.
"Brainerd is a pretty special place for me, going back to 1991 I always wanted to win this race. My first ever No. 1 qualifier in Funny Car came here 25 years ago, so to finally get a win here. I just damn near won this race and John Force picked me off in a big ole’ holeshot in the semifinals.”
Brittany Force, the only member of the famous Force family racing in the Top Fuel division, won her third race of the season – and the third of her career, with a 4.169-second run at 180.21 mph to defeat Antron Brown who slowed to 6.566 seconds.
“It’s just awesome to be able to win here,” said Force, who had a runner-up effort at Brainerd in 2015. “I felt good coming into this weekend just because we had some success last year and I’m pretty sure we did OK the year before. So, to be able to come out here, we’ve been struggling a little bit, so to come out here and get the win it is exactly where we want to be. We go into our biggest race of our season at Indy, so we’re exactly where we want to be.”
Force, who drives the Monster Energy dragster for her father’s John Force Racing team, also has wins at Gainesville, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C., and a runner-up performance at Phoenix. Her victory parade consisted of wins over Terry Haddock, Doug Kalitta, Shawn Langdon and Brown.
“I have to say thank you to my entire Monster Energy team for all of their hard work and it feels so good to bring home another win,” Force said. “I definitely think this makes it a very special one (because of the people she beat). I mean all those guys we took down to get to the winner’s circle, none of them are easy. They’re some of the best drivers out here. So, to be lined up against them and turn the win light on, I think it makes the entire team proud.”
If Pro Stock's Skillman experienced a sophomore jinx this season, he was not alone. His rookie season was highlighted with a victory and three No. 1 qualifier starts. This year; he was supposed to build on the momentum.
Then came a slew of rule changes to the class.
Skillman has overcome the setbacks, finally making his way back to the top in thrilling fashion, beating Jason Line in the final round.
“When I heard about the rule changes, I thought we are either going to be on top, or we are going to be at the bottom. We were just on the latter of that situation,” said Skillman. “We worked very hard, both teams. I was with Elite (Motorsports), and then I switched to the Grays halfway through the season and they have been working extremely hard. This is proof of their work today.”
Skillman surprised the driver of the Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro as Line got the jump at the starting line and held the lead well past half-track when Skillman began to inch around the seven-time winner in 2016 and take the win.
Skillman finished with a 6.648 at 208.97 mph in picking up his second career Pro Stock Wally. Line crossed the stripe with a 6.681 at 206.64 mph, just a few feet behind the second-year driver.
“We are all getting much, much closer,” Skillman said. “We are all picking at the same parts and pieces, and we are all getting closer. I think by the end of the season, we are going to be very tight. And next year I think you are going to see a real competitive class across the board."
After getting upset in Sonoma, the Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson team thundered back to the top as Hines beat Jerry Savoie on a holeshot, 6.866, 194.94 to 6.863, 194.88 mph. The difference was Hines’ .000 reaction time compared to Savoie’s .069 reaction time.
“I don’t know if I would say comfortable (coming into race day),” said Hines, who qualified No. 2. “I was definitely a little bit nervous because we came here with the intentions of preparing for the Countdown and we put brand new tires on the bikes, which in hindsight turned out to be a very bad decision because the track was so good here all weekend long. We definitely did not need a new tire. We were battling with the tune-up on Friday, and the bikes wouldn’t put the mph up on the scoreboard, and that’s partly due to the new tire, but mostly due to being off.”
Sunday's triumph is Hines fourth win of the season as he also has victories at Charlotte, Chicago and Denver. He also has two runner-up finishes at Norwalk, Ohio, and Sonoma, Calif.
Bobby Bennett is the Publisher/Editor of CompetitionPlus.com, a leading independent online drag racing magazine, since 1999. For the latest in dragster news worldwide, visit www.competitionplus.com or follow on Twitter @competitionplus