Al-Anabi Racing driver Del Worsham has had a very successful 21-year career within the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series but no year has even come close to the success he has had in 2011. With six No. 1 qualifiers and seven wins, including last weekend's event in Las Vegas, Southern California native Worsham sits two points out of first place as he heads "home" to Auto Club Raceway at Pomona to try to collect his first NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series world championship title.
“This is 21 years in building,” Worsham said. “My whole career has come down to one race right now. I'm looking forward to it. I've never been at this level before. I'm a lucky guy.”
Defending event winner Antron Brown, who is 14 points out of the Top Fuel lead, is going to do his best to put Worsham's championship hopes on hold and fulfill his own at the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, Nov. 10-13. Other defending event winners of the event include John Force (Funny Car), Shane Gray (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
After dominating the first 16 races of the season and starting the NHRA Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship in the No. 1 spot, Worsham struggled for the first few races and entered the Las Vegas event in fourth place in the point standings. The hardships only gave the team more motivation as they went on to dominate the race, earning the No. 1 qualifying position and winning the event, which moved Worsham up to second place with just one race to go in the Countdown playoffs.
“I believe when it's all said and done, I'm going to have to win in Pomona, win the Finals, to win the championship,” Worsham said. “There are a lot of great drivers, everybody peaks at different times, and I feel good about going into Pomona right now with a win in Las Vegas. I've got a brand-new car that runs great and a team that's been in this position before. I'm the guy who's never been in this position before, but I have a lot of people around me who have who are definitely supporting me.”
Worsham may be a newbie to championship pressure but so are his championship rivals, Brown and series leader Spencer Massey, who are also seeking their first career world championships. Three-time world champ Larry Dixon also remains in the title hunt, but would need the three ahead of him to falter early in the weekend to earn his fourth championship.
Brown (RIGHT), who moved from Pro Stock Motorcycle to Top Fuel in 2008, is so close to the title he feels this could be the year when all of his racing dreams come true.
“It's something when I started driving 21 years ago, I just wanted to get down the track,” Brown said. “I never thought about winning a race or a championship but after my first season, it looked like it was something that was possible. I thought maybe it was something I could do. I've been trying to do it for the last 20 years, and I'm looking forward to it. I'm more excited this year than I have been ever in my drag racing career.”
Not only would it be Brown's first world championship, but should he win he would also become the first African-American to win an NHRA championship since the sport's founding by Wally Parks in 1951.
“This is a huge dream for me and for the kids who are out there now,” Brown said. “If it helps anybody else change their dream or their story, I'm all for it. Looking at color and different stuff like that, I'm just an American. I love it. I embrace the sport, and that's where I stand with it.”
Depending how the elimination ladders take shape, a winner-take-all final is very likely in both Fuel classes, since the championship battle in Funny Car is even tighter than the one in Top Fuel.
DieHard Dodge driver Matt Hagan holds a one point advantage over his Don Schumacher Racing teammate Jack Beckman and his Valvoline NextGen/Aaron's Dream Machine Dodge Charger. While two-time Funny Car champ Cruz Pedregon sits 26 points back in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry and two-time world championship tuner turned driver, Mike Neff, who drives the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, is in fourth place, 34 points back of the leader. Neff's John Force Racing teammate and 2009 champ, Robert Hight and his Auto Club Ford Mustang, are still mathematically in the running, as is Ron Capps and his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, the championship battle is still alive between 2008 champ Eddie Krawiec and rookie Hector Arana Jr. Krawiec, who has led the points for most of the season, capitalized on Arana Jr.'s early exit in Las Vegas, when he went on to win the event giving him a 69 point lead heading into the final race of the year. Arana Jr. still has a shot at to win the title in his rookie season he will need to make up a lot of points at the Auto Club Finals.
The only class that has already crowned its champion is Pro Stock. The 2006 champ, Jason Line, took his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP to a semifinal finish in Las Vegas to clinch his second career Pro Stock world championship.
• ESPN2 will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 10:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, Nov. 12. ESPN2 will then have a three-hour eliminations show at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, Nov. 13.