Although he’s not quite where he’d like to be at this point in the season, defending NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals Funny Car champ Del Worsham anticipates his return to the June 18-20 event will help get him there.

Luckily, Worsham says his car is up to the challenge. He just needs a few lucky breaks to find himself in the thick of the battle.

“We’re definitely not where we want to be,” Worsham said. “The good news is the car runs well. We just need to swing a couple of runs together to go out and win a race. It runs good, just not often enough at this point.

“I believe our approach right now is to get a car that will become more consistent and repeatable; something we can tune better and help us make the Countdown to make a run at the championship.”

Worsham earned his second Bristol Funny Car victory during last season’s event, one race after earning his first victory with Alan Johnson’s newly-formed Al-Anabi Racing team. Worsham, who also won at Bristol in NHRA competition in 2003 and in the IHRA in 1992, was excited about his team’s quick success.

“It did not surprise me that we won three races (in 2009),” Worsham said. “It surprised me that we won the first two races as fast as we did. We had been to the first eight races and had already won two. I was a little surprised by that knowing it was a whole new team and a new situation. But, I shouldn’t have been surprised with Alan Johnson and the team he has put together. They would have won plenty of races without me.”

Johnson, the former crew chief for Top Fuel ace Tony Schumacher, struck out on his own last year, forming the new team. At the same time, sponsorship problems with Worsham’s team, a family-owned team he had driven for his entire career, forced him to look elsewhere.  With Johnson’s experience at the helm of the Al-Anabi team, Worsham made the leap of faith.

“I couldn’t ask for a better situation,” he explained. “I’m not just saying that because that is who I work for. I drove for my dad my whole life and basically, my entire career. To have to leave that and do something like this, there was a lot of uncertainty. I wasn’t sure what it would be like. Alan and (team sponsor) Sheik Khalid have done so much to make me comfortable.

“Alan has a lot of experience, and nothing but confidence. He goes out every run believing he has the quickest car or that he is going to win the race. He passes that on to other people. When you spend time with Alan, whether you’re golfing or racing, he gets the most out of everything.”

Not only does he enjoy driving for Johnson, he is glad to call Top Fuel driver Larry Dixon his teammate.

“It’s nice,” he said. “There are a lot of wins and a lot of experience. Anytime I have a question, he is there to help me out and give me his opinion. It is fun to watch him. He stays upbeat and knows that anytime he goes out he can win. It is fun to watch a guy like that.”

Worsham, who made his debut when he was only 20, has become one of the drivers many others come to for help with problems. Worsham appreciates his position in the sport.

“It is nice to be that person they come to,” he said. “But, it is nice to have guys like that. I remember when I was young, the guys I asked were Ed McCulloch, Kenny Bernstein and Don Prudhomme. These were true legends of the sport and they helped me out. So anything I can do to help these guys out, I try to do the best I can.”

With his success in Bristol, Worsham definitely has to be considered as a threat to win anytime the series comes to town.

“I love Bristol,” he said. “I won in 2003 and won again last year. It is a great racing town in general where all the fans come out. I’ve been racing there since I was 22. I won in 1992, which was a long time ago. It is fun, the fans come out and I think they still remember me from 1992. It is just a great place to race.

“The fans are accessible to the drivers. I’ve developed a lot of good friends over the years that way. A lot of the friends are repeat fans since 1992, especially in Bristol. It is a nice bond we can have with fans. We don’t have a lot of track time in NHRA, so we have to make it up other ways. One of the ways we do is our open pit policy.”

The NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals begin when gates open at 9 a.m. on Friday, June 18 with the first round of Pro Qualifying slated for 5 p.m. The pro cars will return at 7:30 p.m. for the exciting night qualifying round.

Gates open at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 19 with Pro Qualifying set for 12:30 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. The special NHRA Fan Fest begins at 4:30 p.m., allowing fans the opportunity to meet the stars face-to-face.

Sunday’s action kicks off when gates open at 8:30 a.m. and Final Eliminations crank up at 12:00 noon. Tickets begin at only $20 due to special Father’s Day pricing on Sunday.

Ticket prices are as follows: Friday -- Sections A - D $30 Adult / $10 Junior; Sections E - U $35 Adult / $10 Junior; Thunder Terrace $35 Adult / $10 Junior, Saturday -- Sections A - D $45 Adult / $15 Junior; Sections E - U $55 Adult / $25 Junior; Thunder Terrace $55 Adult / $25 Junior, Sunday -- Sections A- B $20 Adult / $10 Junior, Sections C - D $45 Adult / $15 Junior, Section E – P $55 Adult/ $25 Junior, Section Q – U $20 Adult/$10 Junior, Thunder Terrace $55 Adult / $25 Junior. Weekend combos are: Sections A - B $79 Adult / $30 Junior, Section C – D $95 Adult/$30 Junior, Sections E - P $120 Adult / $50 Junior, Sections Q – U $95 Adult/$30 Junior and Thunder Terrace $120 Adult / $50 Junior. Thunder Valley Club admission for three days is $300 for adults and $100 for juniors. Three-day Bruton’s Suite admission is $450 for both adults and juniors.

To purchase tickets, please call the Bristol ticket office at 423-989-6900 or visit www.bristoltix.com.