Defending NHRA Funny Car world champion Del Worsham is headed to Gateway Motorsports Park for the September 23-25 AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals. Worsham scored a final-round Funny Car win at last year’s event and earned a total of four victories during the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship and claimed his first Funny Car world title.

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Worsham will appear at the free NHRA Fanfest at Ballpark Village  on September 22.

This year, Worsham is ahead of that remarkable pace and has a head start on what appears to be another late-season surge in 2016. He has advanced to the past three final rounds heading into this weekend’s Countdown to the Championship opener in Concord, North Carolina.

Worsham, who recently won in Brainerd, Minnesota and enters the Countdown to the Championship in second place, believes his team is in a better spot than it was a year ago but he also knows that doesn’t guarantee anything in a star-studded Funny Car class.

“Last season’s start gave my DHL Toyota team the confidence that we could win,” said Worsham, who became just the third driver in NHRA history to win world titles in both Top Fuel and Funny Car. “It gave us the points lead leaving Charlotte and that was what we were after. I definitely feel like we are in a better position than we were last year. However, lots of teams are fast and we will not be able to surprise anyone this year.”

Worsham, though, insists his mindset isn’t different this time of year, even as the stakes continue to get bigger with each race.

“Nothing changes,” said Worsham, who has 39 career victories, 31 of which have come in the Funny Car ranks. “Every time I go to the line I want to take this DHL Toyota Camry to the next round or to the winner’s circle.”

Despite the championship a year ago and the hot stretch heading into the playoffs, Worsham doesn’t believe there is a target on his back as the reigning world champion.

“No, I do not think so,” said Worsham, who has jumped from seventh to second over the past five races. “I think that all 10 cars are going to run at the highest level. Everyone knows what is at stake and everyone is going after the title.”

Worsham and his team have worked for months on a tune-up capable of winning a second straight championship and that has become evident in recent races.

Worsham has been a model of consistency and performance at the past three events, routinely running in the 3.80s, including a career-best 3.832 elapsed time in Seattle. It’s exactly the type of runs that are going to be necessary to succeed in St. Louis.

“Consistency is key,” Worsham said. “Jon O, Nicky and the whole DHL team used all summer to work on a tune up. We have been able to master going down a hot track and cold track. We have minimized mistakes and are focused on the end prize.”

Tickets now are on sale for the NHRA AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals at GMP. The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series national event annually delivers the biggest names in professional drag racing, including four-time GMP winner Antron Brown, defending Pro Stock champion Erica Enders and 16-time Funny Car champion John Force. Qualifying will take place on Friday and Saturday with eliminations on Sunday. The St. Louis event is the second race of the 2016 Countdown to the Championship. Kids 12 and under are free.

 

SCHEDULE FOR THE 2016 AAA INSURANCE NHRA NATIONALS AT GATEWAY MOTORSPORTS PARK

Thursday, September 22

6 p.m. — NHRA Fanfest and driver autograph session at Ballpark Village in St. Louis at Busch Stadium. (6-7:30 p.m.)

 

Friday, September 23

11 a.m. — Midway opens.

2:15 p.m. — Pro Mod qualifying session.

2:45 p.m. — Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock qualifying session.

3:30 p.m. – Funny Car and Top Fuel Dragster qualifying session.

4:45 p.m. — Pro Mod qualifying session.

5:15 p.m. — Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock qualifying session.

6 p.m. – Funny Car and Top Fuel Dragster qualifying.

7:30 p.m. – Track closed.

 

Saturday, September 24

10 a.m. — Midway opens.

1 p.m. — Pro Mod qualifying session.

1:45 p.m. — Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock qualifying session.

2:30 p.m. – Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car qualifying session.

3:45 p.m. – First round of Pro Mod eliminations.

4:15 p.m. — Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock qualifying session.

5 p.m. – Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car qualifying session.

7:30 p.m. – Track closed.

 

Sunday, September 25

9 a.m. — Midway opens.

10 a.m. — Pre-race ceremonies.

11 a.m. – First round of Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car Eliminations.

Noon – First round of Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle eliminations.

12:20 p.m. – Second round of Pro Mod eliminations.

12:45 p.m. – Second round of Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car eliminations.

1:15 p.m. – Second round of Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock eliminations.

1:30 p.m. — Pro Mod semi-finals.

2:15 p.m. – Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car semi-finals.

2:33 p.m. — Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle semi-finals.

2:40 p.m. — Pro Mod finals.

2:45 p.m. — Sportsman finals.

3:30 p.m. — Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Stock finals.

3:37 p.m. – Funny Car and Top Fuel Dragster finals.

 Schedule subject to change.