Here's the good news: For the second time in three races, and the third time this season, Tim Wilkerson earned his way past a pair of tough opponents to grab a semifinal finish, this time doing so at the Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol.
Here's the good news: For the second time in three races, and the third time this season, Tim Wilkerson earned his way past a pair of tough opponents to grab a semifinal finish, this time doing so at the Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol. Because of that, the Levi, Ray & Shoup driver continued his methodical assault on the Full Throttle points standings, this time leapfrogging another pair of competitors to move up from 9th to 7th. In addition, on this weekend, Wilk's LRS Shelby Mustang was, once again, the picture of uncanny consistency, while it also streaked to a huge number on Friday night to earn a No. 2 spot on the ladder, the team's highest qualifying placement of the year. There was plenty to be happy about, proud of, and encouraged by.
On top of all that, Wilkerson considers Al-Anabi Funny Car driver Del Worsham to be a heck of a guy and a good friend, but you'll have to forgive him if he's had enough of being the unfortunate half of one of the most impressive and exciting pairings of the day. At the last race, in St. Louis, it was Worsham over Wilkerson in round two, as he ran 4.143 to barely edge Wilk's 4.152. Here, in the semifinal, it was Worsham again illuminating the win lights, clocking in at 4.121 to Wilkerson's equally strong 4.127. It was a fine weekend, with solid results that provided the points boost that truly is the most important thing, but again it was simply not the ultimate sort of day the LRS team is so close to capturing.
"Hey, I've said it before and I mean it again, that if you told me on Friday morning that we would qualify number two and go to the semifinals, and we'd make three solid laps all day on a track that was giving everyone a tough challenge, it would've been hard to think that was anything short of a very good thing," Wilkerson said. "But, once you get into the groove on Sunday, and get that first round or two under your belt, you can really start to taste it, and you know how close you are to the finals or maybe winning a race. The semifinals are great, because it means you're doing better than most of the other teams out here, but we're running good enough to win one of these and we're ready to do that."
To position himself for a strong Sunday, Wilkerson made the most of a stout session on Friday night. With the raindrops dancing so close the aroma of rain competed heavily with the smell of nitro, Wilkerson streaked to a huge 4.109 under the lights at Bristol Dragway. At the time, the pass put Wilk at the top of the sheet, but Ashley Force Hood nudged him out of the No. 1 spot as part of the final pair, running a 4.105 to kick Wilkerson down to the No. 2 spot. With warmer conditions on Saturday, there was little chance for anyone to shuffle the order in the top half of the field, and although Wilkerson did post a solid 4.223 in Q3, he did indeed enter eliminations from the No. 2 spot. His first-round opponent would be Jerry Toliver, driving Jim Dunn's car.
Sunday dawned with weather so different it seemed as though Bristol Dragway had been moved into the norther tier states. Temps in the 50s, cloud cover, and a track temperature hovering in the 80s provided conditions no team had yet faced, and the first round of Funny Car was so full of tire smoke, spilled oil, and pedaling efforts it took what felt like an eternity to complete. For Wilkerson, it was all over quickly, though, as he chose to be part of the first pair, and then posted a 4.165 to take the win over a tire-blazing Toliver.
In round two, it was Jack Beckman in the other lane, running Wilkerson for the nearly unbelievable fifth time this season. This was a much better drag race, with both drivers leaving the line almost in sync (Fast Jack got the microscopic edge, leaving with a .084 light to Wilkerson's .087) before both cars paced each other down the track. In the final 200 feet, the LRS Shelby pulled ahead for the win, stopping the clocks in 4.187 to Beckman's 4.233. From there, it was on to the semifinals against Worsham, and Wilkerson was looking for some payback after St. Louis.
"Needless to say, they have a great team over there and Del has always been one of the toughest guys to beat," Wilkerson said. "We were laughing about it, because we knew they weren't going to mess up and hand it to us. We figured we'd have to beat them fair and square, and that was going to be a tall order."
For the third straight lap, Wilkerson was dialed-in to a strong reaction time, getting away in .086, but Worsham strapped "one of those" lights on him with a sterling .042, and he never trailed in the race. At the finish line, it was Worsham by 5-hundredths of a second, and Wilkerson's trip to Bristol was complete.
In the end, the march up the points sheet continued and Wilk left the premises in 7th. In the end, it was his third semi of the year and it improved his overall round record to 9-7. And in the future, a trip to one of those precious final rounds can't be far away.