HARD-RUNNING WILK IS HARD-LUCK LOSER IN ROUND TWO Tim Wilkerson has experienced just about every variation on the "we ran well enough to win, but..." theme throughout his career. There have been rounds where he had the second-quickest lap out...
HARD-RUNNING WILK IS HARD-LUCK LOSER IN ROUND TWO
Tim Wilkerson has experienced just about every variation on the "we ran well enough to win, but..." theme throughout his career. There have been rounds where he had the second-quickest lap out of 16 competitors, but still lost to the quickest. There have been laps where he's outrun his opponent, but lost to a brilliant reaction time. Still, Wilkerson never envisioned the scenario in which he would run the quickest lap in a group of cars running 4-wide, and yet end up finishing third in the round. Envisioned or not, that's what happened on Sunday in Charlotte, with Wilk's 4.061 pacing his quartet in round two, only to have Ron Capps and John Force each run 4.064 and get to the finish line ahead of him.
There was plenty of good news in the effort, as the 4.061 was Wilkerson's best lap of both the weekend and the young season, and the hole-shot losses could not be pinned on him. His .080 light was as absolutely standard as any stat in the book, and is a regular average for the entire class. Force's .041 and Capps' .068 were simply great lights, and that's drag racing.
Getting to that point, in the second round on a cool and blustery Sunday, was nothing short of a lot of work and good deal of stress, not to mention plenty of excitement for racers and fans alike. Diving into a 4-wide competition by performing a cannonball into the deep end, with four qualifying sessions and all of eliminations slated for the thrilling, ground-pounding format, teams and drivers faced a variety of new adventures, not the least of which was how to stage four cars at once. In the end, the Funny Car and Top Fuel classes adapted well, and by Wilk's final run everyone was clearly dialed-in and focused.
"It's pretty hard to throw that much new stuff at us and not have some problems, but I thought everyone handled it really well," Wilkerson said. "The first qualifying session, on Friday, was kind of tense and everyone was a little edgy, but by Friday night you were seeing blue bulbs, yellow bulbs, and all the bulbs coming on just about like they normally do. I think we were all on our best behavior, but we also managed to figure it out and not make too big of a mess out of it for ourselves."
The blue bulbs Wilkerson referenced were added to the top of each Christmas tree, to give the drivers in each set of lanes a clear indication as to how the cars in the other set were staging. Slightly confusing at first, the new blue bulbs seemed to become second-nature by Sunday.
Wilkerson earned his way into the top half of the field by putting a solid 4.088 on the board during the first qualifying session, even though the car was putting cylinders out late in the run. Two consecutive incomplete laps were followed by another solid run in Q4, on Saturday afternoon, giving Wilk some confidence heading into race day. The 4.118 wasn't an improvement, but it illustrated how some minor changes were helping the tune-up.
By landing in the No. 7 spot on the grid, Wilkerson was part of what was unofficially designated as "Group C" for race day. He would be joined by Ron Capps, Melanie Troxel, and Jeff Diehl, with the first two of the bunch advancing on to the second round.
After a cool but brightly sunny Saturday, Sunday dawned gloomy and chilly, and rain dominated the forecast. Fortunately, most of the weather models were slightly off, as the predicted morning arrival for the wet stuff ended up being more of a 2:00 situation, and that missed call allowed the race to begin on time, with nary a drop on the ground.
In Wilk's foursome, it was Troxel who got off the line first, with a .084 light, followed by Wilk (.088), Capps (.089) and Diehl (.158). At the stripe, Capps took the "win" by clocking in with a super-strong 4.032, while Wilk advanced along with him by coming in second, with a 4.079. Diehl was never seriously in contention, but Troxel was the hard-luck loser, running a respectable 4.129 to come in third.
As Wilkerson and Capps advanced, they saw Group D sort out with John Force (4.096) and Jack Beckman (4.068) ousting Bob Tasca and Tony Pedregon. Pedregon's 4.123 represented the "thanks for playing" third-best time in that foursome.
With storm clouds approaching, the pro teams performed flawless turn-around services on a very tight schedule, and by 1:55 the Funny Cars were running again, with two quartets of teams making up the second round.
As stated, it was Force away first, Capps away second, and Wilk away third. 1,000 feet later, that's exactly how they crossed the finish line, side-by-side-by-side, and Tim Wilkerson earned the distinction of becoming the first Funny Car driver to ever lose a round on not one, but two hole-shots.
"How about that. We outran four cars and came in third. Try to do that again," Wilkerson said. "You know, I just did my normal deal and all of us were just fine with the lights and the bulbs up there. .080 is about what I cut every time when I'm dialed in, so there was no distraction and no drop-off for me. Those two guys just slayed the tree, that's all, and there's nothing you can do about that. When I lose one of these, I'm really only concerned with how my car ran, and it ran absolutely great with no problems at all.
"It wasn't just our best lap of the weekend, either. It was our best lap of the year, and the car came back happy and unscarred, so it's all good. If two guys named Force and Capps whip my butt when I'm on my game, I tip my hat to them. It's all about winning rounds and being in the top 10, and we got one in the bank here. We kind of did it the hard way, but we got a 'W' in the bank.
"As for the format, it will be interesting to see how the powers-that-be dissect this and look forward. It had it's fun points, and I think the fans liked it, and it sure was loud and exciting. Whatever they decide to do for this race next year, we'll deal with it, and if we do it like this again I'll just have to try my best not to to outrun four cars and come in third."