WILK READY FOR ANYTHING AT 4-WIDE NATIONALS CHARLOTTE, N.C.. (March 23, 2010) -- Heading into this weekend's historic NHRA 4-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway, Tim Wilkerson's mindset can't be much different than that of his colleagues in the...
WILK READY FOR ANYTHING AT 4-WIDE NATIONALS
CHARLOTTE, N.C.. (March 23, 2010) -- Heading into this weekend's historic NHRA 4-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway, Tim Wilkerson's mindset can't be much different than that of his colleagues in the Funny Car, Top Fuel, and Pro Stock classes. He knows it's going to be a challenge, he knows it will be interesting, and he suspects the fans will go crazy over the spectacle of four professional drag racing cars competing at the same time during every qualifying and eliminations lap. What he's not sure about is how it's all going to come together logistically, or how it's going to impact his race results in terms of crossing the finish line. Never before have pro racers entered a round at a national event where they will simply be aiming to be one of the two quickest cars competing, no matter the lane. Finishing second never sounded so good.
With all the unknowns floating around, Wilkerson's main focus is the most basic one: Run as well as you can and as quickly as you can, and let the chips fall where they may. In the end, no matter if it's two cars racing or two dozen, that fundamental tenet still holds true. Get to the finish line as quickly as you can, and hope for the best. And for Wilk, who just earned his first race victory of the season, in Gainesville, there will be the added advantage of coming into this weekend's event feeling very good about his race car.
"Once we get one or two laps under our belts this weekend, I think we'll all get into the swing of things," Wilkerson said. "At first, everyone is going to be a little nervous and on edge about it, and I'm sure we'll have our share of moments where we're not sure what to do next or where to go, but we'll figure it out and it should be a thrill for the fans. That's really the bottom line here, and as racers we can't forget that. Without all of those people in the stands, it wouldn't matter if the format was two-wide, four-wide, or ten-wide, because without the fans we wouldn't be racing professionally. As drivers or team owners, we know we have to remember why we're out here and be willing to try new things.
"Right now, for the Levi, Ray & Shoup team, things are clicking pretty well for us and we feel very good about our LRS Shelby Mustang. We went into Gainesville with a new 2010 body on a new front-halved chassis, and the object was to get a quick handle on it and try to win a few rounds. From the first lap out of the trailer, the car was just great and we felt like we could keep getting better with each lap, so we kept massaging it and tweaking on the tune-up, and some really good things happened. You can't ask for more than a race win when you're bringing out so much new stuff. That all gives us a nice boost of confidence for the 4-Wide Nationals this weekend."
Wilkerson has that advantage, coming into this race on a winning streak, and he also has the slight advantage of having done this unique style of racing before. Along with John Force, Mike Neff, and Del Worsham, Wilkerson was part of the four-car exhibition pass made at last fall's Charlotte race, so it won't be the first time for him when it comes to getting ready, getting staged, and racing.
"We were in a pretty tough lane for that deal last year, so we barely stayed in all the pictures that were taken, but at least we've gone through it once and we won't be completely in the dark out there," Wilkerson said. "The whole thing really was pretty exciting, and all of us who were in it were pretty focused on making sure we put on a good show for the fans, so everyone was very cooperative and on their best behavior. This time it's for real, though, so we'll just have to see how cooperative all the crew chiefs and drivers are when points are on the line, instead of just pride.
"I can't help but suspect this will be just like any other race, but just double the drama. You know, there's lot of courtesy and respect shown out here, especially when we're qualifying and everyone is just out there to do their best. Everyone's competitive urges come into play on race day, though, because we're all out there to win. Most of us have our routines and we know the other drivers' routines, and most of the time it goes very smoothly. Sometimes, though, a team might have a little problem behind the starting line, or a driver might try to alter his staging to get an edge, so hopefully it won't happen where a team in Lane 4 has a wheelie bar issue, or maybe the driver decides to play games with the guy in Lane 3, and in the end you'd wind up messing up three other teams instead of just one. Hey, it's racing and it's not perfect, so you have to be ready for anything."
Even the crew will have to be ready for anything this weekend, because wins and losses might be a little more difficult to discern. With the first two cars across the finish line advancing to the next round on Sunday, it won't be as simple as "get there first or go home" and the teams will have to quickly adapt to figuring out the system. At least, for Wilk and the LRS team, this format might alleviate a repetitive and frustrating issue they've had over the years, wherein the LRS car regularly seems to find a way to run better than anyone except the car in the other lane.
"That does seem to happen to us a lot, and I think you can trace that to the fact we're not usually big hitters in qualifying, so we often come up against a very fast car in eliminations," Wilkerson said. "By the time Sunday rolls around, we've got a pretty good handle on the car and we often start to put up our best laps of the weekend, but if we're running a Robert Hight or a Ron Capps, we can get caught in that deal where we run great but lose by a foot and a half and then we have to go home. This weekend, we just have to be one of the first two cars across the line to move on, so maybe that plays in our favor a little bit.
"I'll tell you what's going to be nuts, is the final round. Four cars all going for one trophy will be a sight to see. Then, you're just back to getting there first or you'll be going home empty-handed. I hope I don't get a chance to watch that as a spectator. I'd rather see it all happen from inside the car, and maybe if I don't see three other cars out there ahead of me, we can have some fun in the Winner's Circle again."
To make that happen, Wilk and his crew will just have to be ready for anything.