Daniel Wilkerson Topeka preview

DANIEL WILKERSON AIMS TO MAKE THE MOST OF NHRA PRO DEBUT TOPEKA, Kan. (May 26, 2009) -- By definition, you only get to make an official debut once. For Daniel Wilkerson, after many years of sportsman racing, including an NHRA Division 3 Top ...

DANIEL WILKERSON AIMS TO MAKE THE MOST OF NHRA PRO DEBUT

TOPEKA, Kan. (May 26, 2009) -- By definition, you only get to make an official debut once. For Daniel Wilkerson, after many years of sportsman racing, including an NHRA Division 3 Top Alcohol Funny Car championship, as well as a few non-NHRA endeavors in 2008 after earning his nitro Funny Car license, the moment for his professional debut on the NHRA Full Throttle circuit is finally in sight. This weekend, the 21-year-old son of popular Funny Car contender Tim Wilkerson will etch his name in the archives as a professional nitro Funny Car driver, at the O'Reilly Summer Nationals in Topeka.

The younger Wilkerson earned his FC license back in 2007, but with his college education at the University of Illinois - Springfield a priority, his mother and father were not willing to shortcut the truly important things for a quick shot at glory. Instead, Daniel made only two appearances in 2008, starting on the IHRA circuit where he burst onto the scene with a No. 1 qualifying position and a runner-up finish at Milan, Mich., followed by an appearance at the biggest match race of the year, in Norwalk. There, he simply won the event over Ashley Force, running 4.173-seconds in the process.

Now, with school complete and his Alcohol Funny Car sold, it's finally time for young Mr. Wilkerson to play in the big leagues. Like Mike Dunn, Larry Dixon, Tony Schumacher, Ashley Force Hood, and others before him, Wilkerson will become the latest second-generation professional driver to make his first lap as a pro, and although the plans for his next appearance are as of yet unknown, he's confident this will be the first of many races in a long career.

"My dad sprung it on me during Bristol, and I'm really excited to get to Topeka and make this happen," Wilkerson said. "I started driving a Junior Dragster when I was young kid, then moved up from there and finally got in the Top Alcohol Funny Car, so there was really never any doubt in my mind what I wanted to do. My parents were very clear about the college education, though, so I haven't had the chance to get out and do much racing lately, but believe me, I'm ready to take this step. I've been thinking about this weekend for my whole life.

"As soon as my dad brought this up, the next thing out of his mouth was how we're going to go about it. Since I haven't been racing this year, we had to put a team back together and we're not going to bite off more than we can chew. We'd all rather make fewer laps, but make them good ones, than try to do too much and mess things up. So, we're aiming to make one lap on Friday and one on Saturday, and hopefully we'll get a chance to race on Sunday. Our goal is to get down the track under power, and if we do that I think we'll be fine. After Topeka, we don't have any firm plans right now, but we're looking for sponsorship and I know, at some point, we're going to be out here full-time. I feel like I'm in a hurry, but I know I can't be. We'll just focus on Topeka the rest will take care of itself."

Being a Wilkerson, Daniel has been around drag racing his entire life, and he has kept a sharp eye on this prize since childhood. Other pro racers and crew members, throughout the pit area, have watched him grow up before their eyes, and have witnessed the emergence of a young man who is now ready to enter the same realm in which his father has been so successful. To them, it all seems to have happened in a blur, but from young Wilk's perspective, it's taken quite literally forever.

"It's funny, because I've known so many guys out here for so long, and a lot of them still think of me as a kid," he said. "Even some of the younger drivers in Funny Car have been around long enough to remember me when I was 16 or 17, so it probably doesn't seem, to them, that I've been looking forward to this for very long. This is all I know, though, and it's the one thing I've looked forward to, every day, for my whole life. It sure seems like it's a been a long wait to me.

"With what we did last year, both at the Milan race and at Norwalk, and then the testing day we just had after Bristol, I feel comfortable in the car. I may not have raced much yet, in a nitro Funny Car, but I've been racing since I was a little kid, and we had some good success with the Top Alcohol car. Once I got licensed, and we went to Milan and Norwalk, I was excited about it, and nervous, but once the car was running it felt like I thought it should feel. I felt like I was driving a race car. I think I've got some good DNA for that. I know I've had a great teacher."

That teacher, his father Tim, will no doubt keep a close eye on things this weekend, but once young Daniel is strapped in, the engine is fired, and the body is lowered, he'll be on his own in there. If the past few years on both alcohol and nitro are any indication, he'll do just fine.

-credit: twr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Mike Dunn , Tony Schumacher , Tim Wilkerson , Ashley Force , Daniel Wilkerson