Gainesville: Tim Wilkerson final report

WILK RUNS THE TABLE AT THE GATORS When old is new, and new is new, and both old and new run like new, good things can happen. Tim Wilkerson brought out a brand new 2010 Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang here in Gainesville, and under that ...

WILK RUNS THE TABLE AT THE GATORS

When old is new, and new is new, and both old and new run like new, good things can happen. Tim Wilkerson brought out a brand new 2010 Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang here in Gainesville, and under that sleek beautiful body he placed a reinvented version of his 2008 chassis, featuring a new front half. This combination worked like a charm. At the end of the weekend, under sunny skies in Florida, Wilkerson and his LRS team had vanquished Jeff Arend, Matt Hagan, Tony Pedregon, and their alliance partner Bob Tasca to take home the Wally in Gator Country.

The 2010 Mustang body has been in the works since last year, but the reemergence of the old 2008 chassis now seems like a brilliant strategy. That car ran "easier" according to Wilkerson, and despite the fact it was involved in Daniel Wilkerson's spectacular 2009 crash in Memphis, it was repaired and brought back to do battle just three races into the 2010 season.

"That car just loves to run right down the track, and when we found out it could be front-halved and saved, we sent it off to be fixed," Wilkerson said. "We brought it out here without a run on it, and man the thing just fell back in love with me like 2008. Boom, right down the track. It's a joy to tune, it's really forgiving, and it obviously hasn't lost its magic, if you know what I mean. I love this car."

To get to this point, Wilkerson went three-for-three during qualifying (one session was rained out on Friday) including the maiden voyage of this new chassis/body package on Friday afternoon. In succession, he posted a 4.136, then a 4.128, followed by a 4.114 to land 9th on the chart with an ever-improving race car. As soon as the ladder was produced, the first thing the LRS team noted was that Tasca and Wilkerson were on opposite sides of the grid, and confident talk about meeting in the finals was soon spreading through the side-by-side pit areas.

To get started on that project, Wilk had to take on Jeff Arend in round one. Arend is one of the most consistently quick leavers in the game, and Wilkerson figured he'd have to outrun the DHL car by more than a bit to get a win light and grab his first round victory of the season. Indeed, Arend got off the line with a fine .085, grabbing 22-thousandths right away, but Wilkerson's 4.188 left the yellow car behind and Wilk was finally on the board in 2010. At least he knew, at this point, that he wasn't going to go 0-23 on the season.

"We dropped two cylinders on that run, but got the win light anyway, so maybe that was the run we needed to get the ball rolling," Wilkerson said. "Any way you get a win, especially over a guy like Jeff who is a terrific driver, you gladly accept it and move on. The good news was I could see there was just a ton left in the tune-up, and the car had a lot more in it. We had Hagan next, and he was the number one qualifier in a big way, but I thought we had enough up our sleeves to keep them honest. I knew it was going to be tough, but I thought we could step up maybe a little more than they anticipated."

That's exactly what Wilkerson did, running his best lap of the year to take out the top qualifier. Wilk's 4.094 at a big 307.86 mph was more than good enough to grab another win light, and it moved his record on the season to 2-2. It also moved him on to the semifinals against Tony Pedregon.

In that round, Pedregon got a big jump at the tree but this race was over by the 60-foot mark. Wilk streaked to his fifth straight end-to-end clean run, putting a 4.149 on the board, and the Levi, Ray & Shoup contingent was final-round bound. Who would they meet? Just as predicted by both camps since the night before, it would be teammates Tim Wilkerson and Bob Tasca in the final. To get there, Tasca had beaten Jack Beckman, Robert Hight, and Ron Capps; truly a trio of heavy hitters.

"Amazing to come out here with all this new stuff and not only get off the mark with our first round win, but go all the way to the final," Wilkerson said. "And then to meet up with Bob and his team there, well that was just the stuff we've been dreaming about since we joined up at the start of last season. It took us a year and three races, but we finally both got to a final together.

"I knew Chris Cunningham, Marc Denner, and their bunch would put an A-to-B lap together, and we'd have to earn it. I could've promised you there'd be no tire smoke in the other lane on this lap. No way. They had just as good a chance as we had, and I just knew we'd fight it out the whole 1,000 feet. In the end, it was a no-lose deal because the Wally was going to a Ford and coming home to our joint pit area, but I'd be kidding you if I said I didn't want to win. Bob wanted to win, too, but at least we knew one of us was going to."

In the all-Ford final, Wilk got away first and grabbed a 22-thousandths edge at the tree. From that point forward, he never trailed. At the finish line, the LRS Shelby beat the Motorcraft Shelby with a 4.097 to Tasca's 4.192, and a jubilant bunch of LRS team members went airborne at the starting line. It was a veritable fiesta of teal and berry colors.

"Dick Levi was here on Saturday, with a bunch of other LRS people, a lot of corporate clients, and some of his best friends," Wilkerson said. "He's positive he's bad luck on race day, so he never stays to watch us on Sunday but believe me, when things turn out like this we're all thinking of Dick and everyone at LRS. Without Dick Levi, I have no idea what sort of career I'd have had in racing. Maybe I'd just have the service center we own in Springfield, or maybe we'd be out here struggling along on a nickel. With Levi, Ray & Shoup behind us, along with Diversified Yacht Services and people like Ford, Valvoline, Summit, Hedman, and all the other companies that back us, we're able to come out here and fight with the big boys. Every now and then, we win the fight."

Old is new. New is new. All of the above added up to a glorious win at the historic Gatornationals. And with his favorite car back in the trailer, Wilk thinks there just might be more days like this in 2010.

-source: team wilkerson racing

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , Tim Wilkerson , Jack Beckman , Jeff Arend , Robert Hight , Matt Hagan , Daniel Wilkerson