Gainesville: Tim Wilkerson preview

WILK HITS THE RESET BUTTON HEADING INTO GAINESVILLE GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 8, 2010) -- The start of Tim Wilkerson's 2010 NHRA Full Throttle season hasn't been anything that could remotely be called a disaster, despite the fact he'd have liked...

WILK HITS THE RESET BUTTON HEADING INTO GAINESVILLE

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 8, 2010) -- The start of Tim Wilkerson's 2010 NHRA Full Throttle season hasn't been anything that could remotely be called a disaster, despite the fact he'd have liked the first two races to turn out a little better than they did in a statistical sense. He did qualify at both Pomona and Phoenix, which is a full step better than 2009's start when he missed the field at the season opener, but he also lost in round one of eliminations at both western tracks, leaving him in a tie for 13th place here in the early going. Now, due to scheduling plans that have been in place for months, as opposed to any sort of reaction to his 0-2 start, Wilkerson will hit the reset button on his season at this weekend's Tire Kingdom Gatornationals, by bringing out a shiny new 2010 Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang body on top of an also-new Murf McKinney chassis.

As the member of the Ford Funny Car contingent with the least amount of seniority, Wilkerson was last on the list to get his 2010 bodies and the call was made in January to slow down and do it right, rather than rush to try to get the first new Shelby to Pomona. At the same time, the new chassis was also in its final stages of construction and, just as the calendar clicked over from 2009 to 2010, the plan was put in place to bring out the new bodies and the new chassis together, in Gainesville. At the time, Wilkerson's biggest fear was that he might get off to such a strong start he'd be afraid to make the change.

"It got to be really obvious that we weren't going to have the bodies in time to make Pomona, and with Phoenix being moved to the next weekend it was impossible to bring the car out then, so we just aimed for Gainesville from the start, basically," Wilkerson said. "When you make that call, the best sort of problem you could have is that you go out there and win a race or two, or really do great, and then you'd have to second-guess yourself from here to Florida about making the swap. At least we don't have to worry about that.

"Last year's chassis made its laps, and it was just time for it to be replaced, so we had the order in with Murf to get this new one built. At the same time, I didn't have any problem being the last guy in line to get the 2010 Shelby Mustang body, either. I'd have to be pretty dumb to think I'd get mine before John Force got his Mustangs, and Bob Tasca is the guy who really made us a part of the Ford Racing family, so I completely understood the deal and we were fine running the '09 cars at the first two races. It wasn't a big thing to me, in that regard. I was just happy to get them, whenever they showed up, and now I'm really excited to run a completely new car. It's about as fresh a start, or restart, as you can get."

Statistically, Wilkerson's 0-2 mark and 13th-place position in the points may seem unimpressive, but his final lap in Phoenix was his best of the year and it gave the LRS team a much-needed confidence boost heading to Gainesville. After struggling to find the right balance of power and traction for much of two races, Wilkerson pounded out a strong 4.113 against Robert Hight in round one, losing by only 32 thousandths of a second. It was one of those rare losses that actually put a smile on the driver's face.

"That was one of those puzzles we had to figure out, and it looks like we solved it on Sunday," Wilkerson said. "We have some smart people involved in this program, between my guys and the group from the Tasca team, and when we weren't running well we were ticking through the potential causes one by one. You try not to go after more than one or two solutions at a time, because you won't be able to judge what worked or what didn't, so we had to be patient and it paid off for us in the end. Unfortunately, the way we qualified meant we had to run Hight in the first round, so we lost but we felt like we won.

"Now, you hope the new chassis works with your tune-up right away and I'm confident the new Ford body will go right on the car and just be a plus, but you have to know that you might need a few laps to shake everything down. We're pretty good at being focused and patient, and we'll handle whatever the new stuff throws us, but my guess is we'll hit the ground running and we'll just be better. This early in the season, we're all still close in points anyway so this is a great time to make the changes and come back firing."

Coming out firing and doing well on the track at Gainesville would not only be just what the doctor ordered in terms of points, it would be pure medicine for the soul in terms of excitement. This legendary "major" race has history, passion, and legend on its resume', not to mention some of the largest crowds of the year. Taking home the Wally from the Gatornationals has always been a special accomplishment for any NHRA competitor, and although Wilkerson has won 13 races in his career, Gainesville is not yet on the list.

"That would be a heck of a way to jump-start the season," Wilkerson said. "New body, new car, new trophy. And the Gatornationals on top of that. What more could you want? I just want to go down there and run well, and then we'll see how it works out for us. The first thing we have to accomplish this year is winning a round, so we'll take it one step at a time."

One step at a time. That approach worked in Phoenix, to solve tune-up issues. If it works in Gainesville, the Levi, Ray & Shoup team might have a chance to have their photos taken late on Sunday afternoon.

-source: team wilkerson racing

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Tim Wilkerson , Robert Hight