WILK AIMS TO BE A "STARR" IN LAS VEGAS LAS VEGAS (October 26, 2009) -- Drop the needle in the groove, crank up The Beatles, and cue Ringo Starr, if you dare. Tim Wilkerson, owner/driver of the Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang Funny Car is ...
WILK AIMS TO BE A "STARR" IN LAS VEGAS
LAS VEGAS (October 26, 2009) -- Drop the needle in the groove, crank up The Beatles, and cue Ringo Starr, if you dare. Tim Wilkerson, owner/driver of the Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang Funny Car is still in the running for the 2009 Full Throttle championship, sitting in 5th place, but he's 82 points out of the lead and knows he'll need a little help from his friends in order to move up. More precisely, he probably won't get by without a lot of help from his friends.
It's possible for Wilkerson to win every round at the season's final two races, this weekend in Las Vegas and two weeks later in Pomona, yet still not overtake Robert Hight in the top spot unless some other racers step up and deliver some upsets. That situation comes courtesy of the unbending beauty, and sometimes curse, of the eliminations ladder, where each racer can only control his or her own destiny one pre-arranged round at a time. Therefore, theoretically, if Wilk were to run the table but find himself facing Hight in both final rounds, he'd still end up 40-some points out of the lead, depending on qualifying and bonus points. Considering Hight and his John Force Racing teammates seem to earn those bonus points by the bucket-full, the task may be more daunting than it already looks.
"There are four really great teams ahead of us, and more than that many behind us, so as far as I'm concerned we're just keeping the fifth spot warm right now," Wilkerson said. "We plan to move up, and I know we're good enough to do that, but we can't control who we run. It's just going to be a matter of how the ladders line up and then we'll see who can beat who, because we can't beat all four of the teams in front of us in one day without a couple of them earning almost as many points as us.
"The good thing about this sport is the professionalism we all have, so it doesn't matter if we're facing an underdog team or if Robert Hight or Ashley Force Hood are facing someone outside the Countdown. Nobody benches their starters or brings the rookies up for a tryout at the end of the year in drag racing. Nobody quits and starts playing for next year. We all play every lap like it's the biggest one of the season, so we can all count on everyone else to do their best out there. It still would be great to control our own destiny a little bit, but I don't suspect that's going to happen."
One of the key reasons that's not likely to happen is the consistent qualifying efforts put forth by all of the contending teams. All expect to land in the top half, and most usually do. And, when that's the case, none of them can face each other in the opening round. In addition, the new bonus points, which are awarded for posting one of the three best times in each qualifying session, seem to favor those who are already earning the most points anyway. Fast cars are fast cars.
"Yeah, I guess if there's one problem with the bonus points it's that the rich tend to get richer, if you know what I mean," Wilkerson said. "There are definitely some teams out here that kind of consistently run the best in qualifying, and every now and then we move into that group, but if teams like Hight's or Ashley's get on a roll on Friday and Saturday, they can gobble up a lot of those points and all of a sudden you're another round behind them.
"We've shown we can do that too, though, so we'll play the hand we're dealt and we'll try to step up our qualifying numbers a little bit, to see if we can keep earning a few. We managed to get four points in Richmond, so we're able to do it, but our problem is that it's not really our normal approach to come out firing from the hip. We like to get a handle on the track first and then pick our spots when we want to take a shot at a big home-run lap, so we'd be getting outside of our game plan to go out there and try to run low e.t. every session. This is no time of year to get outside of your game plan."
Wilkerson's overall game plan, in 2009, has been successful. He has averaged a No. 7 qualifying spot and has a 27-19 record on the strength of two race victories and a runner-up finish at the tour's most recent stop, in Richmond. So far, since the start of the Countdown, he's gone 5-4 and has moved up from the 6th spot where he started the playoffs, despite a one-and-done outing at the first race of the post-season, in Charlotte. Additionally, his Richmond effort was one of his best outings of the year, as he earned those four bonus points, qualified in the No. 4 position, and then advanced to the finals by running low e.t. of each round (until the last one). It was a very strong weekend, and it gave every member of the LRS team the confidence that comes when a group peaks at a critical time.
"It was a very good weekend, and we have a great handle on the car right now, but we're going to need some help," Wilkerson said. "All we can do is try to run as fast as we can and try to beat everyone who lines up next to us. If that's enough, it's enough. Either way, we're going to throw everything we have at the last two races, just like we always do, and at the end of the day we'll be proud of our effort."
One thing is certain. If Wilkerson does get by with a little help from his friends, he's not going to ask anyone to lend him an ear while he sings them a song. The legacies of Ringo Starr, The Beatles, and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band are all quite safe.