Tim Wilkerson Lost to John Force in round one; for first time in '09, Wilkerson out in round one Tim Wilkerson was well aware of a couple of key facts as he prepared for his first-round race with John Force. He'd need to make a full lap ...
Tim Wilkerson Lost to John Force in round one; for first time in '09, Wilkerson out in round one
Tim Wilkerson was well aware of a couple of key facts as he prepared for his first-round race with John Force. He'd need to make a full lap under power, because anyone who plans to beat Force on a lucky lap is likely to be barking up the incorrect tree. On top of that, he'd need to make an optimum pass down The Strip in Las Vegas, because Force was surely going to do the same. In the end, Wilkerson managed the first half of the challenge with ease, running a clean and straight 4.182, during which he was never in any danger of hurting parts or spinning the tires, but the "optimum" part got away by just a hair, as Force's 4.128 was just about exactly what Wilk had wanted to run, and was aiming to run, but like nitro Funny Cars are so often apt to do, the LRS Shelby Mustang simply didn't cooperate on this given day.
Wilkerson also knew that a series of oddball happenings on Saturday afternoon may have indirectly precipitated the eventual outcome. Entering the final qualifying session in the No. 5 spot, the Levi, Ray & Shoup driver understood the need to step up in the prime conditions if he wanted to hold onto his top-half ladder location, but a string of unpredictable circumstances left him unable to improve and he slid five full spots down the ladder, setting up the first-round date with Force.
"On Saturday, that last run was one of those deals where just about everything went wrong, and I mean everything," Wilkerson said. "First of all, we spun the motor over to start it but it wouldn't start. We changed starters and tried again, but by then we'd flooded the motor so it wouldn't light. We finally got it going, but by then we were way behind and had to do a real short burnout, then just stage it and go, and that probably all added up to us not running the lap we had planned to run. Plus, I had something in my headsock that was poking me in the chin like a needle, and our video camera chose that lap to malfunction, so we got no video of the run either. At the time, you laugh it off and say 'Better to get all these problems out of the way today rather than on Sunday' but the truth is we lost a top-half spot, and ended up being matched up against John in the first round.
"There's a reason he's won a million championships, and it's because they tend to rise to the moment and do their best on Sunday, so we knew we'd have to do our best too. We're not psychic, but we all kind of figured that it would take something like a 4.12 to win, so the plan was to aim for that and hope for the best. The car revved up okay, but it just didn't obey the commands, I guess, because it ran six hundredths slower than we wanted. That's why this is a tough business. If it was easy, like if you could just type in a 4.12 on the controller and it would run that, we'd all be tied for first place."
The run was clean, the run was safe, but it wasn't optimum and the result was Wilkerson's first opening-round loss of the year. Having come into Las Vegas with a pair of second-round finishes and one semi-final result, Wilk had been 3-0 in round one, but the loss to Force added the first digit to the opening-round "L" column and precluded the Levi, Ray & Shoup driver from moving into the Full Throttle top ten.
"I just hate losing in the first round, that's all there is to it," Wilkerson said. "You spend the whole week getting ready, then traveling half-way across the country, then you spend two days sweating out the whole qualifying thing, and all morning on Sunday getting the car ready and your brain wired the right way. When you lose, it just yanks the rug out from under you so fast you wonder what just happened. I guess maybe it's a little worse in some circumstances, but none of all the possible ways you can lose in the first round are good. We'll just have to come back out in Atlanta and make up for it there."
Before that happens, the LRS team and the NHRA tour will get a weekend off. Then, it's on to Atlanta to start a stretch of six races in nine weeks, and once the dust settles from that series of Full Throttle get-togethers, the 2009 points situation should be much more crystalized. Tim Wilkerson's goal, for his LRS Shelby Mustang team, is to capitalize and optimize. If he and his team do that, the points will take care of themselves.