RARE SIGHTING: WILK OUT IN ROUND ONE Under most circumstances, Tim Wilkerson would put a first-round loss out of his mind and deep in the rearview as soon as it happened, preferring to look ahead and not backwards, but this was no normal first...
RARE SIGHTING: WILK OUT IN ROUND ONE
Under most circumstances, Tim Wilkerson would put a first-round loss out of his mind and deep in the rearview as soon as it happened, preferring to look ahead and not backwards, but this was no normal first round. This time, as disappointing as the finish might be, Wilkerson was pleased and upbeat about how his Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby reacted, how it posted its best run of the weekend, and how safely it made the lap, never in any danger of spinning the tires like it had all weekend. This time, he didn't mind looking back, with a nod and a smile.
Unfortunately, the 4.322 might have been Wilkerson's low e.t. for the event, but by virtue of qualifying 16th he had to face Mike Neff, the No. 1 qualifier, in the opening stanza. Neff's 4.250 was the quickest run of the round, and Wilkerson's 4.322 was not enough to trip the win lights.
Getting to that point on Sunday was a battle, in every sense. Wilkerson suffered through his first truly difficult qualifying weekend of the year, smoking the tires on three of the four runs while limping the fourth one to a pedestrian time of 4.482 to squeak into the field 16th. He knew, laying in bed awake on Saturday night, that he had to fix his hot rod, and he had to do it Sunday.
"We were suffering from the same sorts of problems everyone was dealing with, on a tricky track under tough conditions," Wilkerson said. "Basically, though, everyone else did pretty well on Friday night, and we just went A-to-B really soft, to make sure we got down the track. We weren't the only ones smoking the tires out there, though, so we had some company.
"I laid awake half the night thinking about it, and we had a pretty good plan this morning. The car did exactly what we asked it to do, and the run was so safe we probably left three or four hundredths on the table, but when you put yourself in that No. 16 hole, you probably need the other guys to mess up and they didn't. They kicked our butts, but we feel a lot better about our race car now than we did last night. Now we move on, and we can do that smiling and eager to get back at it."
Sunday threw its own share of curves at the entire Funny Car class, as it dawned overcast and cool. Teams did their warm-ups under those conditions, and made their tuning calls based on that favorable environment. As soon as pre-race festivities were over, however, a downpour roared into Summit Motorsports Park, drenching the fans and the race track, but when that storm quickly departed, the sun came out, the temperature went up, and steam began to rise from the massive asphalt pit area. It was, in effect, a whole new day.
"It really was like a totally new day," Wilkerson said. "We left the head gaskets the same, but we brought with us new blower pulleys, and we put different tires on the car. You just had to react on the fly, because once it quit raining and the sun came out, the track was dry in a hurry. There really wasn't time to mess around much, and maybe that was good. You give crew chiefs enough time, and sometimes they'll talk themselves into all sorts of goofy stuff."
As the fourth pair, Wilkerson and Neff saw what was out there. Even with the sun on the track, most pairs were making good laps, and high 4.20s seem to be the currency of the day for purchasing win lights. Wilkerson knew he had a shot, but not a great one.
"By that point, like I said, you're kind of hoping the other guys mess up, but if they don't you want to make a good solid lap. I told myself, all night long, that we were not going to smoke the tires. We didn't and it was real nice lap, actually the quickest lap by any loser in round one, but they beat us. We're okay though, I know that. I wasn't so sure about it last night, but I know we're okay now."
Next up, after a weekend off, the "Western Swing" will be upon us, starting with the Denver race on July 10-12. The countdown to the Countdown continues, with an optimistic Tim Wilkerson still very much in the mix.