WILK SEEKS TO REACH THE SUMMIT AS "CRUNCH TIME" ARRIVES NORWALK, Ohio (June 23, 2010) -- It's the two-minute drill in football, the bottom of the 9th on the diamond, the final possession on the hoops court, overtime in hockey, and with a timely...
WILK SEEKS TO REACH THE SUMMIT AS "CRUNCH TIME" ARRIVES
NORWALK, Ohio (June 23, 2010) -- It's the two-minute drill in football, the bottom of the 9th on the diamond, the final possession on the hoops court, overtime in hockey, and with a timely and appropriate nod to Team USA in South Africa, it's added time after the 90-minute mark in soccer. It's known as "crunch time" when not just games but entire seasons can be won or lost. In the world of NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing, "crunch time" is upon us, with only five races left to decide which ten Funny Car drivers will battle for the biggest prize in the Countdown to the Championship, and Levi, Ray & Shoup driver Tim Wilkerson might just be hitting his stride when he needs to the most.
After a thrilling win in Gainesville, back in March, Wilk then settled into a functional but not too thrilling string of five consecutive second-round losses, which allowed him to stay in the Full Throttle Top 10 but also prevented him from moving out of the bottom third. Then, the tension began to mount as those behind him in the points chase began to get hot while Wilk and the LRS team went 0-1 at Topeka, 1-1 in Chicago, and then 0-1 again in Englishtown. 11 races into the season, he found himself precariously perched in the No. 9 spot with a 10-10 record, before cutting loose in Bristol this past weekend with a runner-up finish that may not have moved him out of 9th, but certainly gave him a big boost in the right direction. It's "crunch time" for everyone, and Wilkerson looks to be one of those players who wants the ball.
"We kind of did this last year, although as I remember it we were a little more consistently able to get past the second round, until we hit Norwalk and Denver and left both of those races with nothing," Wilkerson said. "Now, we're headed back to Norwalk again, coming off the runner-up deal in Bristol, and the only goal is to keep getting round wins. We can outrun them, we can get lucky, maybe they won't show up, I don't really care, but we have to beat some people and keep this going, and we have to do better than we did in Norwalk a year ago.
"Last year, things were little a little scary after Denver, but we got hot and won Seattle and Sonoma. This year, I wouldn't mind winning some more races because that's the ultimate goal every week, but I'd also be happy winning some rounds and locking up our place in the playoffs. You can't win races if you can't win the first round, so that's always the only goal we have. Winning that first one is a pretty big deal."
This weekend's Summit Racing Equipment Nationals, held at beautiful and spacious Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in Norwalk, has added meaning for Wilk and his LRS teammates, as should be apparent when any glimpse of the Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang will include a view of at least one of the four Summit decals that are proudly displayed on Wilkerson's fuel coupe. The Ohio-based company has grown into the world's largest mail order performance parts retailer, and they have been key supporters for Team Wilkerson.
"The people at Summit are great, and they've been great to us as a very valuable sponsor," Wilkerson said. "I think it's pretty obvious that we run our team a certain way, with a certain mentality, and that approach is perfect for Dick Levi and Levi, Ray & Shoup. Summit fits the bill, too, and we're proud to have them on our car and as part of our program. There would be nothing better than to meet up with Jim Greenleaf and some other Summit folks at the end of the day on Sunday, with a trophy in our hands, but like I said, our main goal is to run well and win some rounds. If we get to celebrate with Summit, at their race and their track, all the better."
To gain that trophy Wilkerson probably only needs to continue the performance pace he displayed in Bristol, where a Wally might only have been denied due to a faulty safety switch in the final round. That glitch shut his car off and deployed the parachutes just past the 60-foot timer, allowing John Force to race for the win in an uncontested lap. The world will never know if Wilkerson had the tune-up to beat Force's 4.317, but considering Wilk's slowest time to that point on Sunday had been an identical 4.317 in the semifinals, it would have been fun to find out.
"I think we had enough to make it close, and probably a 50/50 chance of winning, but it wasn't meant to be," Wilkerson said. "The best thing about the day was that we won three rounds, we found a few things that really helped our performance, and we got back on track a little bit. For a few races there, we were hoping to win a round or two, but winning seemed a long way off. It doesn't seem like that far of a reach right now, and this would be a great time to get on a roll."
It's called crunch time.