Norwalk: Tim Wilkerson preview

WILK LOOKING FOR A "BRAVEHEART" BOOST IN NORWALK NORWALK, Ohio (June 22, 2009) -- Tim Wilkerson will be the first to tell you he never became a professional race car driver for the fame, fortune, or popularity the job can sometimes provide. He...

WILK LOOKING FOR A "BRAVEHEART" BOOST IN NORWALK

NORWALK, Ohio (June 22, 2009) -- Tim Wilkerson will be the first to tell you he never became a professional race car driver for the fame, fortune, or popularity the job can sometimes provide. He did it purely for the thrill, the challenge, and the camaraderie that comes along with being a full-time touring professional on the NHRA Full Throttle circuit, but those other attributes came along with the territory and Wilkerson quickly realized there was much he could do, in a positive way, with his status as a pro.

This weekend, when Wilkerson takes to the track at Summit Raceway Park in Norwalk, Ohio, for the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals, he will make sure to capitalize on his ability to bring some joy to the faces of kids and adults alike, both in general terms as it refers to the massive crowds that fill the enormous Norwalk venue, and in a more specific way when he entertains a very special group of people in his team's in-pit hospitality area. On Friday, Team Braveheart, made up of young children with heart problems, as well as their family escorts, will invade the Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang pit area for a day of fun and racing, and Wilkerson will be right there with them, smiling and enjoying his great fortune to be in such a good place.

"It's a great group, made up of some kids who should never have to struggle so hard to make it at such a young age," Wilkerson said. "You're talking about young kids with big scars on their chests, and maybe pacemakers, whose biggest challenge in life ought to be dealing with getting a good report card at school. As a dad, it tears my heart out to see kids have to struggle like that, so we're really happy to give them a few hours at the drags, hanging out next to our team with their parents and families.

"That's just going on during Friday, but I'm sure the day at the track will be a big enough deal for them that they'll go back home and remember who we are, and what we do. Maybe we'll have a few extra viewers on ESPN2, pulling for us from home. If we could put that same race car they just saw into the Winner's Circle at the end of the weekend, well that would be a pretty neat thing for them, and for our team. Maybe they'll give us a little Braveheart boost to get it done."

Wilkerson continues to run well enough to make it even more of a special weekend for his Team Braveheart guests. After qualifying in the top half of the field at the last race in Englishtown, his seventh top-half starting spot so far this year, he again advanced as far as the semifinals, this time taking out big hitters Ron Capps and Mike Neff before bowing out to eventual race winner Tony Pedregon. That semifinal result, his fourth in the last six races and fifth overall in 2009, moved him up yet another notch on the points sheet. He now holds the No. 5 spot in the Full Throttle Top 10, having risen to that point from the 12th position in just six races.

Now in more rarified air, Wilkerson knows his points spot is going to be harder to maintain, and any further movement in a northerly direction is almost certainly going to have to come via some final-round appearances. A race victory would be even better, and at this point in the season it could come close to being the final nudge he needs to firmly solidify a spot in the Countdown.

"The one good thing about stumbling out of the gate and ending up 12th by the third race is that it's easier to move up when you're near the bottom," Wilkerson said. "I mean, we got to Gainesville dead and buried, and left there in 12th, but then we started putting some rounds together and, man, you leap over some teams in a hurry when you're going two or three rounds at each race.

"Now, though, we're up there with the teams that are almost always going rounds and winning a lot of races. Of the top seven cars in the points right now, we're the only team that doesn't have a win in our column, so you're not going to keep on passing these guys in the points by going to the semifinals, even as good as that is and as hard as it is to do. At some point, we're going to need to win a race or two here, to make sure we stay right in the middle of the pack or even move up a little more. This weekend would be a great time to do that."

Norwalk represents the 12th race of the year, and as such it is also the 12th event in the 18-race regular season. Once the Levi, Ray & Shoup team leaves northern Ohio, there will be only six races left to determine the 10-car Countdown field and, with that sort of pressure looming, Wilkerson seems to be hitting his stride at just the right time.

"I've said it all year that we tried the approach of leading the points most of last season, but that didn't turn out the way we had hoped, so we're coming at it from a different angle this time," he said, with a laugh. "The bottom line is, you can't win the championship if you're not in the Countdown, so just being in the thing is the first big challenge because we have way more than ten good teams out here. After that, even though they reset the points, they do stagger them based on what slot you end the regular season in, so right there you're putting yourself in a pretty big hole if you go into the thing, say, ninth or tenth. If you go into the Countdown tenth, you're starting it six rounds behind the top guy, with only six races to go.

"So, the higher you can be the better, even if it looks like they've smashed us all back together again after the reset. We have some first-hand experience that it can all come down to a round or two on the last day, so maybe the difference between being fifth or sixth, at the reset, or even sixth or seventh, could be what earns you or costs you the trophy. We just need to stay in this, keep winning rounds, and put a race win on the board. If we do that, I think we'll be okay and we'll be right in it. Then, if we can really peak at the right time, and get hot when we have to, we'll have a shot."

And as the Norwalk race, the regular season, and the Countdown unfold, a group called Team Braveheart will almost certainly be following along. A racer could ask for no better fan club.

-credit: twr

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