SEMIFINAL FINISH PROPELS WILK TO 4th PLACE FINISH It was not the sort of finish Tim Wilkerson was looking for, when he began his day on a stunningly beautiful Sunday in Pomona, but in the big picture it was yet another success, and yet another...
SEMIFINAL FINISH PROPELS WILK TO 4th PLACE FINISH
It was not the sort of finish Tim Wilkerson was looking for, when he began his day on a stunningly beautiful Sunday in Pomona, but in the big picture it was yet another success, and yet another sign of the Levi, Ray & Shoup team's abilities. In the end, it was a semifinal finish after having run low e.t. in each of the first two rounds, and that result was good enough to vault Wilk from 6th place to 4th, in the final standings, on the last day of the season.
In summary, Wilk and his crew put a fine qualifying performance on the board, landing 6th in a very stout field before eliminating heavy hitters Jack Beckman and Robert Hight (the newly-crowned champion) during eliminations. It was another Force car, the one driven by Mike Neff, that proved to be the undoing of what had all the markings of a stellar Auto Club Finals for Wilk, his Warriors, and fans around the globe.
This year's Finals were held in glorious conditions, ending the season with blue skies, cool temperatures, and a purely pleasant So Cal atmosphere. With a single run on Thursday, another on Friday, and a pair of passes on Saturday, Wilk completed each session solidly in the field, showing the consistency that has long been his hallmark. His 4.154 on Thursday was 5th-best, and it then held for 10th when Wilk could not improve on Friday.
On Saturday, the LRS car streaked to a nearly-shocking 4.089 during the early run, claiming low e.t. of the session by a mile. Jack Beckman's 4.140 was as close as anyone came to matching Wilkerson's number, and the LRS car moved up to the No 4 spot. In Q4, Wilk improved a bit, to a 4.080, but slid back to 6th on the grid, creating the aforementioned match-up with Beckman in the opening round.
"We got a handle on it Saturday, even though we thought we could've done better on the last run," Wilkerson said. "What was most important, was just getting the consistency and showing some of the other big hitters that we could outrun them. You want them thinking about that when you line up next to them."
Sunday dawned with a spectacular blue sky, a cool track, and a ton of drama in the air. The Top Fuel championship hung in the balance in an almost impossible-to-script fashion, and Wilkerson's own final points position was there for the deciding. Basically, he needed to quote football owner Al Davis and "Just win, baby."
In the first round, Wilkerson chose his favorite pairing slot, going out first in the Funny Car class. Although Beckman got a slight jump at the lights, Wilkerson drove around him and just edged him in the lights by a fender. It was achingly close, and a thrilling win light for the Wilkerson faithful to see. It was also low e.t. of the round, clocking in at 4.126 to Beckman's strong 4.145, with the margin of victory ending up at exactly 1-hundredth of a second.
The win, all by itself, moved Wilk from 6th place to 4th in the standings, as he leapfrogged Beckman while Tony Pedregon was being ousted by Matt Hagan. To move up any additional slots, Wilk needed Ron Capps and Ashley Force Hood to lose, but both took win lights in the opening round.
Moving on to the second stanza, Wilk had the honor of taking on the new champ, as Robert Hight lined up in the less-favored right lane. This time, Wilk was away first by nearly 2-hundredths, and he never trailed in the drag race. At the stripe, his 4.116 easily outdistanced Hight's early shut-off 4.368, and it was, again, low e.t. of the round. That win moved him on to his 10th semifinal of the year.
About 300-feet of race track later, Wilk's slicks blazed with white tire smoke, Neff pulled away, and 2009 came to an end for Team Wilkerson.
In all, two race victories, one runner-up, and seven semifinal finishes combined to create a 31-21 record and a 4th place finish.
"Of course you want to win the championship, and then you want to finish as high as you can in the points if you don't do that," Wilkerson said. "We wanted to finish in 2nd again, but the only way to do that was for Capps to beat Ashley in the other semi, and for us to then beat Ron in the final. It didn't work out that way, but we had a great weekend, and we really had a great year.
"I think people know how proud I am of everyone on this team, and how thankful we all are for the incredible support we get from all over the place, starting with Dick Levi and LRS of course, but extending all the way down the line to the little kids asking for autographs and the Wilk Warriors following us every step of the way. I know this for a fact: There are lot of teams out here who would trade their year for our year in a heartbeat, and there are lot of teams that wish they had fans like ours. We are very lucky, and we'll be proud to put that number 4 on the car in 2010."
Today is November 15, 2009. Next season will commence, right here in Pomona, on February 11, 2010. "Wait 'til next year" may be the rallying cry of those who finished behind the ultimate champions, but it reflects the excitement and confidence the Levi, Ray & Shoup team feel, looking forward.
Many thanks to all of our loyal supporters, and we'll see you all again soon, right back here in Pomona.