CONSISTENCY THE KEY TO UNLOCKING WILK'S SUCCESS
POMONA, Calif. (February 8, 2010) -- The word "consistency" is so often used in the sport of drag racing, usually as an indicator of success and top performance, it borders on status as an official hackneyed cliche'. The truth remains, however, that drag racers crave the elusive ability to string a series of solid laps together, and to stretch those into consecutive days of strong running. In the big picture, connecting together a series of strong races, or even months, is what allows a team to contend for the championship.
All of that holds true for Tim Wilkerson, owner/driver of the Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang Funny Car, but the popular star also sees an even bigger picture. Right now, heading into this weekend's season opener in Pomona, Wilkerson is aiming to remain consistent on a year-to-year basis, in order to capitalize on the strong second-half results he posted during the 2009 season. To help make that a reality, Wilkerson went with a "less is more" philosophy during the off-season. For him, less change will hopefully create more success.
"We knew it last year, that we'd changed an awful lot of stuff during the winter, and we talked about it a lot as we started the season and stumbled around a little bit," Wilkerson said. "It took us a while to get a handle on the new chassis and to learn what the Shelby Mustang wanted, in terms of a tune-up, but once we got that figured out, at least to a degree, we starting picking up round wins at a pretty good clip. I think we were running as well as just about anybody for the last few months of the season, and our confidence level went up right along with the win total.
"When you finish a season pretty strong, and the car is basically doing what you want it to do more times than not, you almost hate to have an off-season, but you also know you need to restock and recharge. Physically, our guys could've taken a few days off and been ready to go again, but the race car and all the parts needed some time and some work. We spent the winter putting new blocks together, working on heads, sorting a wall-full of clutch discs, and just getting everything ready for the season. What we didn't do was try to reinvent the wheel. The round ones on our LRS Ford work just fine."
A broad view of Wilk's 2009 record sheds light on only the surface numbers, which barely illustrate his increased performance as the season wore on. During the first half of the season, he accumulated a 14-11 record, with one DNQ. From that point forward, during the second half of the year, he posted a 17-10 record, with two race victories and one runner-up finish. The difference was greater than the numbers, though, as that second half also featured a short streak of enormously unlucky races, in which Wilk ran quick enough in the first round to beat any Funny Car on the planet Earth, except the one in the other lane.
"We definitely ran better than the numbers even look, I agree with that," Wilkerson said. "If we're a few inches better in Brainerd and Reading, or if we ran anybody else, we could've potentially won another race and we definitely would've had an even better record. With a little bit of racing luck, we could've had anywhere from 20 to 25 round wins in the second half, but that's all part of this game and it's all history now.
"The point of all that is we know we don't have to go out and prove anything to ourselves or anyone else right now. We want to hit the ground running and get right back into the groove we were in as we finished last year. As the season goes on there are going to be some ups and downs, that's just unavoidable, so we want to get off to a strong start and build from there. It makes the little slumps a bit easier to take if you've already got some rounds in the bank. That's the goal, and being consistent will go a long way toward helping us reach it."
Keeping his focus on this week's 50th Anniversary Kragen O'Reilly Winternationals, Wilkerson knows the immediate comparison will be to last year's unfortunate DNQ, but his focus is simply on running well. In 2009, persistent rain shortened qualifying to only one session, and when a balky race car refused to complete the only lap it ran, Wilkerson joined Top Fuel star Larry Dixon as the answer to the question "Which two championship contenders started the '09 season on the sidelines by not qualifying in Pomona?"
"There's no good time to DNQ, but Larry's team and our team both knew we had a whole season ahead of us, and plenty of time to get straightened out," Wilkerson said. "On top of that, we both knew there were some extenuating circumstances with the weather, and you just have to brush that off and move on. Our only focus, right now, is that first qualifying lap on Thursday. After that, we'll take them on one lap at a time. In the end, we'll see how we did."
One hint as to gauging how Wilkerson's weekend and early season are going will be to count the number of times the word "consistency" is used in descriptions of his performance. The more consistency, the better the odds the Levi, Ray & Shoup star will be battling for trophies, not just qualifying spots and round wins.