Tim Wilkerson Defeated Paul Lee in round one; Lost to Jack Beckman in round two Considering Tim Wilkerson was unable to make a full clean lap through two days of qualifying at the AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals, being able to walk away from...
Tim Wilkerson Defeated Paul Lee in round one; Lost to Jack Beckman in round two
Considering Tim Wilkerson was unable to make a full clean lap through two days of qualifying at the AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals, being able to walk away from the weekend with a round win had to be considered a good thing, although taking a lap on the chin is never fun. Wilk pecked away at the tune-up through the three qualifying sessions that were completed between the rain drops, getting incrementally further down the track with each try, and then chose a fine time to put his best lap of the weekend on the board when he defeated Paul Lee in round one. Unfortunately, a faulty air system slowed the Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang in round two, and the masses of Wilk's Warriors, who gathered in huge numbers at their "home race," had no one left to cheer for. For the fourth consecutive race, Wilk was done in round two.
With upwards of 1,200 LRS employees and guests in attendance throughout the stormy weekend, including LRS President Dick Levi and the mayor of Springfield, Ill., Tim Davlin, Wilk had the added motivation as well as some incremental pressure with which to deal, although his determined focus kept him from losing track of his race car. Failing to negotiate the full 1,000 feet on Friday afternoon was no cause for much alarm, since only three teams managed an A-to-B lap in that session. Making to about the 400-foot mark during Saturday's first run was troubling, and that aborted lap caused Wilk to slip down the qualifying list a bit. Making it to near the 660-timer on the final run showed more of that steady progress, but it did nothing to keep the LRS driver from falling to the 11th spot on the ladder. The goal going into Sunday was to simply keep improving.
"It's always a big weekend for us when we race here, with all the LRS folks and about a million friends from home all coming to the track, but I think I do a pretty good job of filing all that away," Wilkerson said. "I know for a fact we don't tune the race car any differently just because we have a thousand people here to watch us, but I wish we had been able to get our car down the track during qualifying. That would've made it better for everyone, ourselves included.
"We just missed on the first one, like a lot of people did, and then we kept thinking we had it fixed so that it would go right down there the next time, but we kept finding the edge, and stepping over it, a little further down-track each time. I figured if we kept going further each time, eventually we'd make it to the end on one, and that was the goal in round one. We just wanted to get to the other end and force them to outrun us."
Wilkerson never trailed in the first-round matchup, getting away from the line with nearly a 4-hundredths advantage and then pulling away for the win over Lee, posting a 4.236-second clocking while Lee slowed to a tire-spinning 4.757 in the right lane. It was the first time Wilkerson and Lee have ever faced each other in eliminations, and the round win moved Wilk to 8-5 on the year. The win also allowed Wilkerson to keep pace in the points, as the three drivers right behind him (Robert Hight, Bob Tasca, and Del Worsham) all also advanced. Tony Pedregon and Matt Hagan were the only Top 10 drivers to lose in the opening round.
Moving on to round two, Wilkerson squared off with Jack Beckman, who had ousted the aforementioned Tony Pedregon in the opener by posting a 4.254 in the left lane. With his 4.236 already in the bank, Wilkerson grabbed lane choice for round two.
"It's great to earn lane choice, but our guys were pretty convinced things were mostly equal out there," Wilkerson said. "Even when the two lanes are the same, it's still a good thing to have choice in case anything weird happens ahead of you. We ran well in the left in round one, so we went back over there and the left seemed to be where most of the teams were going if they had the chance.
"We focused on repeating, and maybe stepping up a little bit, and like always we just went up there to race the lane, not the other guy. We felt like we could give them a good fight and force them beat us fair and square if we just went from end to end without any issues. Unfortunately, we had issues."
Those issues did not become apparent until after the lap, when Wilkerson was poring over computer data in the quest to discover why his LRS Ford seemed to throw out an anchor just past half-track, slowing dramatically to a 4.304 while Beckman was clocking in at 4.243. Looking at his computer screen with car chief Jeff Jacobs, Wilkerson was flummoxed by what the data was showing him.
"During the run, it felt like it just tipped over and stopped accelerating out there, so my brain was already trying to figure out what had happened before we got back to the pit," Wilkerson said. "We looked at the data and it looked like it does when the air system quits and everything just stops working. It's like it got out there and was doing okay, and then the clutch stopped and the car just went flat.
"Just as we were talking about that, our clutch guy Brandon (Lavely) came into the room and said the air bottle was completely dead when the car came back. Bingo. We obviously had a leak in the system somewhere, and when it ran out of air it just fell down and did nothing out there. Game over."
Of all the volatile, explosive, and expensive parts or systems on a Funny Car, it was the most benign and cost-free ingredient that was lacking.
All Tim Wilkerson needed was a few more seconds of air, and the outcome might have been altered.