Old Bridge Township Raceway Park
WILK LOOKS FOR A TURNAROUND IN NEW JERSEY
ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. -- Any visitor to New Jersey has likely experienced the unique, if not confusing, traffic management design known as a "jug handle" turn, where direct left turns are prohibited on major thoroughfares and all turns are made to the right. To the uninitiated, the jug handle system can be vexing and the simple act of turning around can be a challenge.
For Tim Wilkerson, driver of the Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang Funny Car, the challenge won't be making a left off of Route 18, but there will be a turnaround involved as he looks to get back on the winning track with his LRS Ford. While Wilk's qualifying efforts have been strong at four of the last five races, a pair of first-round losses in Atlanta and Topeka have him aiming for better Sunday results, and he's focused on this weekend's NHRA SuperNationals in Englishtown, N.J. with laser-like intensity.
"It can be frustrating to have to go through the painful part of making your car faster, because there are learning curves and times when it seems like it's not going to happen, but we're doing this for the long run," Wilkerson said. "The problem with sticking with the same old thing is that the rest of the class isn't sitting still and they keep getting faster, so pretty soon you'll just get left behind. We figure we have to make some changes to stay with them all, or we'll end up running a 2008 tune-up in 2011, and that probably won't work.
"At the last few races, other than maybe Atlanta, the car started to throw us a bone or two, and we could see it coming around for us. But, we're obviously not all the way there yet because we couldn't translate a strong qualifying effort into a round win on Sunday in Topeka. That's a consistency thing, and that's what we're working on. It's tough to win anything on Sunday if you're not consistent, and we just have to keep working at it to get there."
One adaptation Wilkerson is having to make puts him in strange territory. Long known as a tuner who could get his car down a hot track, while maybe not being able to run the huge numbers others can post on a cool surface, Wilk has lately been running much better when conditions are stout, but simultaneously has struggled not to spin the tires when the racing surface heats up. With his LRS Ford making more power than ever, it's been a challenge to transfer that energy to the track when the grip isn't supreme.
"The car is making power like crazy right now, to the point where we're trying to maybe slow it down a little just to get a handle on it," Wilkerson said. "In the past, we sacrificed a little when the conditions were great because we knew we could handle a hot track on Sunday, and that worked out well for us on a lot of hot race days. Now we have this bucking bronco that just wants to run like mad, and we're having to really work hard at keeping it from going over-center on us.
"The best part of the whole deal is that we think we're getting there, run by run, and once we finally get comfortable with the way the car is running we should be able to run with the best of them, no matter what the conditions are like. If we can get to where we can still qualify well, like we have been on the cool late runs, but then also still be able to get from A to B on a hot track on Sunday afternoon, we'll ruin some people's weekends. We just have to get there."
While the month of May is just now coming to a close, and it seems as if the season is still young the stark truth is that Englishtown marks the midway point in the Full Throttle regular season, so time is of the essence for those looking to nail down a spot in the Countdown. With Wilk currently sitting 11th in the standings, it's about time to start counting points and rounds in earnest.
"It's hard to believe we're already going into the eighth race of the year and then, after Englishtown, there's only eight more before the Countdown starts," Wilkerson said. "It seems like we were in Pomona yesterday, but here we are and it's time to start picking up the pace and run like we know we can run. I don't wish anything bad on anybody, and I have a lot of respect for all the drivers and teams in the class, but my only goal is to make sure one of the teams that's in the Top 10, right now, won't be there in a couple of months. If we want in, we're going to have to knock somebody out."
The challenges are many, for Wilk and his LRS team. He needs to gain more consistency with a very fast car, he needs to find a way to break back into the win column on Sunday, he's looking up at the Countdown standings from outside the playoff group, and he's still not sure how to get to that convenience store on the far side of Route 18 without being able to make a left turn.