Another Bristol Springboard Would Suit Wilk Just Fine
One year ago, Tim Wilkerson entered the Bristol race looking for a catalyst to boost his chances in terms of making the Countdown field. He'd been winning some rounds and was clinging to a Top 10 points position but, with the exception of his strong race-winning performance earlier in the year at Gainesville, he had yet to advance beyond the second round and the competition for a playoff spot was heating up. In the end, not only did he give himself a major boost with a runner-up finish at Thunder Valley, he began what became a three-race swing that saw Wilk and his Levi, Ray & Shoup team advance to back-to-back Winner's Circle celebrations in Norwalk and Seattle. Bristol, it turned out, was just what he needed.
One year later, the LRS star is in much the same position, although this time he is sitting just outside the playoff field instead of barely holding onto a spot within the select group. The goal this weekend, at the Ford Thunder Valley Nationals, is to utilize the Bristol springboard once again, in order to get on a roll and pick up multiple round wins in the coming weeks. With six races in the next eight weeks, the time is right for a patented Wilk surge.
"This was a big weekend for us last year, and it really got us going in a lot of ways," Wilkerson said. "The seasons have been kind of similar in that regard, because both last year and this year we've struggled to find our footing during the first part of the season. We came in here last year knowing we were closer to winning a race than people realized, and that's kind of how we feel now. Our results haven't necessarily been a good picture of where we think we are with the car. We're a little off the radar, I think.
"We've always loved running in Bristol, and we have a lot of good data, so the plan is to pick up the pace here and start stretching it out. I'd love to win the race, obviously, and the team could use the pick-me-up, but the initial goal is to just win some rounds. As much as I'd love to win the trophy, I can't say I'd be disappointed if we copied last year and just got to the final. Once you get that far, you want to win and you're let down if you don't, but when you look back on it you always think of it as a very good day, and we could use that right about now."
As part of the plan to kick his program into a higher gear, Wilkerson has taken the big step of adding a second car to his stable for the race this weekend, and the following one in Norwalk. Wilk's son, Dan Wilkerson, will pilot the second Shelby Mustang Funny Car, with primary sponsorship from Summit Racing Equipment, and the senior Wilkerson wants to utilize the extra car for an added advantage.
"The object is to gain something by having the second car out here, and to make it a win/win for everybody," Wilkerson said. "In the past, we've run Daniel a few times kind of on-the-side and that's hard to do, because there's no getting around the fact it's a bigger load on me and my crew when the second car comes out. This time, it's a fully sponsored deal and we've put together the best possible team for Daniel, so we hope the meter moves over to the side of the gauge where it's helping us more than anything else.
"To have twice the data will be a big plus. We're part of the Ford family out here, and we've worked closely with Bob Tasca and his team for going on three years now, but over the course of time we've ended up running a lot of different parts, so the give-and-take isn't as direct as it used to be. We can talk strategy, and Chris Cunningham and I do that all the time, but now we'll have Daniel's car out there running a lot of the same stuff we have. The data ought to be more directly valuable."
Racing in Thunder Valley, at an event sponsored by Ford dealers, and running with his son in a second car, all while chasing a precious spot in the Countdown playoffs. One might call this an important weekend for Wilk and his team. One would be correct, but they're all important and this is just the first of six in the next eight weeks.