Heartland Park Topeka
STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS, FOR WILK
Tim Wilkerson consistently mentions how every lap, whether successful or unsuccessful, is an opportunity to widen one's knowledge. He therefore was far more philosophical, as opposed to frustrated or angry, when his Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang smoked the tires and went down to defeat in round one, here at Heartland Park in Topeka.
Facing Matt Hagan, who missed out on Friday night's "home run session" with mechanical problems, Wilk may have had the upper hand in terms of qualifying spots, but Hagan's strong win was the second-quickest run of the round and this could not be classified as any sort of upset. Wilk smoked the tires early, Hagan tore down the track to a strong 4.112, and the LRS team saw it's weekend come to a close in far too much of a hurry.
"I know it's hard for people to see a tire-smoker and a loss in the opening round and think of that as a team making progress, but we are doing that and we're inching up on knowing how to run this car a little better," Wilkerson said. "Right now, we're in a spot we're not used to being in, because we're making a ton of power and we're having a hard time applying it to the track when the sun is out. It's like the world is backwards, because we've always been a team that likes the hot tracks but we weren't able to run all that strong when it was cool out.
"Now, we've got horsepower to spare, too much for a day like this, and we just need to keep pecking away at how to apply it to the race track without doing what we did this morning. We will get there, and when we do we'll be tough to beat. Hey, we made three good runs out of five laps this weekend, and just a few races ago we were getting lucky to make one out of five. That's progress."
Wilk's three good runs came in succession, with the best saved for Friday night's session under the lights. His 4.081 was his quickest run of the season, his first run in 2011 in the 4.0 range, and it qualified him 6th in one of the tightest and most competitive fields of the year. A prime example was how his 4.081 landed sixth, while Hagan landed 11th with a 4.102. It's all incremental process, if not a bit maddeningly slow.
"Believe me, I'd like to have it all just perfect tomorrow, but we really are having to find our way into the tune-up from a whole different direction, because just relying on how we used to run was not the right approach," Wilkerson said. "You have to keep adapting and improving in this sport, or you'll get left behind. We didn't want to get left behind, so we're changing things and learning how to do it this way. It's a process, and we're getting there, but there are some steps in the deal that we wish weren't so hard to take.
"We ran really good here for two days, but we weren't able to do what we wanted in round one and that's disappointing, for us and for our sponsors. The thing is, though, we have to stick with the process and keep getting smarter. We may be a lot of things, but I guarantee you we're not knuckleheads. We'll get it."
The NHRA Full Throttle tour will take Memorial Day weekend off, and then it's on to historic Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J, on June 3-5. The Englishtown race kicks off a stretch of seven races in 10 weeks.