D. WILK BOWS OUT IN ROUND ONE, GETTING FEET "OFFICIALLY WET" As far as Daniel Wilkerson, his team, and his father were concerned, he won the battle here in Topeka on Saturday, running a big 4.215 to leap into the No. 8 spot in the field. On ...
D. WILK BOWS OUT IN ROUND ONE, GETTING FEET "OFFICIALLY WET"
As far as Daniel Wilkerson, his team, and his father were concerned, he won the battle here in Topeka on Saturday, running a big 4.215 to leap into the No. 8 spot in the field. On Sunday, during eliminations, a whole different set of parameters were in play, and the team collectively (and perhaps instinctively) knew a different approach was the one they planned to take. Wilkerson did his burnout, with Bob Tasca in the other lane, staged the car, and then allowed Tasca to leave at the flash of amber before hitting his own throttle. The reason? To stay out of potential trouble, out of the way of the championship hunt, and out of any drama.
"We came here to learn and grow, or what my dad keeps calling it, as 'an exercise' for all of us, and we did a lot of that over the weekend," the young driver said. "On Sunday, we're out there racing guys who are in the championship and they're playing at the highest level. What we didn't want to do was have anything go wrong or get in anyone's way, and my dad was already a little worried about the fuel system on the car, and that something could go wrong out there. So, we decided to use it as a test lap and only go about 400 feet because, as he said, we didn't come here to blow it up or catch me on fire. Then, we figured if we were only making a partial lap, it would be better to have the whole race in front of me, because if the car put a hole out or did something weird, I didn't want to be in the way or cause any trouble. So, I let him go. And as it turned out, the car did put a hole out, two actually, making a really hard move to the center line and I had to muscle it back pretty hard.
"For me, the key thing for this weekend was to learn more about running these cars in competition. I've been driving for a while, and even though the fuel car is way faster than the alcohol car I still feel pretty comfortable in terms of how to get it down the track, but I've never been this involved in putting a team together, making sure we got to the starting line okay each time, and keeping us organized. I learned a ton, in that regard, this weekend. From here on out, whenever we get back out here, we'll have this experience behind us and we'll go from there. One step at a time, you know."
Wilkerson put himself in position to race by startling the class and the big Heartland Park crowd on Saturday, during the weekend's third qualifying session. When most teams were smoking the tires or slowing down dramatically in the sizzling Midwestern heat, he stepped up to his strong 4.215-second pass, which was the second-quickest run of the session. Originally figuring he'd occupy one of the final four slots on the ladder, since he just missed the top 12 on Friday, the young driver instead jumped all the way into the top half at his pro debut.
"That was our win, right there," he said. "We put the car together, made a great lap in the heat of the day, and I think we showed some people we can do this. Taking those single steps, though, we weren't going to let that success make us crazy and think we were going to come out here today and start slaying giants. We're not totally dialed in on this fuel system, so we just decided to soften it up, make sure we didn't hurt anything, myself most definitely included, and get a lap under our belts.
"And you know, my dad and I both want to thank Dick Levi and everyone at Levi, Ray & Shoup. We wouldn't have raced an LRS car here without talking to Dick about it first, and we wanted to make sure he was okay with what we were doing and okay with the whole deal. This was our way of giving them a little more bang for the buck and another 'thank you' for all they've done for us. I can't wait to do this again."
As for the rest of the Funny Car class, after watching young Mr. Wilkerson qualify 8th in his first NHRA professional appearance, they might be happy for him to wait as long as possible.