Topeka: Tim Wilkerson preview

WILKERSON PRIMED TO GO 4,000 FEET IN THE HEARTLAND TOPEKA, Kan. (May 26, 2009) -- 4,000 feet. It's not so far, really, when compared to other motorsports adventures, including races like the Indianapolis 500 where 33 competitors vie to see...

WILKERSON PRIMED TO GO 4,000 FEET IN THE HEARTLAND

TOPEKA, Kan. (May 26, 2009) -- 4,000 feet. It's not so far, really, when compared to other motorsports adventures, including races like the Indianapolis 500 where 33 competitors vie to see who can best complete a grand total of 2,640,000 feet of racing on the fabled Brickyard oval. Or the Coca Cola 600 in Charlotte, where a field full of NASCAR drivers aim for a finish line 3,168,000 feet away. This weekend, at Heartland Park Topeka during the O'Reilly Summer Nationals, Tim Wilkerson and his Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang Funny Car team hope to outrun the competition for all of 4,000 feet on Sunday and he figures that entire endeavor will take less than 17 seconds, or three long days depending on how you look at it.

Drag racing's unique format, where the vast majority of each team's work is done off the track to prepare for short individual bursts of nearly cataclysmic power, is a great part of its allure to millions of NHRA fans around the world. Bite-sized bits of racing, taking place nearly constantly throughout a multi-day festival of speed and thunder, are interspersed with up-close views of mechanical wizardry in the pits, where the pro crews can accomplish in mere minutes what normal mechanics need days to finish. It's hard to imagine any crew, in any other form of racing, working so hard for so much, and for so little time on the track. Wilkerson wouldn't have it any other way, and he simply aims to close the loop on a successful Sunday this week, to further solidify the strong season he is building.

"It must seem crazy to those circle-track guys, but this is what we're all about and it's always been this way," Wilkerson said. "We're about acceleration, and about making all the power you can make and still apply it to the track. We don't have to worry about making a motor last three or four hours; it only has to last a bit over four seconds. Then, we crunch the numbers and do the work, stripping it down and rebuilding it, before we haul it back up there to try it again. If we make all four qualifying runs and go to the final on Sunday, you're talking about grand total of only 8,000 feet of racing in about 30 to 35 seconds. But it takes three long days, maybe 36 hours of work, to make that happen.

"I think the teamwork aspect of it is part of what people like, too. We work long hours, doing some knuckle-busting stuff that you really have to be in shape for, just to get the car on the track so we drivers can have a few seconds of fun. Let me tell you, I don't think the circle-track guys have any idea how exhausting it can be to make eight laps in three days out here. If you win one of these races, you're worn out and your crew is too. We haven't been able to get past the semifinals yet this year, but we're running strong and we feel like we're about on the verge of having one of those four-lap Sundays. Maybe it'll be this weekend in Topeka, and if so it will feel good to feel that tired."

Wilkerson's surge in performance, and his parallel move up the points sheet, has been mostly under the radar, considering it hasn't included a single trip to the final round, much less a race win. Since leaving Las Vegas in 12th place, after his only first-round loss of the year, Wilkerson has gone semifinal, quarterfinal, semifinal in his past three events, and by racking up a 5-3 record across that span he has vaulted up into the 7th spot on the points list. Correspondingly, his qualifying efforts have illustrated how well-earned those round wins have been, as he's run strong enough to land 6th, 6th, and 2nd on the ladder in those same three races. It clearly does appear that Wilk and his LRS warriors are about ready to appear, front and center, on radar screens throughout the sport.

"We're running strong enough to win, but the way it's been going lately it seems like there are usually a couple of cars at each race that are just slightly ahead of everybody," Wilkerson said. "Whether it's Del Worsham, or Ashley Force, or Ron Caps, or someone else, we seem to be faster than a big hunk of the field, but not quite up at that level. You can still win a race like that, because when it's your day it's your day, but to really go out there and dominate we're going to have to keep working on that little extra. Otherwise, when we run into Capps or Worsham, or whoever has the hot car, we're going to have our hands full every time.

"We've been sneaking up on it, and I'm happy the way it's going so far. I want to win as bad as my guys do, and I'm sure Dick Levi and all the people at LRS feel the same way, but we've tried to always come at this with a plan, rather than just take stabs at it and hope for the best. The plan is working, and the car is running better and better, so hopefully we'll just keep inching our way up and we'll have enough for them."

As if his own battle for success on the track isn't enough to keep Wilkerson continually consumed by hard work, this weekend will include another highlight for him to keep an eye on, as his son Daniel makes his NHRA professional debut in a second LRS Funny Car. The one-time NHRA Division 3 Top Alcohol Funny Car champion will take to the track, at a national event, for the first time in Topeka.

"He's pretty excited about it, and so is the whole family, but we're not going to let his debut make us crazy," Wilkerson said. "We have a plan for Daniel and his team, too, and that's to ease into this and keep a tight lid on it. We'll be over there to help them out, but our main focus is on this LRS Shelby Mustang, and winning this race. If we can do our jobs, and Daniel can do his, we can have a fun weekend here. We just need to stay focused, probably more than ever with so much stuff going on."

4,000 feet on Sunday. No more than 8,000 throughout the weekend. It's a taller task than racers in other types of motorsports can fathom, but it's Tim Wilkerson's focus at every race.

-credit: twr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tim Wilkerson , Ashley Force