New Car, Different Wilkerson at Motor City Nationals May 23-25 Daniel Wilkerson will drive the Nitro Funny Car his father has put on top of the NHRA Nitro Funny Car points chase (Norwalk, Ohio; May 13, 3008) -- Daniel Wilkerson knows the...
New Car, Different Wilkerson at Motor City Nationals May 23-25
Daniel Wilkerson will drive the Nitro Funny Car his father has put on top of the NHRA Nitro Funny Car points chase
(Norwalk, Ohio; May 13, 3008) -- Daniel Wilkerson knows the path he wants to take. The 20-year-old college student from Springfield, Ill. will embark on that path May 23-25 when he makes his Nitro Funny Car debut at the IHRA Motor City Nationals at Milan Dragway.
"If you would have asked me, even when I was four years old, what I wanted to do when I got older I would have told you I wanted to be like my dad," he said. "I've always wanted to be like him, to drive a Nitro car."
As far as Nitro-driving role models are concerned, Daniel could not find a better one than his father, current NHRA points leader Tim Wilkerson. The elder Wilkerson has won twice on the NHRA tour this season and has turned plenty of heads as an independent driver competing with the multi-car teams that have dominated NHRA competition over the last few years.
At Milan Dragway, however, Tim Wilkerson's role will be completely different. Though the car will be the same one that has visited the NHRA Winner's Circle twice this season, Tim will be spinning the wrenches and making the clutch calls. His son, the defending NHRA Division 3 Alcohol Funny Car champ, will be in the driver's seat.
"I hope I'm not that freaked out about it. He's done okay in the alcohol car over the years so I'm not really concerned about it... he has a good head on his shoulders and knows what he's doing," Tim said. "His first licensing pass he went a little too far for my liking before he pulled the chutes, but the car is a lot faster than what he was used to and I think he was more concerned with keeping it in the center of the track. He'll do fine."
It will be the culmination of a dream for the younger Wilkerson. He started his racing career in the junior dragster ranks when he was 11 years old. From that point on, every step in his racing career has led to where he will be in Milan...making his first Nitro passes in competition.
His father knew all along Daniel wanted to end up in the Nitro ranks. And he's very confident in his son's abilities.
"He drove a junior dragster for four years, from when he was 11 to 15, so he understood how to stage the car and what the lights are all about," Tim said. "When he turned 16 we bought a little fuel altered and took it to St. Louis. On his fifth pass he went 9-flat at 160 so it worked out well. He drove that car for two years, bracket racing, then we bought him the Alcohol car. He made about 15 laps on it the first year, then last year he made about 50 laps and won the Division 3 championship.
"He's wanted to drive the Nitro Funny Car forever. If you're a drag racer and don't want to get into a Nitro car I think there's something wrong with you. Nitro cars go fast and isn't that what drag racing's all about?"
Daniel earned his Nitro Funny Car license last year in Joliet, but has not put that license to use yet. When he made his initial licensing pass the starting line was a very busy place.
"I think every NHRA driver and Crew Chief were there on the starting line," Tim said. "It was pretty funny and I think he handled it well."
Daniel handled it well because he had no idea it was happening.
"Fortunately I didn't realize they were all back there," he said. "When I heard about it later it really meant a lot to me because I've grown up around those guys. They're all like family to me. Yeah, that really meant so much to me."
Now the father-son duo has plenty to talk about as Daniel prepares for his debut.
"I called him after Atlanta because the front end of the car was lifting at about the 500-foot mark. I told him the car was a handful to drive recently," Tim said. "He just chuckled and said "Dad, you tune it and I'll drive it.'"
Though Daniel's tongue-in-cheek response was a joke, there was a kernel of truth behind it.
"Driving the Alcohol car I think I might have gotten a little big-headed," Daniel said with a grin. "I was joking around a little bit, but the more I thought about it I meant it. I'm ready to go fast."
And now that his time as a Nitro Funny Car driver is upon us, the young Wilkerson might have different plans than his father.
"We want to test a little bit, but that might not work that well because he's so much lighter than me," Tim said. "The thing is, while we want to test Daniel wants to win."
"I'm pushing this thing just like I've pushed everything else, even when I raced juniors," Daniel responded. "If I can keep it in the middle I'll drive it to the end and we'll see what it can do. If I get out of the groove I'm not going to do anything stupid. But I'm confident in my abilities and think we can do well at this race. We'll see what happens."
And he knows, regardless of how things shake out in Milan, he is on the path he wants to travel. It will be the first step on what both Wilkersons hope is a very long journey.
"My dad has been unbelievable this year. I've always said he's the smartest guy I know and that is really coming out this year. He's been so close over the years but had a bit of bad luck here and there. This year he's showing how smart he actually is. My dad is my hero and I would love to eventually get to where he is, but that will take a long time and a lot of work."