FOR WILK, IF BIGGER IS BETTER THEN INDY IS BEST INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (August 30, 2010) -- Tim Wilkerson, owner/tuner/driver of the Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang Funny Car, knows all about Indy. He knows the town, since he makes the ...
FOR WILK, IF BIGGER IS BETTER THEN INDY IS BEST
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (August 30, 2010) -- Tim Wilkerson, owner/tuner/driver of the Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang Funny Car, knows all about Indy. He knows the town, since he makes the 430-mile round-trip regularly from his Springfield, Ill. shop, to take care of a variety of racing-related business. He knows the race, the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals (otherwise known as "The Big Go") and he prepares for the marathon nature of it by prepping his team and his parts for an annual epic battle. He even knows the Winner's Circle, having claimed his second career national event win at Indy in 2003, thereby earning Bob Frey's accolades for an entire calendar year, during which Wilkerson never came to the starting line at any race track without being referred to as "your defending U.S. Nationals champion" by the sport's most famous public address announcer.
What Wilk also knows is the grand scale of the Indy race, which holds a unique position as the only event on the Full Throttle tour with five qualifying runs spread over four days of pro racing, and a scheduled start for eliminations on a Monday. Everything about Indy, from the car count, to the crowd, to the number of runs down the race track, is simple bigger. And, as if the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals needed any greater amount of importance on top of its already mammoth reputation, this year's version is also the first race in the Countdown to 1 post-season playoffs.
"It's a huge race anyway, no matter the year or the situation with the playoffs," Wilkerson said. "If you went to Indy in 1975, it was a big deal. Before the Countdown, no matter how many races were left on the schedule after Indy, it was a big deal. Now, it's really a big deal. A lot of guys used to try to downplay it, maybe just to calm themselves down or something, by saying Indy was just another race. I don't think you can do that this year, with it being the first race in the playoffs. Every lap is going to mean a little bit more, and whichever Countdown team comes out of Indy with the most round wins is going to have a leg up.
"Even off the track, everything about the Indy weekend is different. Sponsors definitely treat the race differently, so there's always a lot of extra stuff to do and places to be, and with us being a Mac Tools team we want to make sure we do all we can for those folks all weekend. I know Dick Levi and the LRS people consider it a big deal, too, and we'll have plenty of them with us this weekend, so the mission is to make sure we give them a great time and a good car they can cheer for. When you add in an extra day, the whole Indy experience really isn't just another race. It's the biggest."
The added length of the event also has an impact on the racing, barring any cancellations caused by bad weather. With five qualifying sessions, the cream tends to rise to the top and fewer qualifying upsets are typically seen. That added competition primes every professional team for a hard-fought race.
"If you give us all five good shots at the track, the best teams will generally figure it out and be at the top," Wilkerson said. "At other events, if it's really hot out you might only get one decent shot at the race track, on Friday evening, but in Indy we get night runs on Friday and Saturday, and even a late-afternoon run on Sunday, along with the two other daytime runs. It's hard to imagine the Force cars and the Schumacher cars not figuring it out with that many shots at it, so the rest of us have to really be on our game.
"Getting a good one on the board on Friday night really helps, but you also don't want to go out there being greedy and overpower it, so you still have to be smart. Week in and week out, we're not a real 'home run' kind of team in qualifying, so that's just us. I think the best we've done all year is a No. 2 and a No. 4, with everything else being sort of middle-of-the-pack, and I think we actually lost in the first round at both of those races where we were up high on the ladder, so I don't know what it all means. I guess we'll just have to see if the added run helps us or not, but one thing I know is that we can't come out here and just throw the playbook away by trying to be big heroes. We have to do what we do best, and that's get it in the show solidly and then capitalize on race day. I almost said 'Sunday' but race day in Indy is on Monday. See, it's all bigger in Indy."
Five qualifying runs. Four days of pro racing. Huge crowds. Massive amounts of race cars. The first race of the playoffs. No matter what any driver has ever said in the past, Indy is simply bigger. After all, Bob Frey doesn't spend a whole year reminding fans of who took home the trophy from any race other than the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.