WILK'S FAMILIAR REFRAIN: ONE UP, ONE DOWN Tim Wilkerson doesn't have to like it, and as stated in these reports on previous occasions it could be worse, but he's about over the whole concept of batting .500 on the race track. For the fifth ...
WILK'S FAMILIAR REFRAIN: ONE UP, ONE DOWN
Tim Wilkerson doesn't have to like it, and as stated in these reports on previous occasions it could be worse, but he's about over the whole concept of batting .500 on the race track. For the fifth consecutive race, Wilk felt the excitement of a win and the sting of a loss, all neatly compacted into two rounds of racing. Since beginning the season 0-2, and then winning the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Wilk has gone 1-1 at five straight events, and now stands 9-7 on the season.
The "one up, one down" chorus even extended to qualifying here at Atlanta Dragway, as Wilk went 1-for-2 on each day. Friday featured a tire-smoker in the afternoon and a solid, if not spectacular, lap under the lights. On Saturday, the order was simply reversed as he went A-to-B under the early afternoon sun, and then smoked the hoops on the final try. In his, and everyone else's, defense, this was the first truly hot race of the year, and track temps were higher than they've been all season. Still, Wilkerson likes to think of his car as a "hot weather" dominator, so the tire smoke was troublesome.
"We've always had a hot weather car, to the point where I'd have to be really patient for six or seven races, just waiting for it to heat up so we'd have them all right where we wanted them," Wilkerson said. "Right now, we're no better on a hot track than anyone else, so we have to find out why that is and correct it. We still have all the data, and I don't think we all became knuckleheads overnight, so we have to take some time and figure this out. We feel good to have come out of here with another round in the bank."
That Friday night run wasn't perfect, by a long shot, but the 4.210 was enough to land Wilkerson 7th on the board after one day of qualifying. When the conditions got nothing but hotter on Saturday, it was highly unlikely that Wilk would slide down, but he was still hoping to possibly move up. Instead, he stayed right where he was, and that No. 7 spot earned him a first-round date with a very familiar foe, Cruz Pedregon.
Sunday dawned with some high overcast, although Atlanta Dragway was still a warm place to be and the sun was pounding on the track before the end of the National Anthem. As the seventh pair of Funny Cars, both Wilkerson and Pedregon had plenty of time to watch what happened ahead of them, and plenty of time to stew over their set-ups and tuning calls. When the two opponents finally pulled to the line to settle things, it was Wilk in what looked like a heavily favored left lane, although no one was convinced there was an issue with the right.
"Most of the winners were coming out of the left, and most of the cars with choice were taking it," Wilkerson said. "To be honest, though, we felt pretty much the same about both sides of the track, but if everyone is going left and you're the renegade who loses in the right with lane choice, you'll kick yourself all the way to bed with that decision. I was under no illusion that Cruz would have any problems over in the right, but we took the left and it worked out okay."
Wilkerson was correct, in his assumption about Pedregon's lack of any lane-related issues. This one was a side-by-side race, but Wilk's 4.236 was enough to vanquish Pedregon's 4.301, and it was on to round two for the fifth straight week. A certain fast-running and hard-charging Robert Hight would be waiting there.
"We knew they were full capable of running in the teens on every lap, so we knew we had to step it up, but we're not going to start taking wild stabs in the dark to make huge leaps." Wilkerson said. "We just wanted to race the lane and give them a battle."
At the hit, it was Wilk away first with a 2-hundredths edge at the tree, and both cars ran well to nearly half-track. At that point, however, the power and inertia created by the Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang were simply greater than the right lane's ability to hold such force, and the beefy Goodyear slicks lost traction. Hight streaked away to take the win with a huge 4.182, and for Wilk it was time to pack up and head to Topeka.
"Like I said, we have to get our hot weather tune-up sorted back out, but we studied the data from that run against Robert and we didn't miss by much," Wilkerson said. "There aren't any do-overs out here, but if we could go back out there and make one or two little tweaks to it, I think it would've gone right down there. I have a feeling we'll have our hot-weather car back under pretty quick here, and that gives us all a lot to look forward to as we head into the summer.
"We're entering a tough stretch of racing, like nine races in eleven weeks, so we'll have plenty of opportunity to fix our issues. Bottom line is, we got another round on our record and that's a good thing. We'll head to Topeka and try to win in the prairie."