Chevrolet's Tim Wilkerson Aims For Best Career Funny Car Finish As Team Owner/Driver HOUSTON, April 12, 2004 - In just his second full year as a team owner/driver, Tim Wilkerson is looking to have his best season ever as an NHRA Funny Car ...
Chevrolet's Tim Wilkerson Aims For Best Career Funny Car Finish As Team Owner/Driver
HOUSTON, April 12, 2004 - In just his second full year as a team owner/driver, Tim Wilkerson is looking to have his best season ever as an NHRA Funny Car competitor. With the continued major sponsorship support of Levi, Ray & Shoup, a new Chevy Monte Carlo and a group of loyal, hard-working teammates that have stuck by the Springfield, Ill., native through good times and bad, Wilkerson's prospects for 2004 certainly seem promising, to say the least.
"Having the same group of guys together for so long produces continuity within our program and has been a big reason for our success," explained Wilkerson. "We all know what each other is thinking, what each other is doing and we're all trying to do the same thing - win a race. The fact that we're not replacing crew members all the time helps us in achieving our on-track goals.
"I'm pretty confident we can go out every week and be pretty close to the top of the ladder. We're not going to lean on the car every run until it throws the rods like other people have the luxury of doing - we don't like to do that until we absolutely have to. I'm pretty confident we can run at the front. Everybody's car pretty much runs the same now, there's not really one that's far and above the fastest out there. We've had four different No. 1 qualifiers in four races and that shows how close the class is."
When you look at Wilkerson's past record driving abbreviated schedules, it's hard not to share the contagious enthusiasm of this well-liked, proven veteran. But Wilkerson knows a good finish won't be easy given the competitive nature of the Funny Car class this season.
"This should be our best season, but I also know the competition will be as tough as it's been in the last 10 years," said Wilkerson. "I feel that by the end of the year, the bottom eight cars will be separated by no more than three rounds. It's going to seesaw back and forth all season and anyone can win. It's going to be a toss up, a great class to watch and a lot of fun.
"So far, the racing this year in Funny Car has been just great to watch. You're going to see a lot of great competition, and Phil Burkart winning in Las Vegas is a perfect example of the parity that's developed in this class. Those guys weren't the fastest, but they were consistent and got the job done. When the weather gets warmer, the cars that are consistent are going to be the ones to beat. In a Funny Car, when things change just an itsy bit on the track, all the power in the world just gets you in trouble. A Funny Car has a shorter wheel base and no matter how good you make a racetrack, the best part is the first 400 - 500 feet. After that, no matter where you're racing, a Funny Car can't maintain the same traction on the backhalf as they do on the front half."
An accomplished Sportsman racer and winner of Division 3 Alcohol Funny Car championships in 1994-95, Wilkerson's first professional final-round appearance was a runner-up at the 1997 U.S. Nationals, a season in which he raced in only 19 events.
In 1999, Wilkerson captured his first victory at Chicago, was runner-up at Columbus (Ohio) and was closing in on third place in the standings when team-owner John Costanza decided to call it quits. With the backing of Levi, Ray & Shoup, Wilkerson competed in 16 of the 23 races contested in 2002, but still posted a 12th-place finish after scoring a runner-up at Topeka (Kan.) and five semifinal appearances.
Last year marked the 43-year-old Wilkerson's first complete season as a team owner/driver. Two wins at Indianapolis and Reading (Pa.) and a runner-up at Brainerd (Minn.) boosted him to a seventh-place finish, his best since 1998.
"We're pretty proud of what we've been able to accomplish as a one-car team," said Wilkerson. "Some teams do it very well. Worsham, for example, does it very well and so does Force. But all a second car would do for us is make our first car suffer, and unless you have the resources to hire the right people, then it's impossible to do it right. And then there's the second question, where do you find the right people? Who's going to tune the car? There's only so much talent to go around and with more and more cars coming on board, the number of skilled crewman is dwindling pretty quickly. We had a chance to run a second car this year, but we decided not to because we didn't think it would benefit the primary car."
Family support is another one of the principal reasons for Wilkerson's success as an NHRA Funny Car driver, and one of his priorities goals will be to find a way to get his wife Kristina to attend more races.
"She loves to go to the races, and for some odd reason, I haven't won when she wasn't there," said Wilkerson. "Now I've got to figure out a way to get her to go more often. She keeps reminding me to put it in the budget. When we go racing, though, we don't go to play. We go there for one thing and that's to kick somebody's tail. We don't gamble at the casinos, we don't shop, we don't lounge by the pool. We go to the racetrack and try to figure out how to make our racecar go fast."
Wilkerson also likes what he sees in the new Chevrolet and the added potential the 2004 Monte Carlo brings toward elevating the Levi Ray & Shoup program to a championship level.
"The Monte Carlo is going to be a good racecar, and I think we saw some of its potential at Gainesville," said Wilkerson. "I don't know how much better it is than the Pontiac because I'm not an aerodynamicist, but it's lighter and the most state-of-the-art car GM has ever designed, so that tells us it's going to be very, very good. I'm just tickled to death with it."
The 17th annual O'Reilly Nationals at Houston Raceway Park on April 15- 18 is the fifth race on the 23-event NHRA POWERade schedule, and with 98 career round wins, Wilkerson can hit the century mark next weekend in Baytown, Tex.
"I don't get wrapped up in statistics," said Wilkerson. "I had a wrestling coach in high school that used to say, 'talk is for losers and fools.' We kind of took up that mantra when we started this team, and as such, we just try just try to go as fast as we can every time we go up to the starting line. Our goal is to make Levi, Ray & Shoup, Chevrolet, Craftsman, White Knight and Summit Racing proud of us. There will be time to beat our chest at the end of the season if that is something we've earned. I still have people who tell me how cool it was that I won Indy, but it took awhile for it to really sink in and now it's an accomplishment that I can truly appreciate.
"Our parts situation looks really good now. We're not running a bunch of old, beat-up junk like we were when we were competing at just a few races. Our blocks, cylinder heads, and our blowers are all the freshest - the most up-to-date equipment out there. As long as we have that going for us, we'll avoid some of the problems we've faced in the past as far as maintaining consistency with the racecar. We're like everybody else, trying to go out every race and win it. It took us to the end of the year last season to get our feet wet. I'm hoping this year that we can consistently advance to the later rounds and maybe have one or two wins under our belt by the time we get to Denver. Every time we go out there and qualify and run good then we're proving what we need to prove - that we can do something right for our sponsors and our fans."
GM Racing Pre-Event Notes - NHRA Houston
* Phil Burkart picked up Chevy Monte Carlo's first NHRA Funny Car victory on April 4 at the SummitRacing.com Nationals in Las Vegas. It was the first win for Chevrolet in Funny Car since February 2003, when Ron Capps won at Phoenix in a Camaro. It was also Chevrolet's 65th all-time win in NHRA Funny Car and 135th final-round appearance. The Chevy Monte Carlo was introduced to Funny Car competition at the season-opening Winternationals in Pomona, Calif.
* Burkart's victory moved him to fifth place in the NHRA POWERade Funny Car standings. Chevrolet now has four drivers in the elite top 10 including standings- leader Del Worsham with 331 points, fifth-place Burkart with 237 points, eighth-place Tony Pedregon with 215 points and ninth-place Tim Wilkerson with 201 points.
* In Pro Stock, Pontiac's Greg Anderson continues to maintain his points lead after his third victory of the season at Las Vegas. But ACDelco Chevy Cavalier driver Kurt Johnson continues to keep the distance between himself and the defending Pro Stock champion at a slim 92 points.
* Kurt Johnson is the defending Pro Stock champion for the NHRA Spring Nationals. Johnson defeated Scott Geoffrion in the final round of last year's race. His ACDelco Chevy Cavalier holds the track top-speed record of 205.57 mph, which at the time was the national record for NHRA Pro Stock.
* Warren Johnson is a four-time winner of the NHRA Spring Nationals (1990, '94, '98, 2001) and a five-time winner at Houston Raceway Park (2000 Fall Nationals). Johnson drove the GM Performance Parts Pontiac to the No. 1 qualifying position last season with a track-record e.t. of 6.720 seconds, which at the time was an NHRA national record for Pro Stock.
* Pontiac's Greg Anderson leads the factory hot rod division in an SC/T Grand Am with three victories and 432 points. Kurt Johnson is in second place in a Chevy Cavalier with one win and 340 points. Jeg Coughlin is in fourth place in a Chevy Cavalier with 237 points and Warren Johnson is fifth in a Pontiac Grand Am with 236 points. David Connolly is in sixth place in a Chevrolet with 208 points, Jason Line is seventh in a Pontiac with 179 points, Bruce Allen is eighth in a Pontiac with 174 points, Rickie Smith is ninth in a Chevrolet with 169 points and Jim Yates is 10th in a Pontiac with 142 points.
* Chevy Cavalier driver Jeg Coughlin Jr. continues to have the longest consecutive-qualifying streak in the Pro Stock category. Coughlin has made every 16-car field going all the way back to the Craftsman Nationals at St. Louis in June of 2002, a streak of 40 races. Pontiac's Greg Anderson has the second-longest streak at 28 races.
* Greg Anderson's Pontiac SC/T Grand Am has been the No. 1 qualifier at nine consecutive events dating back to last September's NHRA Nationals in Joliet, Ill. It is the longest consecutive low-qualifying streak since Bob Glidden's three-season stretch of 23 races in 1985-87. In the nine races in which Anderson has been the No. 1 qualifier, he has won six contests and competed in seven final rounds.
* Current Pontiac Grand Am Pro Stock drivers who have won the NHRA Spring Nationals include Mike Edwards (2002), Warren Johnson (1990, '94, '98, 2001) and Mark Pawuk (1992).
* Current Chevy Cavalier drivers who have won the NHRA Spring Nationals include defending champ Kurt Johnson (1999, 2003) and Jeg Coughlin Jr. Coughlin is a two-time winner of the discontinued Fall Nationals (1997-98), and Rickie Smith won the fall Nationals in 1999.
* Current Chevrolet Funny Car drivers who have previously won the NHRA Spring Nationals include defending champion Tony Pedregon (1997-98, 2003), Del Worsham (2001) and Cruz Pedregon (1992).
* At 10 feet above sea level, Houston Raceway Park is the lowest elevated racetrack on the NHRA tour. The facility's normally high barometer readings and excellent track conditions commonly combine to produce a horsepower bonanza for the naturally-aspirated GM DRCE powerplants used in the Pro Stock category.
Qualifying for the O'Reilly Spring Nationals will be telecast on ESPN2 on Saturday, April 17, beginning at 10 p.m. Eastern. Final eliminations will be broadcast on ESPN2 on Sunday, April 18, starting at 5 p.m. Eastern.