Brainerd: Tim Wilkerson final report

Tim Wilkerson Lost to Ron Capps in round one WILK'S HUGE LAP IS 6-THOUSANDTHS SHORT IN ROUND 1 Tim Wilkerson, like almost all other drag racers, often speaks of "racing luck" when explaining the sometimes heart-wrenching moments on the strip. ...

Tim Wilkerson Lost to Ron Capps in round one


Tim Wilkerson, like almost all other drag racers, often speaks of "racing luck" when explaining the sometimes heart-wrenching moments on the strip. Typically, the shortened version of that thread is usually like "Sometimes you run better than everyone, except the guy you're racing..."

This time, on what began as a difficult Sunday in central Minnesota, that general line was as dead-on accurate as an arrow in the center of the target. Bouncing back from a very rough qualifying effort, Wilkerson powered to an absolutely terrific 4.123 in round one, clocking in at 303.98 mph. Considering he made it into the field with a 4.329, which was only good enough for the 15th spot, the improvement was of massive proportions, and the e.t. was quick enough to have beaten every other opening-round winner by margins ranging from solid to vast. To be precise, it would've beaten every other winner but one, since it was Ron Capps in the other lane running low e.t. of the weekend with a 4.115.

The margin of victory was so razor-thin it was nearly see-through, at 6-thousandths of a second, and Wilkerson's time still stood, at the end of the day, as the second-quickest Funny Car lap of the day, the weekend, and of his first-round race with Capps. Such are the breaks in drag racing.

"That's pretty much exactly what we we're talking about when we're yapping about racing luck," Wilkerson said. "Sometimes you run lousy, and get a break to win. Sometimes you run great, and get what you deserve. And sometimes, you run even better than that and still have to pack up. That's just how it goes, and it works both ways. We won a few of those in the last two races, and we lost one today, so you can't hang your head or be mad. The car did exactly what I'd hoped it would do, and I'll even admit that biting off that big of an improvement is kind of an educated guess when you're as far off the pace as we were for two days, but they beat us by inches and the weekend's over.

"They say you can make your own luck, and I know for a fact sometimes you can make your own bad luck too. We shouldn't have qualified 15th here, plain and simple, but that's what happened and we got matched up with Capps. Heck, the funny thing is it wouldn't have mattered if we qualified better or qualified 16th instead of 15th. If we'd have been 16th, we would've won. Any other slot on the ladder and we would've won, but that's how it goes. Been here, done this, and I suspect this won't be the last time. You just keep fighting."

The set-up for the frustrating finish was spread over two of the more uncomfortable days of the season. After months of cool and dry weather, heat and humidity poured into Minnesota just in time for the Lucas Oil Nationals and the oppressive conditions made for a serious qualifying challenge. Wilkerson was 3rd after the first session, 10th after the second, and then slipped to 15th after three when his Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang simply wouldn't respond with the power Wilkerson was attempting to deliver in the moist hot air.

Wilk felt sure he'd sorted out the problems, and was caught in a "do we or don't we" situation in terms of session four. The humidity, by Saturday afternoon, had finally become droplets, and the precipitation ranged from mist to showers as the day wore on. In Wilk's mind, one more run would allow him to verify his theory on the fixes he had made, but one more run could also end with him not being in the field, considering both Jack Beckman and Robert Hight were below him on the sheet.

"I think, all in all, it would've been great to make that last lap," Wilkerson said. "True, if we went out there and it didn't do what we wanted, or if we broke something or couldn't make a full lap for whatever reason, it was pretty likely both of those guys might go around us and we could've DNQd here, but I really felt like we had it figured out and could step way up. It didn't matter what I thought, though, because the weather had the final say and we had to race from the 15th spot.

"We just came out here today with the same mindset we would've had if we had gotten to run Q4, and we put the coals to it pretty good. We were definitely swinging from the heels a little bit, and I wasn't as sure about what the car would do as I have been at the last couple of races, just because we were so far off on Friday and Saturday, but I felt good enough about it to go for it."

If the weather had the final say on Saturday, it had the opening lines on Sunday. Showers and mist coated the area right past the scheduled 11:00 starting time, and then just when the track had been dried and the Top Fuel cars were in the lanes, the skies opened up again. Finally, the overcast broke into party cloudy conditions, and at around 1:30 the pleasant sounds of "O Canada" and "The Star Spangled Banner" were sung to officially, and finally, kick-off the Brainerd race. At some point not long after 2:00 in the afternoon, Tim Wilkerson's weekend was over.

"We did what we wanted to do, and that's all you can ask of yourself on Sunday," he said. "Heck, I even got a tiny little jump on Ron at the tree, and that's not easy to do, so we gave ourselves every chance to win. We just got nipped, that's all. Seriously, that was one of those rounds where you can get out of the car smiling, even though you lost, because what else are you going to do?

"Now we'll pack up and head to Pennsylvania, and the focus there will be to avoid the mess-up we made in qualifying here. If we run in Reading like we should, we'll start from a good spot. But, we'll still have to run fast again in the first round because whoever you race against, out here, can beat you. I'm sure Capps and his guys were happy to qualify second here, but they probably thought it wasn't very fair they got us in the first round. We've been in that spot a bunch too, so you just try to do your best and hope it works out."

On this day, the changes had the desired effect, the car responded accordingly, and everything went about as well as it could go. But the win light went on in the other lane.

-credit: twr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Ron Capps , Tim Wilkerson , Jack Beckman , Robert Hight