Brainerd: Tim Wilkerson preview

WITH THE "SWING" NOW ANCIENT HISTORY, WILK'S FOCUS IS ON BRAINERD BRAINERD, Minn. (August 10, 2009) -- Tim Wilkerson is known for being able to put the past behind him almost immediately, whether it featured a roaring success or a maddening ...


BRAINERD, Minn. (August 10, 2009) -- Tim Wilkerson is known for being able to put the past behind him almost immediately, whether it featured a roaring success or a maddening failure, but just about any pro driver on the NHRA Full Throttle tour would have little problem filing away the 2009 Sonoma race by the time this week's Brainerd event finally rolls around. Coming after a rare two-week hiatus from the grinding circuit, the Lucas Oil Nationals in scenic central Minnesota seem almost disconnected from the marathon that was the recent Western Swing, and despite the fact Wilkerson won the final two stops on that three-track tour, he's simply all about Brainerd at this point. Sonoma, like Seattle before it, is simply ancient history.

That laser-sharp focus should serve Wilkerson well at this critical juncture, as the annual stop in Brainerd represents race No. 16 in the 18-race regular-season portion of the NHRA Full Throttle schedule. That, of course, means that after six long months of racing, from coast to coast and border to border, playoff spots in the Countdown are now finally being settled.

For Wilk, the back-to-back wins in Seattle and Sonoma may be ancient history, but their collective impact on the Levi, Ray & Shoup Funny Car driver's points position is still being felt, and what a positive impact it was. Heading into Seattle in 7th place, Wilkerson was in danger of falling out of the Countdown field altogether, but the pair of thrilling trips to the Winner's Circle vaulted him up into the No. 4 spot, while the cushion between his position and that of the 11th-place driver (Matt Hagan) expanded to a practically insurmountable 212 points.

"Nothing is locked in until it's officially locked in, but I think we'd probably have to get lost and not find the next couple of race tracks for us not to make it now," Wilkerson said. "Somehow, a whole bunch of people would all have to get red-hot at the same time, and in our sport that's not realistic because eventually they have to race each other. So, right now our focus is more on being as high up the list as we can be when the points get reset after Indy, and to do that we just have to stay consistent. We're a long way out of third place (135 points behind Ashley Force Hood) so that's probably out of reach, but Jack Beckman is right on our heels in fifth, and Bob Tasca is right behind him, so these spots are going to go down to the wire. There's no way to know whether those ten-point increments, after the reset, will be the difference in the end, but I know none of us want to leave ten points on the table, if we can help it.

"Everything we do right now is tied to the Countdown. Every spot on the qualifying ladder is important, because those single points could move you up or down in the Countdown. Every round is bigger than ever, because you've got a pretty good chance of racing against another Countdown car and those head-to-head match-ups are like a 40-point swing to whoever wins them, if you know what I mean. The first goal was to get in it, and it looks like we've done that, and now the next goal is to stay as high up the standings as possible, to give ourselves the best possible shot. We're ready for it, I think."

Being ready and being able or two different plants tied to the same root, as Wilkerson can attest. Other than at Pomona, where the LRS pro suffered a fluke DNQ when he was unable to make it down the track during the only qualifying session at that rain-soaked event, the popular driver from Springfield, Ill. has been ready to win all year, and has put together a very solid season with a very consistent race car, but up until Seattle he had been unable. His two recent victories may now shine the brightest, but a sterling 11-3 record in the opening round and five semifinal finishes are the stuff championship runs are made of. Staying consistent will be the goal, and that begins again this weekend.

"I talk about racing luck all the time, and every driver out here knows what that means," Wilkerson said. "During any first round, you can look at the races and see teams that didn't run that well, but they won anyway. On the other hand, you can almost always see one poor guy who ran great, but the only other person who could possibly beat him just happened to be in the other lane. Earlier in the year, we were that one poor guy a lot. Now, we're starting to make poor guys out of the people we race. It can be just a matter of inches, either way, but those inches can be like a mile when rounds and race wins are on the line.

"Our aim this weekend is to just stick to the game plan and keep making solid laps, and if we can do that we might be able to stay at the top of this group we're in. It's like there's three parts to the Countdown field right now, and we're in the middle section. The top three can all probably afford to go into 'test mode' right now, because I think they're only fighting with each other for the top three spots. This middle group, from us down to probably Del Worsham in seventh place; we're all battling to stay as high on the list as we can be. We can't roll the dice too much or go too crazy, or our good spot could turn into a not-so-good one in a hurry. Then, there's that last group from eighth down to 12th. They're all fighting to get in. You've got five great teams battling for three spots, and only four rounds separate them. I mean, if you were to list those five teams at the beginning of the season, you probably would've thought you were looking at the top five, not the group on the bubble. I'm just glad we got up and out of that group, at least for now, because we were part of it going into Seattle. If we mess up, we could still end up there, but we're going to try to just stay consistent and hang in up here where we are. That's the goal."

And that goal has only one next step. Although three races remain in the regular season, Brainerd is the only one on the horizon and the only one Tim Wilkerson is focused on. Those beyond Brainerd are not yet here, and everything in the past is ancient history.

-credit: twr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Del Worsham , Tim Wilkerson , Jack Beckman , Ashley Force