Bristol: Tim Wilkerson preview

STEADY WILKERSON WILL SIMPLY TRUST HIS STUFF BRISTOL, Tenn. (May 11, 2009) -- Drag racing is, quite obviously, a very unique pursuit. Within its corner of the sports world, known collectively as "motorsports," the straight-line pursuit is ...


BRISTOL, Tenn. (May 11, 2009) -- Drag racing is, quite obviously, a very unique pursuit. Within its corner of the sports world, known collectively as "motorsports," the straight-line pursuit is different from all other types of racing, most of which share many common attributes. Within the entire universe of sporting endeavors, the differences become even more stark, as man and machine must find a balance during "games" which last only a few seconds, while preparation for each contest far outweighs the actual "play" on the field.

Still, one direct correlation between drag racing and its "stick and ball" brethren is the need to trust one's own abilities, and to relax when the moment is most apt to make you press. In baseball, every pitcher has heard the words "trust your stuff" when attempting to avoid the pitfalls of trying too hard. In golf, it's finding that fluid swing when an out-of-control one seems impossible to avoid. In hockey, any player who has laced up the skates knows the tendency to "squeeze the stick" just a bit too hard when the game is on the line. On the gridiron, even a casual fan can recognize the nervous quarterback who over-throws a pass during crunch time, when a delicate touch is most needed. For Tim Wilkerson, driver of the Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang Funny Car, it's all about all of the above.

Coming into this weekend's Thunder Valley Nationals at beautiful Bristol Dragway, Wilkerson finds himself in the Full Throttle Top 10 for the first time this year, having finally inched and clawed his way back from his fluke DNQ at the season opener in Pomona. To get there, he's used a calm and steady approach, never trying too hard to get it all back at once, but simply trusting his own skills and the machinery he owns.

"One of the real direct things between drag racing and other sports is the tendency to try too hard, and you see that all the time," Wilkerson said. "You can't score a 21-point touchdown, and you can't hit a six-run home run, so trying to get it all back or take over the world in one big shot just doesn't work. I get impatient too, just like anyone, but once we left Pomona we knew we had to focus on doing everything like we've always done it. You just go step by step with everything under control. When you try to do too much, you over-step it and just go backwards.

"Whether it's qualifying or racing on Sunday, you have to be calm about how you're attacking each lap and you can't get too excited about jumping all over one pass, unless you have one of those free shots where you can go ahead and lean on it a little to see what's out there. On Sunday, if you're racing a car that's been faster than you, you still have to race the track. How many times do you see the slower car go up there and instantly smoke the tires, which just hands the round to the other guy? It happens all the time, but we try not to fall into that. We try to just go up there and go as quick and fast as we can, and then hope for the best. Hopefully, we'll leave the mistakes to the other guys."

That approach has served Wilkerson well, both in the past and during the 2009 season. Other than the strange weather-induced failure in Pomona, he's been the picture of consistency all year, and has managed to win in the first round at five of the six races in which he has competed. So far, he's yet to get past the semifinals at any race, but that 5-1 record in the opening round is a direct reflection of the Wilkerson "playbook." He races the track, he runs the number, and he lets the results sort themselves out.

At the last two races, in Atlanta and St. Louis, the consistency issue has been right at the forefront, as Wilkerson has managed to power the LRS Shelby to consecutive strings of solid laps. He's not been the fastest, nor the quickest, at any event, but he's almost always been one of the most consistent.

"We still do need to get a little faster, because the really tight races against the quickest cars are really a toss-up, at this point," Wilkerson said. "We went up there to race Del (Worsham) in the second round at St. Louis, and that race gave us a pretty good idea about where we stand. We were basically dead even, from reaction time to the finish line, but we lost and Del went on to win the race. We don't want to change the approach at all, we just need to find a little more in terms of speed and e.t., and then some of those laps might start to fall our way, one after another.

"Like I said, though, the approach has to stay the same. We could've gone up there against Del and tried to make a big jump, maybe trying to pick up three or four hundredths thinking we needed to be heroes, but that probably wouldn't have worked. We just went up there to make our best lap, and it was a great race that just happened to go the other way. Now, if we just keep pecking away at it and pick up just a little, we could do some damage out here."

Wilkerson also knows that while his current No. 9 spot in points is a big step and a fine accomplishment, he has to look beyond this weekend and see the larger picture. The key is to be in the Full Throttle Top 10 on Labor Day, and as tight as the points are now there is sure to be much more juggling and swapping of spots before the final Countdown field is set. Currently, while Wilkerson sits 9th he is only 17 points ahead of Cruz Pedregon, who is in 12th. Looking both ways, the spread between Jack Beckman and Ashley Force Hood, who are tied for 4th, down to Pedregon in 12th, is less than 100 points. That's just five rounds of racing separating a majority of the teams jostling for a spot in the Countdown. Tack on another 20 points (just one more round of racing) and the spread extends from the 12th spot up to the No. 2 position, where Worsham currently resides.

"Yeah, you really can't get too hung up on it right now," Wilkerson said. "You can drive yourself nuts, and probably get off your game a little, if you let the points deal eat you up. If we have a good weekend in Bristol, we'll probably move up a little higher, but if things don't go our way we'll probably fall back out of the Top 10. We still have 11 races to go, before the Countdown, so we have to approach the points exactly the same way we approach every lap. We'll just stay with the program, try to get better, and try not to pay attention to the other stuff. It will all sort itself out."

Tim Wilkerson simply needs to trust his stuff.

-credit: twr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Cruz Pedregon , Tim Wilkerson , Jack Beckman , Ashley Force