"GET WELL" WEEKEND ENDS WITH A GLITCH, BUT WILK IS RUNNER-UP Tim Wilkerson came into Bristol feeling the heat in the points, as the bottom third of the Full Throttle Top 10 had become tighter than a pair of 20-year-old blue jeans, and although...
"GET WELL" WEEKEND ENDS WITH A GLITCH, BUT WILK IS RUNNER-UP
Tim Wilkerson came into Bristol feeling the heat in the points, as the bottom third of the Full Throttle Top 10 had become tighter than a pair of 20-year-old blue jeans, and although he left with a much nicer cushion in terms of those points, he couldn't help but be disappointed when an electrical glitch shut his car off and automatically deployed his parachutes just 1.1-seconds into the final round. As any racer can attest, runner-up finishes are good things but they take a while to feel that way.
This three-day weekend in Bristol featured one consistent factor that played heavily in just about all of the results, and it was once again weather-related. Instead of the rain that has plagued the tour for much of this season, it was bright sun and an oppressive combination of heat and humidity that challenged drivers, crew chiefs, crew members, and fans in Thunder Valley. The teams that could handle the difficult conditions the best were most likely to succeed, and the Levi, Ray & Shoup group were clearly on the positive side of that issue, with Wilk qualifying in the top half for the fourth straight race before he then nearly ran the table on Sunday.
Friday qualifying began in the late afternoon and Wilkerson was in the mix throughout the day, landing 8th after the first session and 7th after the second. On Saturday, running under conditions that were very similar to what the teams encountered on Sunday, Wilk slid to 8th in Q3 and held that spot through the final run. The key omen here, though, was a glitch with the electrical safety system that shut the car off early during Saturday's first run. Wilk was cruising down the track to a fine result when his LRS Shelby Mustang simply quit running, just as the parachutes deployed.
"Nothing bad happened in Q3, it just quit," Wilkerson said. "We figured it shook the connector loose on the safety system that shuts the car off when anything goes wrong, so we fixed all of that and made sure it was all tight and good. Unfortunately, that wasn't the last time we had that issue this weekend. Through it all here, though, our car got better and better as we went and we peaked at the right time. We almost had a great weekend, but we still had a very good one."
The "very good" conclusion came on a thrilling Sunday, with track temperatures up around 135 degrees while the ambient air was rough enough on everyone. The key for Wilkerson was getting past the first round, to ease some of the pressure being felt in the points chase, and to do that he needed to defeat a very-tough Melanie Troxel. Running as part of the eighth and final pair, Wilk left first, never trailed, and posted low e.t. of the round when his 4.233 appeared on the board, while Troxel coasted across to a 5.533 in the left lane.
"Let me tell you, that's a full-time quality team and Mel is a full-time quality driver, but they just don't go to all the races," Wilkerson said. "They can run with anybody, and beat anybody, so we had our work cut out for us but we only went up there to run the lane, not the car on the other side. We took the data from qualifying and put it all together into one really nice run. I had a bit of feeling, even before the round, that we could have a good day here. I had a much better feeling for it after we made our best run of the weekend in round one."
Having come in here with 11th-place Jeff Arend looming in the rearview (just 51 points back) and charging hard, the first round win provided a valuable stash of 20 additional points in that regard, but when Tony Pedregon and Del Worsham both advanced, the competition from the 10th and 8th place drivers remained static. Picking up more ground was going to take another massive effort, as Ashley Force Hood, the No. 1 qualifier here, was the opponent in round two.
This time, Wilk again left first and again never trailed in the drag race, running a fine 4.313 on the blistering racing surface to defeat Force Hood's 4.329 in a tight race. Two up, two down, and when Tony Pedregon lost his second-round match, Wilk picked up 20 points on him, increasing his margin on the 10th-place driver from 20 points to 40. Worsham, however, stayed 21 points ahead in 8th, on the strength of his win over Jack Beckman.
Coincidentally, it was Worsham who provided the competition in the semifinal and it was Wilk's first semifinal appearance since Gainesville, back in March. For the third straight lap, Wilk got away first (although this time by a microscopic 2-thousandths against the always-quick Worsham) and both cars made strong laps in the heat of the day. At the stripe, Wilk's 4.317 was just enough to vanquish Worsham's 4.390, and Tim Wilkerson was final round bound for the second time in 2010.
"Three very good laps, and we could see places to tweak and improve on each one of them," Wilkerson said. "Basically, it came down to keeping all eight cylinders lit. If we could do that, we had something for everyone. Run by run, it was doing what we wanted, and we knew we had something for old Force in the final. I figured we'd have to nail it right on the head, and I'd have to do my job at the tree, and if we did both of those things we'd have a 50/50 chance of winning this race. But, I didn't factor in the safety system shutting the car off."
In that final, with the large Bristol crowd on its feet, Wilk launched hard and straight, but just as the LRS Shelby passed the 60-foot timer, the pipes went wet and the parachutes deployed. No engine problems, no backfire, no mechanical issue whatsoever. The final-round loss was simply a glitch or a gremlin.
"We've had these issues in the past, and then we see it twice in one weekend here," Wilkerson said. "It's pretty frustrating, because the car reacted just like we wanted it to and we had something for him, especially if it would've kept all eight lit down there. I can assure you we'll yank this system off the car and try to find out why it did that. It was kind of a lousy way to end a very good weekend, but we got well in the points deal so that makes it all feel better. Not a lot better, but better."
Although Wilk stayed stuck in 9th place on the points list, he now trails Worsham by only a single digit (666 to 665) and has climbed to within 30 points of Ron Capps in 7th. Looking down the list, Wilk now has a 60-point lead on Tony Pedregon and a 111 edge on that pesky Arend, who continues to threaten for a Countdown spot in the Full Throttle Top 10.
Next week, Norwalk. Hopefully all systems (including the electrical safety systems) are "go" when the NHRA Full Throttle tour concludes this four-race swing in northern Ohio.