Charlotte II: Tim Wilkerson preview

WILK WANTS HIS SHARE IN CHARLOTTE CONCORD, N.C. (September 14, 2010) -- zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C. just outside of Charlotte, has only been a part of the NHRA Full Throttle tour since 2008. It hosted one race that year, in September after...


CONCORD, N.C. (September 14, 2010) -- zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C. just outside of Charlotte, has only been a part of the NHRA Full Throttle tour since 2008. It hosted one race that year, in September after a feverish summer of construction, and then followed up with another autumn event in 2009 before it earned a prestigious promotion by becoming the third track on the tour to hold a pair of race dates on the annual schedule, joining Las Vegas and Pomona, when a spring race was added this season.

With this weekend's O'Reilly Auto Parts Nationals looming, there is one particular Funny Car driver who knows he has yet to seriously tame the most spectacular venue on the NHRA circuit. Tim Wilkerson, driver of the Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang, arrives in Charlotte with two first-round zMax losses on his all-time stat sheet, one bizarre second-round exit, and a memorable place in a 4-wide exhibition run that featured nothing but opening-round losers. That's not exactly a stellar record, but on the upside it certainly leaves a ton of room for improvement.

At the 2008 race, Wilk not only lost in the first round, he also lost his points lead in the Full Throttle standings. In '09, his bobble in the opening round afforded him the "honor" of taking one of four spots in the original 4-wide exhibition, which also featured fellow first-round losers John Force, Mike Neff, and Del Worsham. For the record, Wilk came in 4th in that "winner take nothing" show.

This spring, when the new zMax event featured actual 4-wide racing throughout the weekend, Wilk did pick up a round win by joining Ron Capps as the first two drivers across the stripe in their opening Sunday group, leaving Melanie Troxel and Jeff Diehl behind. That was a big step in the right direction, obviously, but the second round left Wilk still wondering what his Charlotte share is supposed to be. He ran low e.t. in that second round, but found himself packing up after Ron Capps and John Force both slapped hole-shots on him, thereby earning the distinction of becoming the first Funny Car driver to outrun three opponents at once, but still come in third.

Now, with the fall Charlotte event acting as the second race in the Countdown while it also reverts to a standard 2-wide format, Wilkerson knows he has ground to make up in the Full Throttle points battle, and he has a track to tame if he wants to do that here.

"This is only our fourth trip here, but there's no getting around the fact we need to do better in Charlotte," Wilkerson said. "It's a very good race track, and it's probably the most exciting place to compete on the whole tour, with the gigantic grandstands and all the great touches they put on this place. Bruton Smith called it 'the Bellagio of drag strips' when he built it, and it's every bit of that, but our gambling hasn't paid off yet.

"We've made some good runs, including both rounds back in the spring, so now I think we have the data we need to put the whole package together a little bit better. And this time, we only have to beat one car at a time, which seems a little simpler. Getting two hole-shots slapped on you in one round was about like having a bucket of ice-water dumped on your head. That wasn't fun."

What would be fun for Wilk and his LRS team would be a move back up the points sheet. Having entered the Countdown in 6th place, Wilk limped out of Indy with a frustrating first-round loss (both he and Jack Beckman smoked the tires, but Beckman crossed the stripe first) and by doing so he slipped a pair of notches on the points sheet. Still, just like 2009, half of the Countdown field joined him as first round losers at the first playoff race, so the points implications were not nearly as drastic as they might have been. Wilk may be 8th, but he's only 74 points out of 2nd (Beckman) and with five races remaining the 134-point gap to the top spot (John Force) doesn't appear insurmountable.

"We can get a lot of it back with a good Sunday here, but we can't control what everybody else does," Wilkerson said. "All we can control is our car, and as anybody out here can tell you, even that is a tall order. But you can't play defense in this sport, so all you can do is pile up as many points as you can and then you see how that shakes out. We could run the table for four straight races and not catch Force, if he's the guy we beat in the final round each time, so you just have to do your best and see how that works.

"What's important for us is to settle some clutch issues we've been having, because that's made us a little inconsistent lately and being consistent is what makes us win. We're not usually the fastest out here, but we win a lot of our rounds by going down the track and forcing the issue. If we can get back to that, I think our chances are pretty good. If we qualify well this weekend by making a series of good runs, I'll feel pretty confident going into Sunday. If we don't do that, it'll mean we're still searching a bit and we'll have to find it on Sunday. Either way, we just need to win some rounds."

Wilk has won his share of rounds this year, with his 23-15 record, and he's won his share of races, with three victories in four final-round appearances. Now he'd like to claim his share of success in Charlotte.

-source: twr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Del Worsham , Ron Capps , John Force , Tim Wilkerson , Jack Beckman , Melanie Troxel , Jeff Diehl , Mike Neff