Charlotte: Tim Wilkerson preview

COUNTDOWN INTENSITY IS NO ACT FOR WILKERSON CHARLOTTE, N.C. (September 14, 2009) -- It is said that it's a sign of great acting when it appears, to the audience, that no acting is taking place. For Tim Wilkerson, driver of the Levi, Ray & Shoup...


CHARLOTTE, N.C. (September 14, 2009) -- It is said that it's a sign of great acting when it appears, to the audience, that no acting is taking place. For Tim Wilkerson, driver of the Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang Funny Car, the intensity and focus exhibited this weekend, at the NHRA Carolinas Nationals, will be beyond Emmy or Oscar winning, since it will be as real as anything in life. And, as opposed to those aforementioned awards handed out for great television and film work, Wilkerson is much more interested in being presented the elusive Wally at the end of the day.

With this weekend's event marking the first race in the six-race Countdown playoff system, Wilkerson knows every turn of a wrench and every tweak of the tune-up will be magnified in importance. The Full Throttle championship is realistically in reach for all 10 Funny Car drivers who qualified for the post-season, but one bad weekend can just as realistically push the quest for the trophy into a highly unlikely place. Wilkerson's built-in advantage, however, rests in his consistent method of treating every race weekend with playoff intensity. There is no need to ratchet up the focus now, because it's always been there, and there's no reason to appear more intense, because this is no act.

"You know, on one hand you're aware it's the start of the Countdown, and that's pretty exciting, but on the other hand we try to treat each weekend, each day, and every single lap that way, all year long," Wilkerson said. "We try to treat each lap like it's precious, and all of us take it pretty hard when we mess up or throw one away. So, even though it's kind of obvious that you feel the excitement a little more, we just need to approach this thing like we approach everything. We'll focus on what we're trying to do, we'll pay attention and make sure we're doing it, and we'll hope we can get it right. Sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we're knuckleheads, but that's just because this sport is so hard.

"I think the excitement level picks up another notch with the schedule like this, heading to Charlotte and Bruton Smith's fantastic facility for the first Countdown race. It's hard not to get excited just being there, and you catch yourself looking around and being impressed by it all a few times, early in the weekend. I guess it's kind of like a football player walking out onto the turf at Lambeau Field for the first time, or a baseball player coming out of the dugout at Yankee Stadium. You just have to look around and soak it all in for a minute or two, but then things settle in, you focus on your own little world and you forget you're racing in such a palace. We have to get down the same 1,000 feet of track, just like we do everywhere else, but we're just in a different place. It's a heck of a nice place, though."

After the most recent race, the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indy, the points were reset for the Countdown drivers and with a new total of 2,040 points in the bank Wilkerson now finds himself only 70 markers out of the top spot, where Tony Pedregon sits with 2,110. Prior to the reset, Wilkerson was 350 points back and the championship would likely have been beyond the realm of real probability.

"Everybody knows we were on the other side of this deal last year, going into the Countdown with a big lead in the top spot, so we'll see how it works out for us this way," Wilkerson said. "The bottom line is that we now have ten drivers who all can win this thing, but only one of us will. Last year, it didn't matter that we came into it with the points lead because we had to fight off all the hungry teams coming after us, and one of them got us. This year, we're hungry and we're in the pack that's chasing Tony. It ought to be a lot of fun, and we'll give it our best shot.

"The other thing you have to be prepared for is how much the standings are going to change for the first couple of races in the Countdown. It's like the beginning of the season again, when you can go from the top to the bottom in one week because nobody has a lot of points yet and we're all bunched up together. If we have a good weekend, we'll have to put it behind us and get right on it the next weekend in Dallas, because it can all be erased just as fast. If we don't have the kind of weekend we want, we'll have to put that behind us just as fast, knowing we can get it back in Dallas. We're heading into four races in four weeks, and by the end of this swing we'll finally have a better idea about how this is going to shake out."

In conjunction with the drama inherent in the playoffs, Wilkerson will also have the opportunity to compare lines of work with an individual who makes his living on-stage. Buck Hujabre, a featured actor in the touring company for the wildly successful stage show "Jersey Boys" will attend the race as Team Wilkerson's guest. Hujabre is an avid drag racing fan who specifically chose this weekend to step away from his stage role in order to get his nitro fix for 2009. The show is currently playing in Boston, but will be coming to Charlotte next spring, for a two-week run beginning March 31.

"We get to meet a lot of interesting people in our sport, including a lot of big-time athletes who like to come out and feel the power, but I'm pretty sure this will be the first real stage actor I've met," Wilkerson said. "You'll never get me up on a stage, singing and dancing, but Buck loves drag racing so we're thrilled to have him hang out with us for the weekend. Maybe he'll end up in the Winner's Circle with us."

If that were to happen, it's guaranteed the smiling and cheering going on in that Winner's Circle would not be an act.

-credit: twr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Tim Wilkerson