WILK "FORCED" INTO ROUND 2 EXIT It's likely Tim Wilkerson would not have made his second-round appointment had a rain delay not given his team extra time to find and fix an ignition problem between rounds. Of course, it's also likely...
WILK "FORCED" INTO ROUND 2 EXIT
It's likely Tim Wilkerson would not have made his second-round appointment had a rain delay not given his team extra time to find and fix an ignition problem between rounds. Of course, it's also likely the ignition problem (a stripped mag drive) would not have manifested itself had Wilk not won his first-round race pedaling out of tire smoke that could certainly have been caused by moisture in the air and on the track, as the rain began to lightly fall just as he and Dale Creasy left the line. In the end, the problem was fixed, the appointment was kept, and John Force ended Wilk's promising weekend with a strong lap in round number two.
In terms of the weekend being promising, it had been nearly two years since Wilkerson took a No. 1 qualifying spot, and it's been too long to remember Wilk picking up "Top 3" bonus points in every qualifying session. He did all of that here, taking the top spot late on Saturday with a huge 4.079 that grabbed the pole by just a wink over two hundredths. The session in which he managed to do that was actually Q3, but with Wilk running late in the pairings he became part of the "late group" who finished the session nearly six hours after it was started, thanks to a Saturday rain delay.
"That worked out okay for us," said Wilkerson. "We were in line ready to run early in the afternoon when it started to rain, and honestly I didn't even think we'd get back out there. I figured we were going to get washed out completely and we would've been hurt by the fact we never got that last run. But then the mist and the rain finally moved out and we got it ready to go again. By then, it was pretty stout out there and we put a good one on the board. A plan that came together perfectly, I guess."
Back on Friday, Wilk had run quickest in Q1 and third-quickest in Q2, to set the stage for Saturday's heroics. In the end, it was Wilk entering the Media Center at dusk on Saturday, to meet with reporters as the top qualifier in the Funny Car class, and with that No. 1 slot he drew a first-round date with Dale Creasy.
Sunday's forecast had been touted for days as the best of the weekend, but the scheduled and predicted "sunny and 70" turned into foggy and chilly when the teams arrived at the track to prep for round one. As racers and fans continued to watch the sky and anticipate a burn-off, the overcast persisted and the humidity stayed pegged to the max, throwing tuners into a tizzy as they attempted to figure out a set-up for this moist and cool race day. Wilk had first choice in terms of pairings, and he chose the sixth slot just to give himself a chance to watch both the sky and the track.
"We kept thinking it was going to get sunny and everything would change, but it sure wasn't doing that in any kind of hurry," he said. "We'd usually go first or maybe third, with the first choice like that, but I wanted to wait and see what the weather did and what people were doing in the two lanes. That shortened our turn-around time a bit, but our guys are pretty consistently in the 45-minute range so I wasn't worried about that. I was way more worried about going A-to-B and getting there before Dale."
By the time Wilk and Creasy pulled to the line, the low overcast had returned and the air began to feel saturated. Once they'd fired and headed off on their burnouts, it felt as if a serious bank of San Francisco fog had rolled in. As the amber lights flashed, it surely felt a lot like rain drops, and it was therefore not surprising to see both cars drive right into tire smoke about 100 feet off the line. Wilk expertly pedaled his Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Ford, and got it back under power while Creasy appeared to be dead in the water on the right side of the track, but Wilk was soon battling just to stay off the center line. He managed to do that, but only by scant inches. It wasn't the prettiest round win of the year, but it was a win nonetheless.
Racing was halted right after the lap, as the moisture condensed into a real drizzle, but the LRS team headed back to the pit to get ready for round two. After a standard service, they spun the starter to fire the car. Nothing. They spun it again and yanked the wires, but the motor stayed silent. For the next 25 minutes. they trouble-shot the issue but couldn't find the gremlin, until a meeting of the minds with Bob Tasca's brain trust uncovered a mag drive that had stripped when Wilk pedaled the car in round one. Problem solved, but the team had a lot of work to do in order to make their date with Force in round two.
"We got a little lucky with the delay, because we probably wouldn't have made it with a standard turn-around time," Wilk said. "We thought it was an electrical issue, so we went after wires and mags and things like that, but all along it was the mag drive. We thrashed pretty hard there to get it all put back together and warmed up, and I even got my fire suit and helmet on in the pit, to save some time up there in the lanes. We were lucky to make it."
After the mad thrash, Wilk left the line first but Force quickly overtook him and at the stripe it was the 14-time champ pulling away to take the win light, 4.083 to a 4.168.
"I guess that pretty much seals it for us, in terms of the championship, but our chances were pretty remote anyway, coming in here," Wilkerson said. "Running so well in qualifying and taking the top spot felt pretty good, and then you start to think in terms of winning the race and getting back into the hunt, but we shot a spark plug out on that run and it's pretty tough to beat Force when you're running on seven. We actually ended up running on six cylinders, because we put another one out down there by the stripe, so you take your lumps and you pack up.
"What's good is that we learned some stuff here, and we blended some shiny new parts into the system, too. They worked great, so we feel pretty good going forward, and we'll work hard at the last three races to make sure we're running our best. If we can still grab a trophy or two, that would be great, but our goal right now is to just get settled with some of this new stuff and finish the season strong. We have three Wally's this year, so as much as it's seemed like a struggle at times, I guess you could say it hasn't been that bad of a year. We'd just like to end it on a high note and we have three races to do that."