WILK BATTLES THE ELEMENTS TO A QUARTERFINAL FINISH Although an entire generation (or three) may have no recollection of just where the cliche' "like a broken record" comes from, the referral to things that occur over and over again is still in...
WILK BATTLES THE ELEMENTS TO A QUARTERFINAL FINISH
Although an entire generation (or three) may have no recollection of just where the cliche' "like a broken record" comes from, the referral to things that occur over and over again is still in common use. For Tim Wilkerson, that broken record, throughout much of the 2009 season, has been stuck on the line "Wilk ran great, but barely lost" and that was, again, the refrain on a hot sunny Sunday in Dallas.
In the end, at the conclusion of three straight days of rare brilliant weather, Wilkerson entered the fray qualified 8th. He beat the always-tough Ron Capps in the first round. He watched, along with all the other racers and the large Motorplex crowd, and saw the obvious disparity in lanes as race after race went to the competitors on the left side. Then, by round two, coincidentally, Wilk was saddled with the right lane. As well as he ran and as brilliantly as he drove, it was an uphill battle on a slippery slope and Wilk ended his weekend 26-thousandths of a second short of taking out Robert Hight, the eventual race winner, in that second round.
Looking back over two days of qualifying and one day of eliminations, the "left/right" theme was pervasive from the get-go. In his four qualifying attempts, Wilkerson ran twice from the right lane and posted times of 6.346 and 6.494. A trend was forming. Running twice in the left lane, he clicked through the lights with a 4.204 on Friday (the run that earned him the 8th spot) and 4.212 on Saturday. A trend was confirmed.
On Sunday, with his 8th spot providing the crucial lane choice, Wilkerson put Capps on the right side and then streaked to a 4.212 to oust his worthy opponent from the race. Capps had joined in the chorus of those who spun the tires on the right side, and could only clock-in with a 4.685. As important as the win lights were, as difficult as any win over Capps can be, and as strong as the 4.212 was, the Levi, Ray & Shoup team had already watched their 2nd-round opponent, Hight, win his lap with a 4.202. By one hundredth of a second, Wilk lost that precious lane choice.
One hoped-for theory was that as the day got hotter (and Sunday was the hottest day of the weekend, under a blistering Texas sun) both lanes would eventually suffer and the disparity might narrow. Another topic, though, was just how to get down that right lane, and a certain Mr. Wilkerson felt he had a pretty good idea and just a bit of confidence.
"Hey, there's just no getting around the lane choice deal, because it was critical," Wilkerson said. "We ran pretty good in round one, better than a lot of teams, but when you're number eight you know you're probably going to face the number one guy in the second round. It was what it was, and we couldn't do anything about it, so we just got prepared to race in that lane and we figured out a way to get down it. There was only one problem with the theory, though. To get down it, you had to take something out of the tune-up, or you were going to smoke the tires for sure over there."
With the track temp slowly rising, Wilkerson and Hight pulled to the line after having watched John Force and Jack Beckman brighten everyone's day. Force may have lost in that race, but he did so in the right lane and posted a solid 4.271 on his way. Despite the lengthy string of consecutive right-lane losses in both Top Fuel and Funny Car, Force had at least displayed that a full lap could be made.
At the flash of amber, against Hight, Wilkerson picked a brilliant time to bust out one of his best reaction times of the year, and his .059 light gave him a huge advantage over Hight, who left with a .120 clocking at the tree. Any way you slice it, dice it, or count it, that's 6-hundredths in the bank. From that point on, as the two cars tore down the track, Wilkerson summed up the closeness of the final verdict with the next sentence.
"I absolutely never saw him. We took off, and he wasn't there. We went down the track, and I didn't know if he was next to me or still at the line. We got to the finish line, and I still hadn't seen him and figured we won. Turns out, he was right there, and he had enough steam to drive around us right before the line."
Hight's 4.224 was good enough to overtake the LRS car's 4.311 and Wilkerson's huge starting line advantage, making the margin of victory just .026 (26-thousandths of a second).
It seems that broken record has been stuck on the same scratched groove for most of the year, but there it was again: "Wilk ran great, but barely lost."
The ultra-valuable win in the first round, however, remains in the bank and the LRS team remains in the hunt. Now, with four races remaining in the Countdown, Wilk and his team are 112 points out of the lead. Six rounds behind with four races to go. It's another steep and slippery slope to climb, but the LRS team will get their next shot at it in just a few days, when the tour hits Memphis and qualifying begins on Friday.