Denver: Tim Wilkerson - Ford interview 2009-07-08

This Week in Ford Racing July 8, 2009 Tim Wilkerson, driver of the Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang Funny Car, is currently sixth in the NHRA point standings with six races left before the Countdown to 1. Wilkerson discusses how he has ...

This Week in Ford Racing
July 8, 2009

Tim Wilkerson, driver of the Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang Funny Car, is currently sixth in the NHRA point standings with six races left before the Countdown to 1. Wilkerson discusses how he has adjusted to his switch to Ford and how his season has gone so far now that he's past the halfway point of the season.

WHAT'S YOUR TAKE ON THE SEASON SO FAR? "I think we're doing okay. We haven't had the best of luck like we had last year, for sure. It seems like we're always running into the fastest guy at the wrong time. Last year we might have been the fastest guy at the right time, maybe that's the difference, I don't know. We're not really having a bad season, I just think we need to have a little better racing luck. I told Ed McCulloch the other day that he has all my racing luck. Ron Capps and his crew are doing such a great job this year. I'm lucky enough to have beat him once, but I tell you it's going to be a good year. So far we haven't had much to complain about, we haven't torn anything up and we're learning how to run our new chassis, so it's really pretty good actually."

HOW BIG OF AN ADJUSTMENT HAS IT BEEN IN SWITCHING TO FORD? "Well, it's been a little bit of an adjustment. The bodies are a little different. I think the Mustangs are probably a little bit slicker than what I had last year, but I think it also has a little bit less downforce, because I'm having a lot of trouble smoking the tires, and I don't think I have more power than I had last year, so I'm having to deal with that a little bit. It's a great body, it's good to see out of and it's good to have Shelby's name on it. That's a unique situation that Bob and I are very fortunate to be involved with. All and all, it's really been a good experience and it's good to have Bob's team, Chris Cunningham and Marc Denner over there, and the whole rest of his crew, it's good to have those guys to talk to also. It's all working out well."

YOU TEAMED WITH TASCA TO SHARE DATA AND INFORMATION FROM RACE TO RACE. IS THAT HELPING YOU? "Yeah, I think so. I mean, last year being with Don Bender and Todd Smith after about half the season, I really got to know those guys pretty well and we could still talk and get good data between each other based on what we thought their Dragster was going to run over my Funny Car. It's kind of been that way with Chris and Mark, now it's really working well. You get so involved with running your own car, it's really hard to stop everything you're doing and try to make sense out of what everyone else is doing, but they have adopted some of our philosophies and we've adopted some of theirs, and now we can really talk apples to apples when we see things. I don't know, there's still a lot to be learned, to tell you the truth. We're at the tip of the iceberg on this, this little venture that we've gotten ourselves into with Bob Tasca's team and being beneficial to both of us. It's going to be a better deal in the end, I think."

DO YOU FIND THAT YOUR CAR RUNS BETTER IN THE HOT MONTHS AND THAT IT HAS BEEN A VERY CONSISTENT CAR DOWN THE RACE TRACK? "Yeah, my car has usually been very consistent. We had some problems in Norwalk when the track was crummy. I think we learned a little bit there. I've been rifling some different camshafts in and out of it here lately so sometimes it acts a little more cantankerous than I think it should, but all in all it's usually pretty consistent. Looking back I think that's what won me rounds, I was usually in the top five in performance, but we really didn't make a lot of mistakes on race day when everyone else seemed to. Like I said, we just haven't had that luck yet this year."

YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT SMOKING THE TIRES AT TAKE OFF. THAT SEEMS TO BE THE BIG THING IN ALL THE DIVISIONS, REALLY. IN TOP FUEL AND FUNNY CAR, YOU'VE GOT TO STAY AWAY FROM SMOKING THE TIRES IN THE VERY BEGINNING. HOW TOUGH IS THAT DO? "Well, I think we have a pretty good clutch program that keeps us from doing that. You very rarely see Bob or my car smoke the tires right when you step on the gas because we have a pretty good handle on making the thing go down there. In fact, sometimes it's too conservative. That's what we ran into in Norwalk with Bob's car. Chris was winning races that he probably shouldn't have won, running slower than everyone was racing, but everyone else was screwing up and he had the right power level and the right clutch set up for the race track, but he was five- or six-hundredths slower than he wanted to be and then we tried to step on it for the finals there, and we ended up smoking the tires. It was kind of irrelevant anyway because Jack Beckman made a nice run and he had some type of twilight reaction time, so we probably couldn't have beat him anyway, but it was based on what we had seen; it was still a little more than we wanted. We didn't want to smoke the tires there. Every time you go it's a learning process and having two people to talk to has been good for us."

THERE ARE SIX FORD MUSTANGS AND IT'S LIKE YOU'RE ELIMINATING ONE OF YOUR TEAMMATES EACH ROUND WITH ALMOST HALF OF THE FIELD BEING FORD. "Yes, and that's unfortunate, for Ford Motor Company, that's who we're racing for. We're trying to promote their newest products and they went to bat truly better than anyone else in the country trying to make their cars more economical and more fuel-efficient. It's our job to try and sell those cars on Monday for them. It is unfortunate when you have to race your teammates, but still with six of us out there we have a better chance at getting to the finals and that's what we're there for."

MAKING LITTLE ADJUSTMENTS HERE AND THERE REALLY MAKES A DIFFERENCE IN THE WAY THE CAR HANDLES DOESN'T IT? "Yeah, that's the problem and those blocks are actually even a little heavier than what we run now. We run an Allen Johnson TFX Block and they're actually a little heavier. We've got to be careful on what we do there to keep from screwing up the balance of the car. There's a lot of things going on there that people don't realize. It sounds easy to just put a different block in, that's for sure."

YOU'RE SEVENTH IN THE POINTS RIGHT NOW, WITH ASHLEY FORCE HOOD IN FIRST. "Well there's no doubt that Ashley's car is the class of the field. She's doing a great job driving the thing and Guido and Ron Douglas are hitting the nail on the head every place they go. They're giving her a great car, so there's no doubt in my mind that she's the car to beat, but we need to keep the rest of them Chevrolets and Toyotas behind us Fords. We've got to figure out a way to do that. There's some tough competition out there. We're very proud of Ashley, though; I personally am, she's like my kid to me. I feel a great bond with her. Every time her and I race I even hate beating her, to tell you the truth. When I did last year, it was a bad day for me. We're racing for ourselves, for our own teams, for Levi, Ray and Shoup, but at the end of the day you sure like to see a good kid like that win some races. It would be cool if she was our champion, that would be a terrific shot in the arm for our whole sport, to tell you the truth."

IS IT IMPORTANT TO BE IN THE TOP THREE OR FOUR AS THE COUNTDOWN APPROACHES? "No, I think if you just make the Countdown you've got a darn good shot to win. Cruz Pedregon proved it last year - you get hot at the right time and that's all you have to do to win the deal. If everything works out for you it works out, but I don't think being only one or two rounds out with six races left means anything. You're only four rounds out of the top when you're 10th and that ain't nothing in this day and age."

THIS WEEKEND YOU'RE IN DENVER, THE MILE HIGH CITY. WHAT DOES THAT DO TO YOU WHEN YOU GO OUT TO RACE DUE TO THE THINNER AIR? "Well, when you go to Denver it's kind of a place of its own, so you go there thinking that everything else you do doesn't matter, and after you leave there you forget what you've done. If you try to use those philosophies in your other tune- ups it just screws you up, so we try to go there and focus on making our car run at that place. We usually run okay there. In the past there, when we were quarter-mile racing, I think Jimmy Prock ran a 4.80 there and I ran a 4.81, so you can make power there if you hit it just right. We just need to keep our heads on straight. The clue to that place is keeping all of the holes lit, because it's just so weird there with the thin air that it really screws up your air/fuel ratio. We usually do okay there, but hopefully we can come home with another win there. Denver is a really good place to race. It's really fun for the fans since the stands are straight up in the air. I think we're going to have a good time racing there. Hopefully, the heat doesn't make it too bad that you can't get down the track. It's going to be in the 90s, according to the weather, which should play into our hands, so hopefully we can get a win out there and move higher up in the Countdown.

-credit: ford racing

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Series NHRA
Drivers Ron Capps , Cruz Pedregon , Tim Wilkerson , Jack Beckman , Todd Smith