SHORT DAY IN THE THIN AIR FOR WILK Tim Wilkerson knew, beyond any doubt, that continuing to race his alliance teammate Bob Tasca at such a regular clip would finally bite him. Wilk had raced Tasca three times this year, and had not only won all...
SHORT DAY IN THE THIN AIR FOR WILK
Tim Wilkerson knew, beyond any doubt, that continuing to race his alliance teammate Bob Tasca at such a regular clip would finally bite him. Wilk had raced Tasca three times this year, and had not only won all three match-ups but had then gone on to win all three of those races, after twice beating Tasca in the opening round (Norwalk and Seattle) while once defeating him in a final (Gainesville). On this day, Wilkerson faced off with his friend and colleague in the first round at Denver and now the head-to-head record sits at 3-1, with Tasca running strong to take the win over a tire-smoking Wilk in front of another huge crowd at Bandimere Speedway.
All in all, the always-difficult tuning challenge that is Thunder Mountain was as tough as ever in 2010. Wilk worked hard to find a tune-up that could master the atmospheric conditions as well as the track itself, and by the end of qualifying he was sitting in the No. 10 spot. Being in the bottom half of the field, however, hasn't been a real detriment to the Levi, Ray & Shoup driver this year, with his three race victories coming from the 9th, 10th, and 11th spots on the grid, so Wilkerson's challenge was more a matter of traction and a matter of odds, as opposed to the challenge of winning from the bottom half.
"Those guys are too good, and you're just not going to keep beating them, especially in the first round," Wilkerson said. "They ran better than we did in qualifying, and they ran a lot better than we did in round one. I'm not exactly sure how we ended up making too much power up on the mountain, but we just overpowered the race track, plain and simple.
"Not a good day for our team, but we never hang our heads over this sort of thing. If anything, we get a little more analytical when we lose, because that's the sort of data that can teach you even more than some of the laps you win. If everything is going perfect, you just keep racing and hope the ride lasts a long time. When you mess up, you need to learn the lesson and that's what we try to do on a day like this. We came straight back to the pit and got to work analyzing the data. There's a lot to learn from a lap like that."
To get into that position, of facing Tasca in round one, Wilkerson worked his way through qualifying with some good and some not-so-good results. He smoked the tires on a sweltering track in Q1, then was on a solid run under the lights on Friday when the LRS Shelby stripped the teeth clean off its blower belt. Even so, his No. 10 spot on Friday night was an indication of just how tough it was to conquer the 1,000-foot Bandimere challenge.
On Saturday, he put his best lap of the weekend on the board under another bright and sunny sky, running the second-quickest lap of the Q3 session to earn two bonus points. Swinging for the fences a bit on his final run, he smoked the tires and slid back into the same No. 10 spot he'd occupied on Friday. That set up the first-round race against Tasca, and it all came on a day when Dick Levi and about 220 of his closest friends filled the Team Wilkerson pit area.
"We made a real nice lap there in Q3, just about nailing that one as well as you can, but there was more out there," Wilkerson said. "We knew we were going to be right in the middle of the pack at the worst, so even though we don't go out there trying to hit home runs too often, we took a shot at it this time. If it stuck, it was going to be big. If it didn't, we'd still be fine. It didn't, but the 10th spot hasn't been too unkind to us this year, so that was okay.
"Having Dick Levi and a huge throng of absolutely great people with us made it one very special day. They all had a great time, and we had a lot of fun entertaining them and visiting with them before and after the sessions. You can't beat that, and it's just another reason why we think we have one of the greatest sponsors in the sport, because it's about a lot more than a company name on the side of the car. A lot more."
And now the tour takes a richly deserved weekend off before heading to the beautiful and scenic Brainerd Lakes area in central Minnesota for the final race of the regular season. One thing is for certain about the Brainerd race: There will be a lot more oxygen to burn (and breathe) than there was on Thunder Mountain.