FIRST-ROUND LOSS IS DOUBLE-WHAMMY FOR WILK One can add salt to a wound or insult to injury, and either way it's a bad situation made worse. For Tim Wilkerson, in round one at Thunder Mountain, it was a combination of not only losing in the...
FIRST-ROUND LOSS IS DOUBLE-WHAMMY FOR WILK
One can add salt to a wound or insult to injury, and either way it's a bad situation made worse. For Tim Wilkerson, in round one at Thunder Mountain, it was a combination of not only losing in the opening stanza but also doing something very rare in the Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang, when he blew up the motor in his pursuit of Bob Tasca.
First-round losses are infrequent for the LRS team (this was Wilkerson's third of the season) but holes in engine blocks are almost unheard of and this one ended up with enough windows in its side to qualify as a bedroom. It was an inglorious ending to what had been a very successful weekend.
Wilkerson made good use of his four qualifying passes in Denver, and his LRS Shelby was consistently one of the best cars on the track during any given session. His 4.178 late on Friday night was only knocked out of the No. 1 spot by the last car down the track, and he then followed that up with a solid 4.234 during Saturday's first pass and a very strong 4.157 in Q4, to enter competition from the No. 5 spot. With his car running consistently, and consistently well, Wilkerson had plenty of reason to be optimistic on Sunday.
"Other than the first session, when just about everyone was out there guessing and spinning, we ran about as well as you can hope for in qualifying," Wilkerson said. "We were right there with the best runs each session, and the car wasn't showing any signs of really misbehaving or doing anything goofy. First round is always a stressful deal, though, so I never come to the pit area on Sunday morning expecting to win but I always come here hoping to win, and I'm usually pretty confident that we'll at least put a good lap on the board and give it a good shot. That's how I felt this morning. I felt like we'd put a good number on the board and if they outran us they could beat us, but we wouldn't beat ourselves.
"Instead, it went out there and just stunned me when it spun. We were ahead of him pretty good until then, but when it spun I pedaled it and it blew up. We don't hurt many motors around here, so I never expect to see a bunch of holes in the block like that. We didn't just hurt it, we pretty much totally blew it up. My guess, before we really dig into it later, is that something had to break in there, because I pedal the car all the time and we don't throw the rods out. It was a really disappointing way to end our weekend in Denver."
Wilkerson's assumption about being ahead early in the race was born out in the numbers. His .056 reaction time was one of his best of the year, and it gave him a leg up on Tasca, who left with an also-solid .064 reaction to the lights. At the 60-foot timer, Wilk was ahead by three hundredths. At the 330 mark, he was still in front by a hundredth and a half. Just about then, connecting rods became projectiles, and Wilkerson's day was over.
Now, with one-third of the Western Swing in the books, Wilkerson has to look forward with some urgency, knowing the competition for a spot in the Countdown gets only more fierce from here. Wilkerson left Denver in the same 7th spot he held when he arrived, and he mostly lost ground to drivers ahead of him in points, as Del Worsham was the only driver in the top six to lose in round one. Looking backwards on the points sheet, the driver closest behind was John Force, who lost to teammate Robert Hight in the opener and remained 26 Full Throttle points behind, while Matt Hagen and Cruz Pedregon both lost in round two, and left Denver in 9th and 10th, respectively. Both are basically three rounds behind Wilkerson.
"We can't mess around any, that's for sure," Wilkerson said. "We'd been so solid and so consistent all year, but we've stumbled at these last two races and we have to get back in the right shape again right away. We'll go to Seattle and put this behind us, and hopefully we'll run better in the forest than we did on the mountain, at least on Sunday anyway. We ran good here for two days, but we picked a bad time to mess up on Sunday."
A loss. A blown-up motor. A bad day at the office.