Indy ORP: Tim Wilkerson preview

WILK LOOKING FOR "BIG MO" AT THE "BIG GO" INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (August 31, 2009) -- It may simply be the 18th race on the schedule, and provide the same number of points as the other 23 events, but the race officially known as the Mac Tools U.S.


INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (August 31, 2009) -- It may simply be the 18th race on the schedule, and provide the same number of points as the other 23 events, but the race officially known as the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals has always held its own lofty spot on the drag racing landscape. There is, after all, only one "Big Go" where everything is bigger, the rewards more plentiful, the prestige inescapable, and the tension slightly thicker. Indy is it.

This year, however, with the traditional Labor Day race also acting as the final "regular season" stop on the tour, the annual trek to west side of Indianapolis takes on an additional dose of intrigue, excitement, and nervousness as pro drivers nail down their points positions with an eye on establishing some much-needed momentum heading into the post-season Countdown.

For Levi, Ray & Shoup Funny Car driver Tim Wilkerson, it's all about maintaining the same fast-running Shelby Mustang he's had on the track for most of the year, while he also banks on the power of statistical averages to help him make another strong move at just the right time. That elusive momentum, often referred to as "Big Mo" in any number of other sporting pursuits, can turn microscopic defeats into thrilling victories, and carry a team to barely imagined heights. Considering he's lost in the first round at the last two races despite running well enough to beat any other driver with the exception of the one he was racing, Wilkerson knows Big Mo is not far away, and he's ready to grab a piece of that valuable momentum this weekend, at the Big Go.

"It's been a pretty crazy last four races for us, that's for sure," Wilkerson said. "We won back-to-back on the Western Swing, then hit Brainerd and Reading running just as fast on Sunday, but we lost a couple of heartbreakers that make you scratch your head. It's one thing to run well and lose, because we all do that a bunch every year, but it's another deal when basically the only guy who can beat you is the guy you're matched up with, and all the other winners run slower than you do, but they get to move on while you're packing up.

"If we would've stunk up the joint at those last two, I'd really be thinking about whatever it is we could do to turn this deal around and get to running good again before the playoffs start, but knowing how close we were I think we just keep doing what we're doing, and it will work out for us. You know, if we go run that first round race in Brainerd again 10 more times, us against Ron Capps, it probably ends up 5-5, because when you're within a few thousandths of each other it can, literally, go either way. Same thing for our race against Mike Neff in Reading. Run those all day, and we probably split it down the middle, but we only got to run it once and we came out on the short end."

Finding momentum when things are truly not going well is usually a lengthy process made up of many steps. First, the issues that are slowing you down have to be discovered, and then those in charge have to be bright enough to make sure those issues are fixed. Only then can a team be fast enough to even be involved in close races, and it takes winning a few of those to establish the fact Big Mo is in the house.

In Wilkerson's case, his LRS Shelby is running well enough to have him well beyond the problem solving or tune-up discovering phases, and it's just a matter of remaining consistent until the win lights start to shine again. Big Mo is already in the house. He just seems to be in a different room.

"We really are right there, and it's not going to take much more than a little better qualifying effort to get back on a roll," Wilkerson said. "We got stuck in some tough match-ups because we didn't qualify as well as we should have at the last two, so the one key thing is to get up into the top half and go from there. With an extra qualifying lap in Indy, we get one more shot but so do all the other fast teams, so it really gets to be a dogfight to see who lands in the top half.

"Momentum is a funny thing in this sport, because the cars can't feel it. But, the teams and the drivers do, and when you feel like you're on a roll you get a little aggressive and it just seems to work for you. At the same time, the people you're racing know you've got a good handle on it, too, and they can get to where they're trying too hard to beat you, instead of racing the track, from time to time. You really wouldn't think momentum was that big of a deal, but it is and we've all felt it."

Utilizing some of that momentum can make the difference between entering the Countdown from as high as fourth place on the grid, to perhaps as low as eighth, as Wilkerson enters Indy right in the center of a pack of five drivers who make up the middle core of the current Top 10. Tony Pedregon, Ron Capps, and Ashley Force Hood have pulled away as the top three on the Full Throttle list, while Robert Hight, Matt Hagan, Cruz Pedregon, and Mike Neff will do battle to see which two, out of their group of four, can hold onto the precious ninth and 10th spots. The middle group, of which Wilk is a part, is also tightly bunched and it continues to jostle for position. Bob Tasca currently sits in the No. 4 spot, only 26 points ahead of Wilkerson, while Jack Beckman holds down fifth, 14 points ahead. Behind Wilkerson, Del Worsham is 53 points in arrears, while John Force holds the No. 8 spot, 63 points back. From Wilkerson's perspective in the middle of that quintet, both the top and the bottom of the list are within reach. Momentum might just spell the difference.

"If we get some results and win a few rounds, we can move back up and be as high as fourth," he said. "If we end up running lousy or just stay unlucky, we could easily fall back down. I guess if we want to know how our luck is going, we'll just get to the end of the day on Monday and check the scoreboard. If we run quick enough in the first round to beat everyone except the car we're running, and then Worsham and Force meet in the final to knock us back to 8th, we'll know we're the unluckiest team in drag racing.

"On the other hand, maybe we'll just get hot and stay hot and move back up. Either way, we know we're in the Countdown and we'd like to start that part of the season with our car running strong and with us feeling good about it. To do that, we have to run well at Indy. Win or lose, we just need to run well and I'll feel good about the playoffs when they start in Charlotte."

Get hot, stay hot, and have Big Mo along for the ride. That equation could provide great things for the Levi, Ray & Shoup team, beginning this weekend at the Big Go in Indy.

-credit: twr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Del Worsham , Ron Capps , John Force , Tim Wilkerson , Jack Beckman , Ashley Force , Robert Hight , Matt Hagan , Mike Neff