WILK'S BEST LAP OF THE WEEKEND NOT ENOUGH TO STOP HIGHT IN ROUND TWO During a challenging weekend near Chicago, Tim Wilkerson saved his best for last but even that was not enough to get him past round two, the point at which he has departed at...
WILK'S BEST LAP OF THE WEEKEND NOT ENOUGH TO STOP HIGHT IN ROUND TWO
During a challenging weekend near Chicago, Tim Wilkerson saved his best for last but even that was not enough to get him past round two, the point at which he has departed at six out of the past seven races. After a frustrating couple of rainy days, a thrilling last ditch qualifying effort, and a much-needed win in round one over the always-tough Del Worsham, Wilk ran into the Robert Hight buzz saw in the second stanza, when his very good 4.186 came up short to Hight's terrific 4.111-second blast. It was Hight's 14th consecutive round win.
The entire weekend at Route 66 Raceway was all about the weather and marathon days (and nights) it created at the race track. Storms danced throughout the area for both qualifying days and again on Sunday (when no such thing was predicted), and many of the downpours were epic, so the Levi, Ray & Shoup team was pleased to get three of the four scheduled qualifying sessions completed. Had they advanced to the semifinal on Sunday, they would have been waiting again as a pair of surprise "gully washers" inundated the race track just after the second round on race day.
Earlier in the weekend, Friday's lone run came at nearly 11:00 p.m. and only three Funny Car teams made competitive laps on a very green race track. Wilk's pedestrian 4.813 was nothing to cheer about, but it did land him in the 10th spot overnight and that seemed important at the time, considering Saturday's forecast was dismal. It also put him four spots behind his son Daniel, who was making his 2010 debut this weekend.
"That was one of the longest days you'll ever experience at the track," Wilkerson said. "Most teams were probably out here 14 or 15 hours, and some were out here longer than that, so to finally get a chance to run was a relief, because there's nothing worse than waiting it out that long and then ending up with nothing. We didn't do very well, but we did get a number on the board and you saw more pedaling going on out there than you'd usually see on a Friday, because no one knew if we'd get another qualifying session in at all."
Saturday's forecast might have been awful, but the reality was different as the storms split up to miss Joliet until later in the evening, and both sessions came off without a hitch, right on time. Wilk's traction issues continued, however, and although his 4.619 was an improvement, it was off-pace enough to allow him to slide into the 15th spot with one session to go. With 19 cars racing, that position was a dicey one, but even Wilkerson couldn't have envisioned just how dramatic the final session would be.
Wilk did manage a solid A-to-B run on his last lap, and it got him in the show, but before the final session was over the fans saw Jeff Arend, Tony Pedregon, Ron Capps, Del Worsham, Bob Tasca, and Cruz Pedregon join Wilk as drivers who were out of the show when they ran, and then in the field afterward. The drama continued a few minutes after the session was over, as well, when Cruz Pedregon's run was disqualified due to the fact the incremental times were seen to be clearly erroneous. Rarely has so much edge-of-your-seat excitement been created in one qualifying session, and for Wilk the drama actually began earlier, during the service period between sessions when the LRS team had to rapidly change engines only minutes before the run.
"We had a backfire when we tried to start it, and then couldn't find the problem," Wilkerson said. "We didn't know what was wrong with it, but we knew something was wrong, so we made the call to swap motors when the Top Fuel cars were starting to back out of their pits. If you want to know how good my guys are, just listen to this. 28 minutes after we made the call, we were firing the new motor up. That was pretty incredible, and our LRS guests got a real kick out of seeing the guys do that, but we all would've rather not been so exciting, believe me. Then, we had to go up there and watch pair after pair bump in, bump other people out, and juggle the order all over the place.
"By the time we ran, we were out of the field, too, but I expected that so I didn't let it bother me. We just needed to go from end to end under power, and we managed to pull that off so we kind of saved the day there. There was a little too much excitement, but we got it done."
With Pedregon's disqualification, Wilk moved up one spot on the final ladder and landed 8th for race day, setting up a big opening-round battle with Worsham. It would be contested under utterly different conditions than the teams had seen all weekend, as Sunday dawned bright and sunny with lower humidity and no sign of the downpours that were to come later in the day. Wilk and Worsham were the final pair in the opening round, running right behind Dan Wilkerson and Bob Bode and just ahead of Pro Stock. Bode took the match-up of Illinois drivers, ending D. Wilk's weekend, but Dad then turned the tables to get back in the win column.
It was Wilk getting away first, although neither driver had a reaction time they could boast about, and when Worsham began to spin the tires about one second into the run it looked like a cake walk for a moment. That impression was soon replaced by the reality of tire smoke coming from the LRS car as well, and when Worsham got his car to hook back up, the race to the finish line was on. Wilk was unable to pedal his Shelby Mustang, because it had gotten slightly sideways after the tire spin, so it was simply a matter of holding on and hoping for the best. With another 50 feet of track, Worsham probably would've gone by, but these affairs are contested to 1,000 feet and Wilk held on for a big round win.
That victory set him up for his second-round date with Hight, who clearly has the baddest hot rod in the sport right now. Would Wilk's tune-up make for much better results, this time? Maybe he'd grab an advantage at the tree and make that pay off. Both options came true, as Wilkerson's 4.186 was, by far, his best run of the weekend and the best run among losers in round two, and he did grab nearly 2-hundredths at the tree, but Hight powered to his jaw-dropping 4.111 and there was no way to top that.
"I'm very happy with that run, and it felt good to get out there and make a good full lap when the three cars ahead of us in the right lane all smoked the tires," Wilkerson said. "We gave it our best shot, we hit it pretty much right on the button, and we got beat by the best car out here right now. That was a beat-down they put on us, but we held our own and I'm proud of the guys for hanging in there until we got the car sorted out. Even though we lost, it makes you feel better going into next week coming off a lap like that. Hopefully that will help us hit the ground running in a few days, when we get to Englishtown."
Great effort, solid lap, wrong result. But such things can spawn success, and the LRS team will be focused on that very mission when the tour reconvenes on the east coast, later this week.