WILKERSON, MCCLENATHAN, LINE FIRST-TIME WINNERS IN LAS VEGAS; A. FORCE LEAVES EVENT FIRST FEMALE POINTS LEADER IN FUNNY CAR LAS VEGAS -- Tim Wilkerson broke a three and Â½ year winless streak and denied Ashley Force her first career Funny Car...
WILKERSON, MCCLENATHAN, LINE FIRST-TIME WINNERS IN LAS VEGAS; A. FORCE LEAVES EVENT FIRST FEMALE POINTS LEADER IN FUNNY CAR
LAS VEGAS -- Tim Wilkerson broke a three and ½ year winless streak and denied Ashley Force her first career Funny Car win in the process at the ninth annual SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Wilkerson, a Springfield-Ill.-based auto service shop owner, drove his Levi Ray & Shoup Chevy Impala SS to a 4.962 at 292.58 to a win over Force, who turned in a 4.993 at 313.95 in her Castrol GTX Ford Mustang.
Despite the loss, Force leaves the event as the first woman in NHRA history to top the Funny Car point standings as the tour moves to Atlanta.
"We've had a good car all year, with some mechanical failures," Wilkerson said after his first win of the year, sixth of his career and first in Las Vegas. "It's kind of cool for the single car teams, for Tony Pedregon, me and Del Worsham (to win so far this year). I think that's really cool. NHRA has done a really good job equalizing the field out there. We have to be safe, have to have our cars together at end of the run, and this weight we're putting on, we need that.
"It's just been a hard weekend here. The track's just a little treacherous from time to time. NHRA did a good job with this place. Our Goodyear's worked good today and the track prep was good today."
Wilkerson won last in 2004, when he beat Ashley's father John Force in Sonoma.
Ashley Force, who grew up at racetracks and considers Wilkerson a family friend, said losing to him was perhaps a little easier to handle than seeing other drivers in the winner's circle.
"A lot of the fans came up and they were just sure (I would win)," said Ashley Force, who is also the only female to reach a final round in the category. "They were making bets on me and telling me how much money they had on me because I had that left lane, but it wasn't so obvious to me. We kept picking the left lane. I really was thinking either we'd both get down the track or we'd both go up in smoke together."
In Top Fuel, newly christened Don Schumacher Racing driver Cory McClenathan had a winless streak of his own to break, earning his first trip to the winner's circle since Richmond in 2006. McClenathan drove his FRAM dragster to a 4.654 at 315.86 around Antron Brown's 4.703 at 315.93 in his Matco Tools dragster.
It had been 30 races since his last win -- and this one was his 30th career victory.
"To say the least, it's about time," McClenathan said. "That's all I can say. It's been a couple of years since we even had a competitive car...to come here exactly 30 races later and earn my 30th, it's incredible. I'm hoping to spend the rest of my days and retire there at DSR."
Jason Line earned his first win of the year in his third final round appearance when he drove his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP to a 6.782 at 203.83 to Greg Stanfield's 6.816 at 203.16 in his Attitude Apparel Pontiac GXP. It was Line's 14th career win and his first in Las Vegas.
"It's been so long since we had won a race, you start to lose confidence," Line said. "To finally win a race, it's redeeming. To win the Summit race is a huge deal for us.
"The truth is, I haven't done a good job (driving). The stars may lie but the numbers don't. This is the best car I've had in 1 ½ years. I think the lack of confidence is definitely a bad thing for sure. I finally got some back and it feels really good."