FOR WILK, IT'S ONE AND OUT AGAINST IN-N-OUT It seemed like such an unfitting end to a very long weekend. After a marathon of a Saturday, which easily rivaled any other nearly-endless single day in recent NHRA history, Tim Wilkerson brought his...
FOR WILK, IT'S ONE AND OUT AGAINST IN-N-OUT
It seemed like such an unfitting end to a very long weekend. After a marathon of a Saturday, which easily rivaled any other nearly-endless single day in recent NHRA history, Tim Wilkerson brought his stunningly beautiful Summit Racing / LRS Shelby to the line as part of the first pair on Sunday, facing Melanie Troxel in her In-N-Out Burger Funny Car. Just to add one final insult to the calamity created by a series of massive oil spills spread over multiple days, Wilk and Troxel had to sit and wait another 20 minutes after the final pair of Top Fuel cars left another trail of 70-wt lubricant on the racing surface. Then, after a delay caused by a leak on the In-N-Out car after the burnout, Wilk hit the throttle and drove immediately into tire smoke. Game, set, and match.
Getting to that Sunday lap was no easy feat, as Wilk went 0-for-3 in the first trio of qualifying sessions, spanning Friday afternoon and evening and through most of the day on an interminable Saturday. Q4, originally scheduled for mid-afternoon on Saturday, finally and mercifully was run under the lights on Saturday night, in front of a handful of the hardiest and most avid fans in the sport. Wilk had no choice but to wait patiently, knowing he was outside the field needing a big run on his final shot, and just to make the wait a little bit more surreal, Funny Car racer Jeff Diehl crashed hard just two pairs ahead of Wilk, creating one last clean-up of about an hour's duration. Fortunately, Diehl walked away from the crash.
As the clocks closed in on the 9:00 hour, nearly six hours behind schedule, Wilk took his final shot in his Summit Racing Shelby, and 4.117 seconds later he was not only in the field, but all the way up in the No. 7 spot.
"We had a parts issue and then a dropped cylinder on our two Friday laps, so we were outside the top 12 overnight, and then we kind of messed up our first run on Saturday to put ourselves in that spot," Wilkerson said. "It wasn't like we were smoking the tires all over the place or way off on our tune-up, but we just kept finding ways to miss for three runs. Pretty soon you're staring at a 16-car field you're not in, and you need to put a good one on the board just to be part of the race. With this Summit Racing car, we sure didn't want to DNQ.
"We didn't know what the bump spot would be by the time we finally ran, but had to assume it would drop down pretty low so we loaded it up and kind of had the mindset that we'd have to go big to make it. As it turned out, after Diehl had his crash it was obvious that the bump was still going to be pretty soft, so we did tweak a few things in the lanes just to make it a little less edgy. It tore right down there and I was actually a little surprised it ran that good. Either way, we were in and we felt a lot better about our chances."
Sunday morning dawned as yet another beautiful day in the desert, but the same Top Fuel class that extended Saturday's racing well into the night was quickly at it again in round one. Wilk and Troxel were slated to run as the first pair of Funny Cars, but they still had to sit and wait after the final pair of dragsters left the aforementioned 20-minutes worth of clean-up behind them.
"At first they told us it would be less than 10 minutes, so both Melanie and I stayed in our cars," Wilkerson said. "I guess they found more oil out there than they thought, because if we had known how long it was going to take we probably both would've gotten out. It felt like Monday afternoon by the time we finally fired the motors."
After backing up from his burnout, Wilkerson pulled to the line but was held up by his Car Chief, Rich Schendel, who could see the Troxel group addressing their fluid leak issue. Once the leak was stopped and the puddle sopped up, the NHRA starting line officials gave the go ahead and both teams pulled forward. At the flash of amber, Wilk's Ford went immediately into tire smoke while Troxel pedaled once to regain some traction further down the track.
"That was a pretty long wait, and I can't imagine that sitting there that long did us any good," Wilkerson said. "All you do is burn fuel and heat things up, and when we smoked the tires right at the hit I wish I could say I was surprised. These cars don't like to sit there for very long. Pretty soon your tune-up is out the window and everything is out of whack.
"It's too bad, because we had a chance to move up in the points here today and we had the prettiest car at the race track. We wanted to give the Summit Racing people a day they'd never forget, but instead we all just survived a weekend we probably won't ever forget for a lot of other reasons. I think I'm a year older than when we started this race."
It was and exit that came far too quickly at the end of a weekend that seemed to last far too long.