WILK RUNS OUT OF ANSWERS IN THE SEMIFINALS Tim Wilkerson's Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang Funny Car played coy through qualifying in Las Vegas, offering tidbits of performance without ever really coming through with a top-notch lap. Still,...
WILK RUNS OUT OF ANSWERS IN THE SEMIFINALS
Tim Wilkerson's Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang Funny Car played coy through qualifying in Las Vegas, offering tidbits of performance without ever really coming through with a top-notch lap. Still, by the time two perfectly beautiful days of qualifying were through, Wilk had forced his way into the top half of the field, in the 7th spot, and he viewed the Sunday road ahead as a great opportunity. Having entered this race in 5th place, roughly five rounds of racing out of the top spot, Wilk knew he needed to win rounds, and get a little help in terms of eliminating the top runners, in order to make this trip to Sin City a valuable and profitable one.
When Robert Hight and Ashley Force Hood, the No. 1 and No. 2 points position holders, ended up facing each other in round one, everyone knew the "good news, bad news" aspect to that story. The good news was that one of the top contenders was going home early. The bad news was the impossibility of both of them departing in the first round. All Wilkerson could do was take care of his own business.
"Everybody was dissecting and analyzing the ladder like it was some sort of high school science class assignment, but the way we feel about it was there's nothing we can do about any pair but our own," Wilkerson said. "We knew Robert or Ashley had to advance, so our mission was to beat Jim Head in our first round pairing, and then we'd see how that all shook out. You can't worry about what you can't control, so you take care of your own business."
That business, for the LRS team, was the always-tough assignment of beating a driver who is known for his race day consistency. Stumble at all against Jim Head, and you're apt to find yourself packing up and heading home, so Wilk traded in his crew chief hat for his driver's helmet, and got himself amped up to make a difference.
Driver Wilkerson took crew chief Wilkerson's car, and won the lap. A .084 reaction time gave Wilk a big edge at the tree, and he needed every bit of it at the far end, as he clocked in with a 4.159 versus Head's quicker 4.146. With his jump at the lights the LRS driver earned every bit of his win, by taking the hole-shot victory by just 37-thousandths of a second.
Meanwhile, Hight defeated Force Hood to move on to a second-round date with his father-in-law, John Force.
Wilk's round two match-up was against another tough competitor, Ron Capps, and he knew he'd again need a great effort by every section of the orchestra to come back with a win. Capps' car is fast, his driving is stellar, and he's always tough to beat, but Wilk made his Warriors proud by slapping another advantage on the board at the tree, and then holding on again to take a second consecutive hole-shot win. This one was a 4.163, beating Capps' quicker 4.157. Margin of victory: A miniscule and microscopic 2-thousandths of a second. It was nearly a dead heat.
Two laps. Two wins. Two hole-shots. Driver Wilkerson was doing crew chief Wilkerson proud.
Meanwhile, John Force smoked the tires and the points leader, Hight, advanced to the semifinal, where he would face a certain multitasking guy named Wilkerson.
"It all came together pretty nicely in those first two, and you know as a driver that all you can do is your best, because the races that are that tight can just as easily go the other way," Wilkerson said. "The key was the fact the car was running good, and living to the finish line. You can get all the advantages in the world at the tree, but if your car only runs 660 feet, you're going to lose.
"Hight was running better than anyone, really, so we figured we'd have to step up, and I planned on staying with my routine. You just hope you have an answer for whatever they throw out there. We ran out of answers, though."
A spectacular 4.080 at a stunning 312.57 mph will do that to you. For the third time on Sunday, Wilk left the line first (this time with a 7-thousandths advantage) but for the first time on the day his LRS Shelby didn't live to the finish line. His 4.233 at 285.41 was not in the ballpark with Hight's home-run, which ended up as the quickest pass of the day. With the loss, Wilkerson was mathematically eliminated from the championship chase.
After that, Hight went on to edge Jack Beckman by an eyelash in the final, and by doing so set himself up for a waltz to the crown, two weeks from now in Pomona. With a 105 point lead over his teammate Force Hood, Hight basically has to attend the race in order to wrap up his first Full Throttle title.
"We'll go to Pomona and try to spoil everyone's fun by taking the Wally there," Wilkerson said. "We gave it everything we had, all year, and we had some great moments and some really frustrating moments. I'm proud of every person on this team, and today we had what you'd consider a heck of a day, if it came in May. When it comes in race 23, though, you don't feel quite the same. It doesn't matter, though, because we can only look ourselves in the mirror and ask if we gave it our absolute best effort. We did. Every person on this team did. And now we'll head to Pomona and try to finish as high as we can."