Memphis: Tim Wilkerson preview

WILKERSON'S MEMPHIS HAS MUCH MEANING MEMPHIS, Tenn. (September 29, 2009) -- One year ago, Tim Wilkerson came to Memphis and ran the table in his Levi, Ray & Shoup Funny Car. It was his second consecutive victory in the Countdown playoffs, and...


MEMPHIS, Tenn. (September 29, 2009) -- One year ago, Tim Wilkerson came to Memphis and ran the table in his Levi, Ray & Shoup Funny Car. It was his second consecutive victory in the Countdown playoffs, and it positioned him well for a well-documented run at the championship that only came up short on the season's final day. This year, he enters the O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals not with one race win on his playoff record, but rather one round win; a valuable "W" he picked up this past weekend in Dallas. The 2009 Memphis race will obviously, therefore, mean a great deal when it comes to Wilkerson's playoff viability.

Wilkerson enters this weekend's race 112 points out of the top spot in the Full Throttle Funny Car standings. That's six rounds of racing with only four races left on the docket, so losing any additional ground would be a major setback at this point, and standing pat will only make things all the tougher. Wilk knows he needs to start gaining ground in the LRS Shelby Mustang.

"We don't have the luxury of a big cushion, because we're the ones down in the eighth spot with a lot of big hitters between us and the top," Wilkerson said. "We can't make it up all at once, but we have to focus on each lap, and each round, and win everything we can. If we can pick up a couple of rounds in Memphis, we'll be right back in it. If we don't, we'll be pretty much in tough shape because it's not so much the total points but the number of teams involved.

"We might be able to pick up six rounds on Robert Hight, the guy in first place, but somebody's going to have to beat Ashley Force Hood, and John Force, and TonyPedregon, and all of these other teams that are ahead of us. They can't hardly all lose at the same time. So, they say the longest journey begins with a single step, and that's how we have to look at this. One step at a time, pick some people off, and start moving up. Hight just went from last place in the playoffs to first place, in two weeks, so we're not out of this by any means, and hopefully we can peak at just the right moment."

That Wilkerson was able to pick up a round win in Dallas was directly tied to just how competitive the Funny Car class is in 2009, where thousandths of a second can make or break a team. Wilk qualified in the No. 8 spot by running only 3-thousandths of a second better than Ron Capps, who finished 9th, and that miniscule edge gave him lane choice. His first-round win, over Capps, was strong, but his clocking came in 1-hundredth of a second behind that of Robert Hight, who was his second-round opponent. Without lane choice at that point, Wilk had to reach deep to strap a huge starting line advantage on Hight, but came up 26-thousandths short of beating him. Hight then went on to win the race and take over the points lead.

"That's how close it is, and you never know what little bobble or stroke of luck can either hurt you or pay off for you," Wilkerson said. "We ran our qualifying number on Friday, in the second session, and what if I would've rolled in an inch deeper? The thousandths might've gone the other way if I'd have done that, and then we would've been running out of the right lane against Capps on Sunday. That's why you have to treat each lap like it's the most important one you're going to run. You have to squeeze every ounce of e.t. out of it in qualifying, and you have to be on your game on Sunday."

Wilkerson will also have an additional priority in Memphis, as his son Daniel will be making his second NHRA Funny Car appearance. The younger Wilk outdid his dad during qualifying at his NHRA pro debut, back in late May in Topeka, when he grabbed the No. 8 spot with a big 4.215, and he'll be back in the mix this weekend in Memphis.

"We want to give him another shot at being out here as a pro, and it also helps us market him for the future," the senior Wilkerson said. "It's one thing to show a prospective sponsor some nice pictures and tell them what a great kid he is, but when he's out there in-person, doing as well as he can do, it brings a lot of things to light. He's going to make a great spokesman for the lucky company who puts a deal together for him, and we're working hard to make that happen, in some way, for next year."

The plate will be full for Tim Wilkerson in Memphis. He needs to qualify well, he needs to win rounds, and he needs to move up in the standings. All the while, his oldest son will be following in his tire tracks once again. And the whole journey will begin with a single step.

-credit: twr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tim Wilkerson , Ashley Force , Robert Hight