By Team Wilkerson Racing
When a loss is a win...
Tim Wilkerson had just lost in the first round at Norwalk. On top of that, his E.T. was quicker than his opponent's, so the loss was of the "hole shot" variety. Moments later, when his team arrived back at the Levi, Ray & Shoup pit area, Wilkerson was anything but disconsolate or frustrated. He was, instead, excited and grinning about what he considered to be a greater accomplishment. He had lost, but he had spent two days finding his race car, and he liked what he had found.
"Hey, we just raced the wrong guy, that's all," Wilkerson said. "You can't play defense out here, you just put up your best effort and you have no control over what the other car does. We made three consecutive laps that were good, better, and best, and after a very tough start to the season I really think we're over the hump and ready to start winning. And when I say that, I mean races, not just rounds."
After rain washed out all racing on Friday (a racer's least favorite sort of "long day" at the track) qualifying came down to two sessions on Saturday, with 21 Funny Cars jousting for 16 spots. The pressure was on, and Wilk was ready. His first run was a 4.164 that seemed sure to get him in the show. His second run was a better 4.137, to land him 9th on the grid. In the opening round on Sunday, running Cruz Pedregon, he posted a 4.138 under hotter and sunnier conditions. It was a hair slower than the second qualifying run, but under the conditions it was an even better run. The only hitch was Pedregon's .067 reaction time, which was enough quicker than Wilk's textbook .088 to create a margin of victory of 18-thousandths of a second. It was "that close".
"A race that close, you never see the other guy and I thought we had him," Wilk said. "I'm driving down through there, and I saw the win light come on in his lane and I thought 'You gotta be kidding me' but that's the way it is. Right at the moment, you're a little mad you lost, but we didn't do anything wrong at all. Even the driver cut his everyday standard light, and we just lost to a slightly better one. Two seconds later, I was already pretty ecstatic about how the car ran. We absolutely have a car we can race with, and a car we can win with."
Wilk's 4.138 was, by far, the best run in the left lane. Melanie Troxel, who posted a competitive 4.188 in a losing effort, was the only other driver to make a full pass on the less-favored left side.
The day was not without other reasons to smile, as young Dan Wilkerson led off the first round by winning his first professional round, taking out Paul Lee in a very tight race. Dan then went on to face John Force, and was defeated, but the proud father enjoyed the moment.
"He did great, and the team really did a good job over there," Wilkerson said. "We took them to Bristol to give them a shakedown cruise, and it was well worth it for Dan and for the team. By the time they got here, they all had their act together and they looked like they've been doing this for a long time. Dan drove the car very well, and he got that first win. It's the first of many."
A loss. A hole shot. A smile. And, a proud father. The points situation only got a little better in Norwalk (Wilk picked up a round on Johnny Gray, who sits in the 10th spot, thanks to Gray's DNQ) but Tim Wilkerson is sure the tide has shifted and good things are about to happen. When Wilk is excited, the rest of the class had best pay attention.