WILK TAKES IT ONE STEP FURTHER - WINS NORWALK One week ago, in Bristol, Tim Wilkerson advanced to the final round against John Force and there, thanks to a malfunctioning safety switch that aborted his run at the 60-foot timer, his race ended.
WILK TAKES IT ONE STEP FURTHER - WINS NORWALK
One week ago, in Bristol, Tim Wilkerson advanced to the final round against John Force and there, thanks to a malfunctioning safety switch that aborted his run at the 60-foot timer, his race ended. This weekend, at beautiful Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park, he managed to advance to the ultimate round again (and once again defeated Del Worsham in the semifinal to do it) where he and Force lined up for a rematch as storm clouds neared. This time, the Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby was the first Ford across the finish line, as Wilk stunned Force with his best e.t. of the day, firing a mammoth 4.191 shot to vanquish Force's 4.272. This time, the result befitted the effort, and as the skies opened up moments after the win, it was as if Mother Nature was giving the popular LRS driver the world's biggest Gatorade bath at the end of a hard-fought game. It's easy to smile when you're drenched, if you just beat John Force in the final.
Getting to that final was no easy task for either driver, as both worked their way through the ladder from the bottom half of the field. Force had needed a last-gasp 4.238 just to grab the 16th spot, which earned him a date with his daughter, the No. 1 qualifier, in round one. Wilk had slipped from 9th to 10th early in the final session, but was looking forward to moving back up the list when the aforementioned Mother Nature opened up with a gully washer and ended the proceedings. That meant Wilkerson would have to face his alliance partner Bob Tasca in round one.
Sunday dawned hot and humid, but anyone with access to a weather forecast knew the afternoon storms were expected, and NHRA instituted a 65-minute turn-around time between rounds. With Wilk and Tasca running as the seventh pair in the opener, both teams knew the winner would be up against it to service their car and be ready for round two, but both also knew the advancing team would have some help from the losers.
The first thing Wilkerson did was establish his credentials at the tree, grabbing nearly 2-hundredths with a fine .077 light, and the second thing he did was ride his own tune-up to the win, with his 4.208 registering as the second-quickest lap of the opening round. Only Robert Hight's 4.173 was quicker. As the points were added up after the lap, it was important to note that Wilk had picked up 20 key points on Tony Pedregon, who came into this race 61 points behind him in 10th place. With Worsham advancing, and with 11th-place Jeff Arend also picking up a win, Wilkerson stayed static in relation to those two competitors.
Round two brought with it an appointment with Arend, who has been making a strong move for the Countdown as of late. A win for Wilkerson would not only be valuable in adding some additional space between the two, it would also move him closer to a higher spot in the Full Throttle Top 10, and if Worsham would finally find a way to lose it would move him into 8th place.
4.271 seconds later, Wilk had bested Arend's fishtailing 4.567 and that part of the points deed was done, but Worsham also advanced right alongside to maintain his grip on the 8th spot.
"You're talking about a trio of pretty hot cars right now, with us, Del, and Jeff," Wilkerson said. "Basically, the first round is the biggest one, like I always say. You can't do anything good if you lose that one, and all three of us won. I don't fixate on the points, but I have some people around me who keep it all up to date so we know what's going on, trust me."
In the semifinal, it was Wilkerson and Worsham in a reprise of their face-off in Bristol, which Wilkerson won. Winning this one would not only vault him over Worsham in the standings, it would also leapfrog him right past Ron Capps and into 7th. This one was memorable.
Wilk got away first, with a terrific .059 light, which earned him nearly 4-hundredths right at the tree. Both cars streaked down the track cleanly. Both cars were charging hard, although the LRS Shelby first put one cylinder out just past half-track and then dropped another one near the finish line. Worsham was flying, and closing the gap at a rapid rate, but at the stripe it was Wilk with the win, on a hole-shot. His fine 4.277 was just enough to hold off Worsham's quicker 4.251, and for the second straight race the LRS team was final-round bound. Force, the points leader and most likely the hottest driver in the class right now, would be there waiting for the sequel.
With weather radar on laptops everywhere, and with the sky darkening more and more by the minute, this was more than a race between two competitors. It was also a race against the weather, and NHRA again adjusted smartly, shuffling the final round order by announcing that it was "first come, first served" for all classes. As the contestants arrived in the lanes, they'd be run in that order rather than wasting time by sticking to the traditional run order.
Force arrived first, and he and his team did have to wait a couple of minutes as Wilkerson was strapped into his car. All eyes were on the sky as the LRS Ford came around the bend and took its position behind the water box and within seconds, with no time to spare, the order to fire the engines was given and the two cars sprang to life.
Both came back from their burn-outs quickly, and both drivers pre-staged rapidly. At that point, the action appeared to slip into slow-motion. Both drivers waited to fully stage, then each slipped in nearly simultaneously. Whether it was a nervous driver's imagination or reality, the flash of amber seemed to take forever. Then, both cars tore down the track side-by-side, but Wilkerson aggressive tune-up stayed stuck to the track and he pulled away for the emotional victory, while his team celebrated exuberantly at the starting line, putting four straight weeks of hard work and travel behind them in a rush of primal spontaneity.
"I'm telling you, that tree was the longest I have ever experienced," Wilkerson said. "It was almost impossible to wait, but both of us did. When we got to the other end, Force came over and asked me if I'd hopped it up, and I just said that I sure enough did because that's what it took to beat him. Winning is great, it's one of the best things you can ever experience, but I'd be lying if I said beating John in the final wasn't just a little bit sweeter. He's the best there ever was, and he's the best right now. Today, we got him and it feels good.
"And to do this with the Summit people sponsoring the race at the track they have their name on, and with a big group of Ford people here, just made it all the better. The Summit folks are great people, and they work so hard to make this race really stand out for them, so I'm just thrilled to win this one. My guys were unbelievable all day, even with the short turn-arounds and the brutal conditions. They earned every bit of this. And none of this would be possible without Dick Levi and LRS. We're here, doing this, because of a great company that believes in this sport as a part of their marketing approach. Today, it all added up to a thrilling deal. We're all pretty much dead tired and soaking wet, but we're smiling pretty big, believe me."
Representing Levi, Ray & Shoup, his loyal hometown sponsor, Tim Wilkerson took Summit to the Winner's Circle at the race they covet the most in front of another huge Norwalk crowd. With a bevy of Ford executives making the short trip from Detroit, he found a way to put his LRS Shelby Mustang on top. And in the end, he cashed in his seventh round-win in the last two races, giving his playoff aspirations an enormous boost.
Not a bad weekend, rain and all.