Tim Wilkerson Lost to Robert Hight in round one A LOSS, BUT A SIGN OF WINS TO COME FOR WILK Tim Wilkerson has been to this rodeo too many times to count, and he's used an entire vocabulary to find ways to describe what it's like to run better...
Tim Wilkerson Lost to Robert Hight in round one
A LOSS, BUT A SIGN OF WINS TO COME FOR WILK
Tim Wilkerson has been to this rodeo too many times to count, and he's used an entire vocabulary to find ways to describe what it's like to run better than almost everyone, but still lose. This time, though, late on Sunday afternoon after many delays, the side-by-side race that featured a narrow deficit at the finish line was far easier to take. This time, it was Wilk's best run of the year, and it was a clear indicator that his pesky race car has finally turned the corner on performance.
In the end, the math was this: Robert Hight (the No. 4 qualifier) ran 4.075 to light the win lamps over Wilkerson's 4.113-second time. The margin of victory was 32-thousandths of a second. Yes, the 4.11 would've beaten five of the other seven opening-round winners, but the significance of improving so mightily from his 4.200 qualifying effort was the most important element in the race, for the Springfield, Ill. racer.
"We seem to run the wrong guy a lot, that's just the way it is, but a very hard weekend of racing ended up with us having a race car again," Wilkerson said. "We've been chasing it every lap at these first two races, and the work and the thought finally came together for a good one. We sure would've liked the win light, but I'm happier to have a fast car again."
The match-up with Hight can be traced to a conscious decision made during Saturday's qualifying, when Wilkerson knew he'd likely be giving up a few spots on the ladder by lifting early on his final run, but he did so anyway to test his tuning theories. On its way to what would likely have been a 4.16, the car instead posted another 4.20 when Wilk got off the throttle about 200 feet early. That dropped him to 13th on the grid, and locked him in with Hight.
"It was a sacrifice I felt we had to make, and I'm glad we did it," Wilkerson said. "We just needed to try some things but I didn't want to pay the price if we legged it out to the end and it ate itself up, so we went out there to run it about 800 feet and then bring it back to the pit to see how it looked. That run may have cost us the first round, because it lined us up with Robert, but it set us up for the future. I'm a lot happier with what we have going now, that's for sure."
Wilkerson's quizzical qualifying effort featured a 4.233 in Q1, followed by his 4.200 during Q2 on Friday. Seeing the Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang go end-to-end with all eight cylinders lit, only to post a 4.20 at the stripe, had every member of the team befuddled and frustrated, beyond any doubt. Saturday's qualifying was shortened to only one run, as unexpected showers arrived in the Phoenix area, and that lone pass was the early shut-off 4.206.
In all, two mystifying and frustrating runs, one in-race test lap that showed a lot of promise, and then a massive pass in the opening round, but it all added up to another first-round loss, the second in as many races.
"But you know, that round loss right there can easily turn into a race win for us," Wilkerson concluded. "We needed that, and we got exactly what we were trying to get out of the car on that particular run, in that lane, on this day. The weather wore us out, we had some bad things happen with the Top Fuel wreck in round one, and it was tough to stay sharp and stay motivated, but we did.
"I thought our guys were great this weekend, because it wasn't easy to stay focused with all the delays and it wasn't easy to stay fired up when the car was driving us so nutty. You take all of that, and you deal with it the best you can. To go out there and rip off a 4.11 felt like we came out on top. Unfortunately, the guy in the other lane beat us, but sometimes a loss can be a win."
With two weeks off before Gainesville, where the team will debut their 2010 Ford Shelby body and bring out a new chassis, Wilkerson and his band of hard-working teammates will have plenty of time to ponder how they can take this momentum and turn it into big success.