IT'S ALL IN THE NUMBERS FOR WILK POMONA, Calif. (November 9, 2009) -- Drag racing is, beyond any doubt, a sport based upon a plethora of numbers. Elapsed times, top-end speeds, incremental split times, qualifying spots, ladder placements, and...
IT'S ALL IN THE NUMBERS FOR WILK
POMONA, Calif. (November 9, 2009) -- Drag racing is, beyond any doubt, a sport based upon a plethora of numbers. Elapsed times, top-end speeds, incremental split times, qualifying spots, ladder placements, and Full Throttle points are all calculated and studied furiously every day at the race track, but for Tim Wilkerson and his Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang Funny Car team there's one more critical number to be earned and it will be clearly illustrated, in the form of a decal on the side of his race car, all next year.
With this weekend's Auto Club Finals in Pomona being the last event of the 24-race 2009 campaign, final points positions will be decided on Sunday and those drivers who finish in the top 10 will have the option of using their final position as their race car number in 2010. For Wilkerson, who finished second in points last year and therefore had the honor of running with the number 2 on his car this season, his 2010 digit could end up being just about any number other than 1. With Robert Hight having the Full Throttle championship all but wrapped up, Wilkerson is mathematically eliminated from that spot, but the rest of the Countdown field is up for grabs.
"It's kind of hard to believe, but we're only 27 points out of second place, and we're in sixth place right now," Wilkerson said. "We've run pretty well the last couple of races, and even though we didn't pick up any spots in the standings what we did do was make it all a lot tighter. It's kind of ridiculous to think that two through six are all separated by only 27 points.
"I guess the key for us is winning rounds, and hopefully the race. That wouldn't guarantee us having the 2 on the car again next year, but it would give us a good leg up on it. If we won the race but beat Ashley Force Hood in the final, we'd probably finish third, but with all these bonus points and qualifying points laying out there, it's over my head to try to figure it all out. You could wear out a Number 2 pencil and a pad of paper trying to figure out all of the possibilities, but it's a lot easier on the brain if you just go out there, win the race, and then ask someone to show you the final points."
Another set of important numbers that come along with finishing positions are the digits on either side of a decimal point, next to a dollar sign, on every team's end-of-year bonus check. Whoever finishes second in the standings will receive $100,000 from the Full Throttle bonus fund. If Wilk stays sixth, he'll earn $22,000. For a group that famously makes each dollar buy more, last longer, and go faster than most other teams, that spread is precious and important, but it can't be the team's motivation.
"If you came out here thinking about money every week, you'd be out of the sport pretty quick because that's not why we do this," Wilkerson said. "Fortunately, those of us with great sponsors have found a way to be a part of how our marketing partners promote their businesses, and that gives us the resources to race. If we didn't have Dick Levi and all the people at LRS behind us, we wouldn't even be thinking about where we're going to finish or how big the bonus check will be, because we wouldn't be anywhere near this position. The saying is 'If you want to be a millionaire, start with about three million and run a Funny Car for year' and that's pretty much how it would be if you didn't have a sponsor that believed in what you bring to the table.
"But, to be honest, this is the one time all year you might think about this stuff. Trying to get a bigger check doesn't motivate us, because we're as motivated as we can be, and it won't make the LRS Shelby run any faster, because the car doesn't care. But I'd be lying if I said I don't care where we finish in the points. All of us absolutely care, and we all want to finish as high as possible. There are probably some teams who figure it doesn't matter where they finish if it's not first, but we're not in that group. We have a lot of pride on this team, and we want the lowest possible number on the car next year."
Even though Wilkerson started the Countdown in the sixth spot, and currently still resides there, the numbers hide the reality of his performance. After starting the playoffs 0-1 with a first-round loss in Charlotte, Wilk has bounced back to a 7-4 round record in the last four races, and those round wins are the reason the points spread has tightened to where five drivers are now separated by only 27 points. His overall mark on the year is 29-20.
"So there's your goal. We want to finish 33-20," Wilkerson said. "If we finish 2009 with a record of 33-20, we'll have three race wins and we'll have a low number on the car next year. That's the math, and that's what we're after. And then there's the whole thing about seats at our table for Monday's award ceremony. If you finish sixth, you get six seats and have to buy any extra ones you need. Well, we have seven people going, so we need to move up in the points to get another free seat. I'll just have to tell the crew that my daughter Rachel's chance to go to the fancy banquet is all on their shoulders. We need to win one for Rachel!"
Sixth place or second place. $22,000 or $100,000. A complimentary seat at the table for Rachel Wilkerson, or an unhappy dad who has to pay to get her in. It's all numbers. Win one for Rachel!