WILK'S SOLID DAY CUT SHORT BY HAGAN BUZZ SAW Tim Wilkerson, by his own admission, had a lousy Saturday at Maple Grove Raceway. After going 1-for-2 on Friday, albeit with the one good lap registering in at 4.094 for a solid qualifying effort, ...
WILK'S SOLID DAY CUT SHORT BY HAGAN BUZZ SAW
Tim Wilkerson, by his own admission, had a lousy Saturday at Maple Grove Raceway. After going 1-for-2 on Friday, albeit with the one good lap registering in at 4.094 for a solid qualifying effort, Wilk's main goal on Saturday was to get his car set up well for race day, while he also hoped to get the Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang back into the "consistency game" it is so commonly known for. Instead, his Saturday was an exercise in frustration, as the LRS car made progress, in terms of percentage of the track covered before tire smoke, but still did not come close to making a solid A-to-B run. All in all, it was very unWilk-like. He'd have to go into eliminations based on best estimates and past history, because nothing he accomplished on Saturday did any more than tell him what not to do.
Backtracking to Friday, the first of three of the most stunningly gorgeous days in the history of the Reading race, qualifying was pushed back a bit while NHRA dealt with moisture on the race track, despite the fact there was nary a cloud in the sky. Veterans of the sport immediately knew what the issue was, especially those with knowledge of the seven inches of rain that had fallen on the area in the past week. Sure enough, those pesky "weepers" were at work, as the ground water bubbled through to the asphalt surface and into the bright sunlight. Once the weeper problem was managed, it was time for the pro cars to take a shot at a Reading track that is known to provide no end of thrills when the weather cooperates.
With the conditions being so prime, tire shake was the issue of the hour during Q1 and Wilk was part of the group who launched, shook, and shut off. Under the lights later in the evening, every tuner knew they'd have to be aggressive to get off the line, and then hope their car and driver could hold on for a full pass. Wilk's 4.094 represented a solid hit at a very clutch moment, but just about everything was overshadowed by Ashley Force Hood's spectacular engine explosion, which tossed her Ford Mustang Funny Car body into the air, and Matt Hagan's potential national record of 4.011. To claim the 20 bonus points, Hagan would need to back that run up with another pass within one percent of that number, before the end of the event.
On Saturday, with Wilk's pair of tire smokers, the attention was back to Hagan and he didn't disappoint, running 4.046 to back-up the record run and provisionally move past John Force and into the points lead. Wilk's Friday run held on for the No. 9 spot on the grid, and he knew he'd be facing Paul Lee in round one, without the benefit of lane choice.
"No doubt about it, we weren't happy with how our Saturday went," Wilkerson said. "I never like it when the car refuses to go down the track, whether it's the car being bratty or the crew chief being a knucklehead. We wanted to improve, hopefully get back into the top half of the field, and have something to work with on Sunday. When that didn't happen, the one silver lining is that it reinforced my theory about just racing the lane and the track, not the opponent. I never once considered what Paul Lee and Big Jim (Dunn) would run, although I thought it was safe to assume they'd go down the track with a good lap. All I thought about was what our lane would hold and how would we make it run that number."
In the less-favored left lane, Wilk grabbed a microscopic edge at the tree, as both drivers left with solid reaction times, and he then held on from stripe to stripe to take the win, with his 4.116 pacing the field until Hagan continued his recent dominance by powering to a huge 4.088 in his first-round match-up. That 4.088 was important, since Hagan would be Wilkerson's less-than-desirable draw in round two.
"It's funny how the tag 'best car out here' gets passed around throughout the year, but Hagan and his bunch definitely deserve that title right now," Wilk said. "I figured we wouldn't have lane choice, so that didn't bother me too much, but I also knew we were running into a buzz saw, having to run those guys next. Just another example of having to stick with our tuning beliefs, because if we went up there trying to run a 4.07, we weren't going to do it. We just had to race the track and hope for the best.
"And you know what, at that moment it was really important for us to approach it that way. We're not going to win the championship, so we're really looking for consistency and something positive right now. Getting down the track with a good lap, win or lose, was what we were after. And on top of that, those guys are running for the championship, and they have as good a chance as anyone to win it. We owe everyone a good competitive lap there, from Matt to the people who are chasing him. You want to make them earn it."
Hagan earned it. Despite Wilk grabbing a quick 7-thousandths advantage at the tree, Hagan powered down the track to yet another jaw-dropper, this time posting a 4.080 to advance and move further into the points lead. Wilk's 4.166 at 300.80 mph didn't light the lamp, but it gave him a reason to smile.
"Good lap, against a great lap," he said. "Like I said, we wanted to race the track and if they beat us they beat us. No reason to be ashamed of that. Had we gone out there and tried to rotate the earth, only to smoke the tires at the hit or something, that would've been a real disappointment to us and a lot of other people. We did our best, but there's a reason that team took over the points lead this weekend. It's pretty impressive what they're doing right now.
"Our goal is just to keep progressing and end the season strong. We moved up one spot, and we'd like to move up a couple more in the last two races, but the number on our car next year isn't the most important thing. Doing our best and setting ourselves up for a strong run next year is what we're after."
Sunday's pair of solid laps were, in that regard, money in the bank for Wilk and his LRS team. More of the same at Las Vegas and Pomona would make the balance grow in anticipation of the 2011 Full Throttle season.