WILK GOES BACK-TO-BACK ON A TOUGH DAY IN SEATTLE It was a day that began with some nervousness, a lot of low cloud cover, and a million question marks. Throughout this Sunday in Seattle, the moods swung so widely, and so radically, it was tough...
WILK GOES BACK-TO-BACK ON A TOUGH DAY IN SEATTLE
It was a day that began with some nervousness, a lot of low cloud cover, and a million question marks. Throughout this Sunday in Seattle, the moods swung so widely, and so radically, it was tough to put a finger on just what emotion should be felt at any given time. In the end, Tim Wilkerson advanced to his third consecutive final round, won his second race in a row, and completely solidified his spot in the Countdown playoffs by moving his record to 21-11 while moving up to the No. 5 spot in the Full Throttle standings. Rather than exhibiting an exultant Winner's Circle celebration, however, the team paid its respects to Top Alcohol Dragster driver Mark Niver, who succumbed to his injuries after a high speed wreck during eliminations.
"When something happens like that, your first instinct is to just want to go home," Wilkerson said. "But we're racers, and Mark was a racer, and this is what we do. I raced with him and knew him well, and the best way to be respectful for all he's done was to go out there and win the darn thing. Our motivation wasn't for us, and it wasn't to have a big celebration. Our motivation was really just about representing our sport well, and all of the racers, officials, and fans who love it so much. We love drag racing, and we're here to do our best every time we race. In that regard, today was a very good day. Today went just about as good as it can go, when you're talking about the action on the track."
Wilkerson entered eliminations from the bottom half of the field, just as he had at the previous race in Norwalk. This time, he did a little "tweaking and trying some things" on Saturday, once a spot in the field seemed secured, and those attempts resulted in two tire smokers, making his crew a little nervous and the driver a bit more focused. If there is such a thing as momentum in this sport, it clearly wasn't on Wilk's side as he took to the track to face his alliance partner Bob Tasca in round one.
In that round, when the overcast still hung over the track like a leaden cloud, Wilk simply erased all memory of the two failed efforts on Saturday when he left first, led the whole way, and posted a strong 4.150 to take a big win. At this point in the season, with playoff positions at stake, every round seems bigger, and every point seems more important, and a certain Levi, Ray & Shoup team seems to be peaking at just the right time. The win light in the opener ran Wilk's first-round record to 11-4 on the season.
Round two brought with it a date with Cruz Pedregon, and this one wasn't as close. Wilk was a bit tardy off the line, but he made up the difference quickly and tore away to a 4.193 that was more than good enough to take out Pedregon's tire-smoking 4.997.
"We were halfway there, but we were absolutely only thinking one round at a time, and the weather was changing very fast on us," Wilkerson said. "We went from basically fog in the morning, to overcast, and then just as the second round was about to begin we saw the first patches of blue up there. It didn't take long for it to then clear right up and heat up, just like the forecast said. The trick was to adapt to each round, and we knew we had to slow it down after the big run in the first round.
In the semifinal, Wilk faced off with Matt Hagan in a round that was three parts DSR and one part TWR. With Ron Capps and Jack Beckman, both Don Schumacher Racing drivers, squaring off in one semi, and with Wilk tackling Hagan (the third DSR flopper) in the other, it seemed incumbent upon Wilkerson to carry the torch for Ford. He did so, with another beautifully clean lap, taking out Hagan with a 4.249.
In the final, Capps was the opponent and the NAPA team had lane choice. They chose the favored left side, and as the sun lowered in the western sky at the end of the track, Wilkerson knew much was at stake. Just two races ago, he'd been in 9th place and was far too close to falling out of the Top 10 to be comfortable. A runner-up in Bristol gave him a cushion. A win in Norwalk moved him up a few spots, and made the cushion even bigger. This one would all but lock up his spot in the 2010 playoffs.
Capps got a slight edge at the tree, but before the 60-foot timer the two cars seemed locked together for the length of the track. Whoever won this one, would be doing it by inches, and the LRS car was the one to trip the win lights, take the prize, and earn the points. Wilk's 4.221 beat Capps' 4.246, and when factoring in the drivers' reaction times, the margin of victory was a miniscule 14-thousandths of a second. Tight? Yes. Hard fought? Absolutely.
"I have to give credit to my guys, who were just terrific all day," Wilkerson said. "As we said, it wasn't an easy day to race and any team out here would have had unlimited excuses for losing their focus or whatever out there. Somehow we put four great laps together on one of the most challenging days of the year, and I mean that in every respect. We went through all sorts of different weather and track conditions, and we dealt with a big blow, but we overcame it all.
"At the end of a day like this, and after finding our way to our third straight final and our second win in a row, the tiredness sets in but it's a feeling that you know you earned. We earned every bit of it today."