WILK SETS SIGHTS ON SAME SEATTLE SCENARIO SEATTLE (July 7, 2010) -- Notable things about Pacific Raceways, site of this weekend's NHRA Northwest Nationals: 1) It is the only track on the NHRA Full Throttle tour from which a snowcapped ...
WILK SETS SIGHTS ON SAME SEATTLE SCENARIO
SEATTLE (July 7, 2010) -- Notable things about Pacific Raceways, site of this weekend's NHRA Northwest Nationals: 1) It is the only track on the NHRA Full Throttle tour from which a snowcapped 14,400-foot volcano is clearly visible. 2) It is the only track on the tour at which racers are asked to drive 8,000-horsepower nitro-burning Funny Cars into a setting sun during one of the qualifying sessions. 3) Its charming yet rustic setting has been referred to by various drivers and crew chiefs in terms that compare it to a campground, with a drag strip running through it. 4) Situated in the Seattle/Tacoma metropolitan area, its "coffee shops per capita" ratio is certainly among the highest on the tour, although this has never been documented. 5) It is the site of the first of Tim Wilkerson's two wins during the 2009 campaign, making him the defending Funny Car champion at this weekend's event.
As opposed to last season, when Wilkerson brought his Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang to Seattle in search of anything resembling good results after having gone 0-2 at the previous two races, this year's trip to the Great Northwest features a resurgent LRS team that is certifiably hot and on a roll. Wilkerson will take to the track not only as the defending champ from '09, but also as the most recent Funny Car winner on the tour, having picked up his second Wally of 2010 just 10 days ago in Norwalk. Though not ready to officially predict a repeat of his '09 win, Wilkerson is nonetheless confident about his chances.
"We've got a pretty good car right now that might not be flashy or a threat to set any records but it really does like to go down the track no matter what the conditions are," Wilkerson said. "Now that we're in the middle of the summer, we'll have some very hot tracks to deal with just like we did at the last two races in Norwalk and Bristol, and we did okay there, I think."
Depending on your definition of "okay" it is likely that Wilk's comment about the previous two events will be listed under the heading "Understatements of the Year" when analyzing the middle portion of the Full Throttle schedule. His back-to-back final rounds and his victory in Ohio were earned against elite competition, topped off by a jaw-dropping defeat of John Force in the money round at Norwalk. No walkovers, no lucky gifts, no easy rounds. Just seven hard-earned win lights when they were needed the most.
"If nothing else, our timing has sure been good, both this year and last," Wilkerson said. "We really needed a boost when we got to Seattle last year, and we ended up winning that race and then the next one in Sonoma to really solidify our Countdown position. This year, the whole bottom part of the Top 10 had tightened up to where we really were just one bad day away from falling out of the deal altogether. Jeff Arend has been coming on strong down there in 11th, and when we went out there for round one in Bristol it was hard not to think about how it might turn out if we didn't get a win light.
"We did get that light, and then we got two more that day before we had a little problem and we let the Force battleship sink us in the final. That really helped with the points situation, and we went to Norwalk with a lot of confidence after seeing how the car ran in Bristol. Sunday rolled around, it was hot and muggy, and we just kept pecking away at it, taking out some very good cars each time. Once we got to the final, and it was Force again, we made a little bit of a mark for ourselves, the way we won that one. That was a very good day."
So good that Wilkerson has now moved up to 7th place on the points chart, increasing his edge over 11th-place Arend from only 49 points up to 172 points over the course of the past two races. It's not yet a mathematical lock, nor is it even insurmountable in any way, but it's a much healthier cushion with only four races remaining in the regular season. At this point, most playoff watchers have trained their sights on the Arend/Tony Pedregon battle for the 10th and final spot in the Countdown field, as those two drivers are separated by only 32 points (two rounds of racing) with 16 rounds left on the table. Wilkerson, though, is taking nothing for granted.
"Our only plan is to keep our heads down and keep working," Wilkerson said. "The first step is to get the Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby into the playoffs, and the secondary goal is to move up even higher from where we are. We're not looking back, we're not counting our chickens, we're just going to try to keep this car running strong and we'll see where that gets us. Going into the Countdown as high as 5th place is not out of the question."
Indeed it is not, although it might have seemed highly improbable before the Bristol race. At that point, Ashley Force Hood was a full 133 points up on Wilk, meaning he was all of seven rounds behind her. Now, with four races left before the Countdown, Wilk trails Force Hood by just 36 points, while Bob Tasca sits between the two, only 15 points ahead of the LRS driver. Anything, at this point, is possible.
In the shadow of Mount Rainier, under universally-predicted sunny skies, out in the forests of northwestern Washington, surrounded by lattes and cappuccinos, Tim Wilkerson will put his "pretty good" LRS Shelby Mustang to the test this weekend at Pacific Raceways. If he continues to do "okay" in terms of results, his place in the Countdown can move from the "solid" category right to the "all but certain" column.