Sonoma: Tim Wilkerson final report

WILK GOES BACK-TO-BACK WITH SWEET SONOMA WIN Tim Wilkerson has picked a fine time to hit his stride and get hot. One week after picking up his first win of the year in Seattle, he replicated the feat about 1,000 miles to the south, in the ...

WILK GOES BACK-TO-BACK WITH SWEET SONOMA WIN

Tim Wilkerson has picked a fine time to hit his stride and get hot. One week after picking up his first win of the year in Seattle, he replicated the feat about 1,000 miles to the south, in the beautiful wine country of Sonoma, and he managed to pull it off by taking out the same bad hombre in the final round, Tony Pedregon.

This was a race made up of two great days and one bad one for the Levi, Ray & Shoup team, with the latter being a Saturday during which Wilk smoked the tires twice. The twin transgressions didn't hurt him a bit, though, as his 4.129 from Friday night held on for the No. 4 spot on the grid, and in the end the LRS driver felt the two tire smokers actually helped him, in terms of knowing what not to do on Sunday.

"I think we made four great laps today because we had those two bad Saturday laps in our pocket," Wilkerson said. "We got a little aggressive, went over the line, and learned a few lessons there. You know, not all the lessons you learn come from success. We failed on Saturday, but it made us a better race team on Sunday and it took us back to the Winner's Circle."

Wilkerson's day began with the challenge of taking on Jeff Arend, who scares just about anyone who lines up against him these days. Arend is far too good of a driver, with far too good of a car, to be winless on the season, but somehow that is the case, and at some point, one unlucky competitor is going to be the footnote on Arend's record, as the first person to lose to him this year. Wilkerson staved off that potential eventuality, running a great 4.176 to beat Arend's game 4.266.

"That's a good car with a good crew and Jeff is a great driver, and having to race them is like facing a good hitter who happens to be on a hitless streak," Wilkerson said. "You know they just going to have to win one soon, but I didn't want it to be today. To tell you the truth, that 4.17 was a heck of a good lap."

With five consecutive round wins in his pocket, Wilkerson went back to the line about an hour later to face teammate Bob Tasca, who ran strong all weekend and had run a 4.22 in his first-round win. The downside was having to race your teammate. The good side was guaranteeing that a Shelby Mustang would be in the semifinal.

In the end, this one was a thriller and settled by a micron. It was Wilk away first, with four thousandths of an edge at the lights. At the stripe, the LRS car still had the edge, with a 4.234 to Tasca's 4.236. Total margin of victory: 6-thousandths of a second.

"Basically, by then you're talking six straight rounds where the other guy is right there, side-by-side," Wilkerson said. "On this one, I mean he was right there. We couldn't have beaten Bob by more than inches. We're really having to earn these rounds, and that one was probably the best."

Heading to his seventh semifinal on the year, Wilkerson faced off against a guy he admits to being worried about. Gary Densham, who has made only sporadic starts this season due to a lack of major sponsorship, had managed to slay John Force and Cruz Pedregon in the first two rounds, and his ability to make the most of every start was something Wilkerson was keenly aware of.

"That was the absolute last guy I wanted to race right there, because Densham just gets it done," Wilkerson said. "We do our best to not even think about who we're racing, and just race the track, but I knew it was Gary and I wasn't too thrilled about that. I'll tell you this, the guy who gets into the Countdown in the No. 10 spot needs to pick up the phone and call Gary Densham to thank him, because if he was out here all year he'd be in the deal."

Wilkerson, in turns out, needn't have been so concerned, as this one was actually his first win by a wide margin during the current streak. The LRS car got off the line first, stayed ahead, and took the win light with a 4.204 to Densham's 4.478, making it Wilk's seventh straight win and seventh consecutive strong lap.

In the final round, it was a reprise of the ultimate match-up from one week earlier, and many in the massive Infineon Raceway crowd must have felt it would be impossible to deny Pedregon the trophy two weeks in a row. Do not count the LRS team among that group. Wilkerson screamed down the track clean and strong once again, and his 4.249 was enough to take out Pedregon's also-strong 4.322. Eight straight round wins. Two straight race wins. More points in the bank.

"Like I said, we do go up there to race the track, but we were absolutely factoring in how good they are and how consistent they are," Wilkerson said. "You have to go A-to-B when you race them, because I can tell you right now that they will not make a mistake in the final. We put a good lap on the board, and son of a gun we did it again. I can't tell you how cool this was, and my team is all pretty much over the moon right now.

"All of us are proud to take Levi, Ray & Shoup, Ford, Summit, Valvoline, and all of our great sponsors to the Winner's Circle. And hey, we're a Fram and Autolite team too, and this was the Fram-Autolite Nationals, so that worked out pretty nice for us and for them. It was just a great day, and as a group we raced really well. We may not have the fastest car out here, but I think it's pretty apparent that we know how to race."

Apparent indeed. Inescapable actually, and impossible to miss. And now, Tim Wilkerson finds himself in 4th place on the Full Throttle points list, with a 22-12 record heading into a pair of off-weekends. There will, at least, be time to savor the last two-thirds of the Western Swing.

-credit: twr

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Gary Densham , Cruz Pedregon , Tim Wilkerson , Jeff Arend