WILK HEADS TO WINE COUNTRY IN VINTAGE FORM SONOMA, Calif. (July 14, 2010) -- In the world-class wine region of Sonoma and Napa Valley, timing is everything. The weather, the soil, and the perfect moment to pick those precious grapes can conspire...
WILK HEADS TO WINE COUNTRY IN VINTAGE FORM
SONOMA, Calif. (July 14, 2010) -- In the world-class wine region of Sonoma and Napa Valley, timing is everything. The weather, the soil, and the perfect moment to pick those precious grapes can conspire to create masterpieces, or collude to disappoint, in a fragile and often-changing environment. When all the elements work together to produce the region's best, the year itself becomes something of a numeric celebrity in wine cellars around the globe. Will 2010 be one of those magic numbers? Only time will tell.
On the NHRA Full Throttle tour, another mix of elements join forces to create the challenges that face professional Funny Car drivers, and much like in the vineyards,the weather plays a key role. For Tim Wilkerson, driver of the Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang, the recent past has all been a matter of "getting hot" at just the right time. As the track temps have climbed in the midsummer heat, the LRS Ford has jumped into position as one of the most formidable cars on the tour, earning a runner-up finish in Bristol before claiming back-to-back wins in Norwalk and Seattle. Is 2010 turning out to be a vintage year to remember for the popular Illinois driver? Again, only time will tell.
This weekend, at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Wilkerson will take to the track on a streak so hot it could be classified as scalding. Having entered the Bristol race, back on June 20, with a 10-10 round record and in real danger of falling out of the Full Throttle Top 10 just a few races before that cut-off line would determine the post-season playoff field, Wilk managed a runner-up finish that might have even been better, had a glitch not deployed his parachutes just off the starting line in his final-round race against John Force. A week later, with the glitch removed, he replayed his match-up with Force in the final, and took home the top prize in Norwalk. Then, after a rare weekend off, he got right back to work in Seattle by running the table again, this time taking out Ron Capps in one of the closest final rounds of the season. From 10-10, in 9th place and in real playoff danger, to 21-11 in a solid 5th-place position, now with only three races left in the regular season, the turn-around was complete. Actually, the term "turn-around" seems like an understatement.
"I think there's a bit more to it than just the hot weather," Wilkerson said. "There's no getting around the fact that we haven't quite been able to run with the big hitters when the conditions are prime, and we do have a hot weather tune-up philosophy that's worked for us for years, but you still have to tune it right, drive it right, and bolt it together right. A little good fortune doesn't hurt either, and sometimes you wonder why a race like the one against Capps, who wanted it just as badly as we did, ended up with us winning by inches. Two 8,000 horsepower cars making great laps, two drivers doing all they can to get it to the other end in a straight line, and someone wins by inches. It can go either way, and this time it went our way.
"We've all been on the other side of the deal, so you try not to get too frustrated when that happens and you definitely should try to stay on an even keel when it does work out for you. We're proud of the work we've done over the last three races and throughout the whole season, but we're not dumb enough to think it makes us anything more than a hard-working team with a lot of dedication. There are too many teams out here who can spank you, and spank you hard, if you start to think about anything other than just doing your best."
Wilk did his best in Sonoma one year ago, taking home the trophy on the heels of having done the same thing one week earlier in Seattle. To this point, he's repeated the Seattle portion of that script, but he's not ready to predict anything for Sonoma in 2010.
"It's so hard to win one race, any race, with the level of competition we're facing, you'd be nuts to even think about anything like that," Wilkerson said. "Right now, I'm concentrating on getting in the field, hopefully a little higher than we have been, and then we'll start to worry about the first round. No one has ever won a final round yet after losing in the first round, so that one is a little bit critical, if you know what I mean.
"I do have a memory, though, and it's easy to look back on last year at Infineon. Winning the last two legs of the Western Swing was a great thing, and a lot of fun, and that's probably as good a motivator as you need. I know it sounds like a cliche', but we're just going to take it one lap at a time. We don't know any other way to do it."
After a slight rewrite of the lyrics from the corny 1971 Jerry Reed hit, perhaps Wilk could sing "When it's hot, we're hot" this weekend in Sonoma. The odds are far greater, though, that he and his crew will simply get to work and focus only on the next lap, with no vocals involved. It may not make for splashy news copy to state "We're just going to take it one lap at a time," but it seems to be working.