Sonoma: Tim Wilkerson preview

WILK TURNS THE PAGE, BEGINS SONOMA CHAPTER SONOMA, Calif. (July 21, 2009) -- Tim Wilkerson is, quite literally, the only active NHRA Funny Car driver on a winning streak. Having put four impressive round wins together in Seattle, he enters this...

WILK TURNS THE PAGE, BEGINS SONOMA CHAPTER

SONOMA, Calif. (July 21, 2009) -- Tim Wilkerson is, quite literally, the only active NHRA Funny Car driver on a winning streak. Having put four impressive round wins together in Seattle, he enters this weekend's Fram-Autolite Nationals, at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., as the most recent winner on the Full Throttle tour but, to the Levi, Ray & Shoup driver, that statistical anecdote is nothing more than numbers. In addition, they're numbers he and his LRS team have already put behind them.

Seattle is relegated to history because Wilkerson firmly believes in living in the "here and now" when it comes to racing his LRS Shelby Mustang. The past can be learned from, but it's over. The future is a challenge, but it's yet to arrive. Right now, you need to be as good as you can be, because the past and the future can't help you. That mantra has worked for him throughout his career, through good times and bad, and he's not about to change his approach now, no matter the fun he had in Seattle.

"I tell my guys all the time, that as soon as we lose we put it behind us," Wilkerson said. "Even if you mess up and race like knuckleheads, you put it behind you because it's history and it's over and done with. Well, the same thing goes for winning. We won the race, and we had a heck of a good time afterward, doing all the Winner's Circle stuff and enjoying the moment. Maybe I fudged a little bit on the theory, because I told them to just put the car away and we'd go out for a nice steak dinner, but in the morning we all had to put it behind us.

"The reason is, that win in Seattle doesn't give us a head-start in Sonoma this weekend. We start from scratch like everyone else, and we have to focus on each lap, just like last weekend never happened. That's how it is whenever you win a race, but it's even more important on the Western Swing because all three races are so different. We go from racing on a mountain, to racing in the woods, and now to the Sonoma area, which is so unique and different, every time you drive over a hill, you seem to enter a whole new climate zone. You have your morning fog coming in off the bay, followed by a blistering sun in the afternoon, and you know you're only a few miles from San Francisco, where people are wearing jackets while you're burning up. These races are all so different, you really do start from a new baseline at each one."

Regardless of how one savors a victory or attempts to put it immediately in the rearview, the statistical advantages of Wilkerson's Seattle victory are now etched in the permanent record, and the impact of the win came at a wonderful time. Entering Seattle in 7th place on the Full Throttle points sheet, Wilkerson had allowed a once-comfortable cushion between him and those on his tail to almost disappear after two consecutive first-round losses. It had become realistically possible for him to fall completely out of the Countdown field with another couple of bad races, if those behind him all got hot, and the LRS team was well aware of the need to at least bounce back and keep pace.

"The key thing for us was the first round, and we felt like we were getting a real challenge when we qualified in the top half but had to run Robert Hight in round one," Wilkerson said. "It was like 'Okay, here we go again with the bad luck' but we had to overcome it. We really couldn't afford to lose in round one again, but we had to figure out how to beat Robert and his guys, and that is never easy, let me tell you. We weren't thinking about round two, and I didn't even know who we might face there if we won against Robert, to tell you the truth. I hadn't looked at the ladder at all. We just focused on winning that one round, and we knew we couldn't be hurt too badly in the points if we did."

Wilkerson, as the record clearly states, was able to beat Hight in the first round, and he did so by running low e.t. and top speed of eliminations to do it. Three rounds later, he hadn't just protected his flank from the teams chasing him, he'd actually vaulted up to the No. 5 spot in the standings, and is now 142 points ahead of Cruz Pedregon, who sits in 11th place trying to earn his way into the top ten. That's more than a seven-round cushion above the "cut line" with four races to go before the Countdown.

"It's great to be in fifth, and we're going to do all we can to stay as high as possible in the standings because each slot gives you a few more points to play with when everything is reset after Indy," Wilkerson said. "The truth is, though, that we were pretty far behind Bob Tasca and Del Worsham when we went into Seattle, so we might be fifth right now but we're less than a round ahead of both of them. That's just one little hiccup and you're back in seventh. We're going to have to keep winning some rounds, at a pretty good pace, if we want to stay up here in the middle of the pack, but you know what? If you want to be up here, around fifth in points, you always have to win rounds at a pretty good pace. These teams are tough, and it's not easy to be up this high.

"The best part about winning was that cushion, that separation, it gave us just to be in the playoffs. It's like we went into the weekend as kind of a team on the bubble, and we came out of it pretty solid. It can all go away again in a hurry, though, if we don't keep running well and winning some rounds. That's why we have to forget about Seattle. We're only thinking of Sonoma now, and right at this minute I'm only thinking about Friday. We want to qualify as well as we can, find out what the track will give us, and then we'll worry about Saturday. After that, we'll worry about round one. There's always a lot to worry about in this sport, so you might as well break it down into bite-sized chunks and take it on one thing at a time. You get fewer ulcers that way."

Seattle was a wonderful chapter, with a happy ending and an upbeat plot line. Now, however, the page is turned and Chapter 15, the Sonoma chapter, awaits. Tim Wilkerson hopes the story gets even better.

-credit: twr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Del Worsham , Cruz Pedregon , Tim Wilkerson , Robert Hight