St Louis Funny Car Preview

WILKERSON SHEDS FUNNY CAR WINLESS STIGMA, HITS HOT STREAK MADISON, Ill. -- It took Tim Wilkerson a couple of years to accomplish his goal of becoming an NHRA national event winner in Funny Car, but man, was it worth the wait. For...

WILKERSON SHEDS FUNNY CAR WINLESS STIGMA, HITS HOT STREAK MADISON, Ill. -- It took Tim Wilkerson a couple of years to accomplish his goal of becoming an NHRA national event winner in Funny Car, but man, was it worth the wait. For Wilkerson, a native of Springfield, Ill., the setting was perfect: beating John Force in a driver's tire-smoking battle between Pontiac and Ford makes in his home state. It certainly made suffering through a few 1998 final round losses more tolerable. Before the emotional win, Wilkerson had been to three final rounds and came up short each time. In Chicago it was definitely his time to steal the spotlight. "We have come so close so many times before that I didn't care where it happened," Wilkerson said. "But it was a cool deal to have it happen there in front of family and friends. It was the most special moment since my kids were born." Wilkerson must have really liked the feeling because he made a return trip to the finals at the following event in Columbus, Ohio. There, Wilkerson was defeated by another first-time winner, Phil Burkhart. But Wilkerson's finish gained him valuable ground in the Winston point standings. With two straight finals he's definitely the Funny Car front-runner heading into the third annual Sears Craftsman Nationals at Gateway International Raceway, June 24-26. The $1.6 million race is the 11th of 22 events in the $40 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. "I guess I'm in the zone," Wilkerson said. "I've been having so much fun here lately that stuff is just happening. Just like in that final in Chicago. We didn't have anything to lose. We were racing the best driver with the fastest car in the final round. We knew that going in. We just set the car up and let it all hang out. Whatever happened from that point was just icing on the cake. That's sort of the way we're approaching the rest of the season. We just want to have some fun and hopefully that will lead to more wins." Wilkerson qualified No. 1 at his home track last season before losing in the second round to eventual winner Frank Pedregon. This season drivers will be thrown a new twist at Gateway International: pro category competition will begin in the late afternoon and be completed under the lights during three days of competition. "It's going to be pretty cool," Wilkerson said. "It's going to add a little drama and excitement to the finals. It's going to be just like an old Saturday night at the drags from long ago. I can't wait." Wilkerson, 38, is also eagerly anticipating another match-up with Force, who has won six of 10 events this season in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang and leads the Winston standings by a ton over second place driver Tony Pedregon. He's still basking in the glory from becoming the first driver to stop Force in a final round this season. On that day, he was the best Funny Car driver in the world. "If that's what everyone wants to think, you won't hurt my feelings at all," Wilkerson said with a smile. "As far as I'm concerned, Force is the greatest race car driver in the world. I just happened to catch my car a little bit better than he did in that final. For one day we were able to out-race John Force. When that kind of thing happens you have to take advantage of it and gloat for one day." With the way Force's Mustang has been running, that's about all the time you get. "John's been dominating the class all year and having probably the best year of his career," Wilkerson said. "I think it might be pretty tough for us to keep him down very long."

SEARS CRAFTSMAN NATIONALS GENERAL INFORMATION * Schedule: Pro qualifying sessions are scheduled for 3:45 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. (CT) on June 24 and June 25. Final professional eliminations start at 4 p.m. June 26. Qualifying and eliminations for Federal-Mogul categories begins June 24 at 9 a.m. * Tickets: Tickets are available for the Sears Craftsman Nationals. Call (618) 482-2400 or Ticketmaster for ticket information. * On TV: ABC will televise one hour of race highlights on July 4 at 1 p.m. (ET).

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Series NHRA
Drivers Frank Pedregon , Tony Pedregon , John Force , Tim Wilkerson