SEVEN CYLINDERS SPELL DEFEAT VS. FORCE
Tim Wilkerson was relieved to have made the field at the Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals, and he needed a last-session lap to do just that, landing in the No. 16 spot. That 16th position, of course, brings with it a first-round matchup against the top qualifier, and a certain John Force took that honor with a dominant qualifying effort, so Wilk knew it would take a Herculean effort for the Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford to advance beyond the first round. Basically, you can't count on being lucky (or anything other than very good) when you're racing the champ.
Unfortunately, the pesky clutch disc issues that have plagued the LRS team at times, during the opening part of the season, again played a bit of havoc with the tune-up and when they did the LRS Shelby Mustang dropped a cylinder, about two seconds into the lap. Running on seven cylinders from that point forward, Wilk's machine could muster only a 4.257-second clocking, which despite being his best lap of the weekend was not good enough to match Force's 4.168.
"If you go up there thinking you might get lucky and beat Force because they're going to mess up, you're going to be disappointed about 99.99 percent of the time," Wilkerson said. "They've won a million championships for a reason, so you have to bring your 'A game' when you race John, and that's what we planned to do. I actually felt okay about what we had for him, and we were up there trying to run something like a 4.15, but it mowed through the clutch on us and then it put the hole out. Kind of tough to beat John Force on seven cylinders.
"We're just working as hard as we can to get the clutch situation sorted out here, and once we do we'll have a car that will go fast and be consistent. The hard part is getting to that point because there aren't any shortcuts. We just keep pecking away at it, making some progress here and there but also taking some steps backwards every now and then, but we know how to work around here and we know how to get after these sorts of things. We'll get it."
Having a chance to get it, on Sunday, came down to a Q4 lap that might have been effective, but was anything but stellar. Wilk entered the final session outside the field, with Brian Thiel holding the 16th spot at a soft 4.646. As the lone driver outside the top 16 Wilk was the first to tackle the track in the final qualifier, running a single in the left lane. His tire-spinning 4.326 was enough to bump in, but Thiel was next up and the door was certainly open for him to take back the spot Wilk had just wrestled from him.
Thiel encountered serious problems of his own, however, demolishing a motor in the process, and Wilk held onto the final spot on Sunday's ladder.
"I guess the lucky thing for us was the fact the bump was as soft as it was," Wilkerson said. "If you go up there needing to run a 4.18 or a 4.20 to get in, you can't really pedal the car or drive through tire spin and run a number like that. I was ready for it to spin down there, and as soon as it did I just pedaled it and rode it out like the guys did back in the 60s, with my foot down and the tires spinning. I'm sure it was a sight to see, but it got us in the show and that's important.
"The good thing was we were still learning with each lap, and I figured we had a pretty good chance to do some good, or at least go A to B without the tire spin, in round one. We did that, so were getting it figured out, and I think we'll keep getting it figured out as we head on down the road. Hopefully, next week in Topeka we'll have it all dialed in and win some rounds for Dick Levi and LRS, the folks at Summit Racing Equipment, Ford, and all the rest of the people who support us and help us go racing."
Small steps forward, with incrementally better results. Tim Wilkerson isn't satisfied with his car's performance to date, but he's supremely confident that he can figure it out and find the Winner's Circle in short order.