WILK IN STEALTH MODE, SNEAKING UP ON THE COMPETITION
COMMERCE, Ga. (May 10, 2011) -- In the real world, the United States Air Force is justifiably proud of its F-117 Nighthawk fighter attack jet, which uses "stealth" technology to avoid being detected on radar. In the land of television fantasy, the venerable "Star Trek" series consistently addressed the idea of sneaking up on adversaries, with the Romulan Empire famously utilizing a "cloaking device" to render its starships invisible. In the world of NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing, Tim Wilkerson has been in stealth mode as well, but his device is simply reliant upon the huge gravitational pull of many of the sport's hottest stars, who have been grabbing the bulk of the headlines and attention as of late. That may be about to change, if recent history is any indication of Wilk's current direction in the Funny Car class.
After a rough start to his 2011 season, the Levi, Ray & Shoup owner/tuner/driver began to find his groove in Las Vegas with a top-half qualifying spot, landing in the No. 7 position on the race-day grid. He did that one better in Charlotte, earning the 6th spot on the ladder before advancing all the way to the final foursome at that unique 4-wide event, grabbing his first two round-wins of the year. Most recently, in Houston, he claimed the lofty No. 2 spot in qualifying and picked up his third round-win before bowing out in the second stanza. It surely appears that Wilk is getting his LRS Shelby Mustang sorted out and ready for a romp, but few seem to be noticing.
"The Wilk Warriors are always out there and they pay attention to what we're doing whether it's good or bad, so I don't sweat it when we're not the center of attention with everybody else," Wilkerson said. "We kind of disappeared over the horizon after the first couple of races, and to be honest it was because we didn't have a good handle on this beast for a while. It started to come around in Vegas, and we've been making good headway with it since then. We came darn close to having enough to beat those other guys in Charlotte, and we gave them a fair fight, but a couple of cars in that final round were just a hair quicker than we were.
"In Houston, we just got bit by some bad luck in the second round, and it's pretty hard to outsmart that sort of thing. We hit a little bump out there and after going right over it all weekend, that time it unloaded the tires and we let one get away. The big step there, though, was that we could actually treat Saturday like a test day, because we got so solidly in the show on Friday. At the other races up until then, we've been working so hard just to make sure we were in the field, we didn't have the chance to try many new things. We got that chance in Houston, and that helps in the long run."
A spot in the Full Throttle Top 10 is one clear way to deactivate any stealth or cloaking device, as the spotlights shine brightly on the ten teams above the Countdown dividing line. Wilk has been outside the Top 10 all season, after his rough start, but left Houston only four points out of the No. 10 position. More importantly, he now finds himself less than a round out of the No. 8 spot in the standings, as he prepares to enter this weekend's Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals, near Atlanta.
... we doing well enough for me to think that good things will happen if we stick to the program ...
"The object now is to keep qualifying well with our LRS Ford, and keep picking up those rounds, one at a time," Wilkerson said. "We really don't have to go into any race feeling desperate that we have to win it all or the world will come to an end, but we do need to aim at winning in the first round or nothing good will come out of it. You can't win the second round if you don't win the first one, and you can't be in the Top 10 if you don't win the first one, that's just a fact. Right now, we doing well enough for me to think that good things will happen if we stick to the program, and things have been getting better lately, whether anybody has noticed or not.
"I can tell the difference in the pit area when we're running better because my plate is so full at the race track, tuning the car, driving the car, owning the car, meeting with sponsors and guests, and spending time with the fans whenever I can, that I don't have much free time. Sometimes it's even hard to find the time to eat lunch, so if we're not the big media story, I get a bit more time to do all my stuff, including the eating part, which is a good thing. We love the ESPN guys though, and all the reporters who cover our sport, because without them we'd all be invisible, so anytime they come by we make time for them, and I'm always happy to do it. I look at it this way: If the ESPN guys are coming by a lot, you must be running pretty good, so that's a positive deal and I'm all for that. I might have a sandwich in my hand, just out of the camera shot, but we always make time when they come by and I hope we get to do some of that this weekend."
Should Wilk continue his progression this weekend at Atlanta Dragway, the end may be near for his "off the radar" status. Winning will do that.