ONE UP, ONE DOWN, FOR WILKERSON
It was truly a "hit or miss" weekend in Houston for Tim Wilkerson and his Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang Funny Car team, featuring the good along with the bad on a sultry and muggy weekend in southeast Texas. Wilk earned his best qualifying spot on the year, running out of the No. 2 spot on the strength of a 4.108, but failed to fully maneuver the full 1,000 feet on his other three qualifying runs. He took out a game Jon Capps in round one, to pick up his third round-win on the year, but then stumbled in round two against Jeff Arend, allowing the DHL car to advance with a less than sterling 4.31 when the LRS Ford smoked the tires at the 330-mark.
Wilk's 1-1 mark on the day left him just single points out of the Full Throttle Top 10. He leaves Houston in 11th place, but is just four points out of 10th and only 17 points out of 8th place.
During two days of challenging qualifying, Wilk made the most of it by laying down his best lap in Q2, when conditions were clearly the best. His 4.108 led the pack for a while, until John Force took the pole while running as one of the last pairs of Funny Cars down the track, posting a 4.097. Saturday's daytime sessions were run in extreme humidity and Wilk was unable to avoid the dreaded tire smoke on either pass.
"After the run on Friday night, we really had our first chance this season to kind of play with some things and try out a few new approaches, on Saturday," Wilkerson said. "I seriously doubted anyone would knock us out of the second spot, so we tried a few things with the clutch and the timing on Saturday, but neither deal worked like we wanted it to. That was okay, too, though because you learn by failing as much as you learn by succeeding, and that takes two different approaches off the board for us.
"The Friday night run might have been one of our best all-around laps of the year so far. It just did almost exactly what we wanted it to do and it gave us a good spot to work from on race day."
Sunday mimicked Saturday, weather wise, but the humidity was also abetted by more sun than had been on the track a day before. Lots of tire smoke and pedaling were evident throughout the first round of Top Fuel, and Wilk was set to run in his favorite slot, as part of the first pair of Funny Cars, thanks to the fact he had been able to pick his pairing while the first spot was still available. His opponent in the opening round was Jon Capps, brother of Ron and driver for Paul Smith, the veteran wily tuner who keeps established teams up at night with his consistency.
"When you're racing Paul's car, you just aim to go down the track because you know they will," Wilk said. "Paul Smith has broken more hearts out here than anyone. He's as tough a tuner as there is, and Jon did a great job driving that car. We knew we had our hands full."
Pulling up to the line after witnessing all that tire smoke from the Top Fuelers, Wilk was intent on keeping his LRS Ford under power and in the middle. He did just that, although a dropped cylinder slowed him a bit to a 4.208 in the left lane. The most important detail, however, was the bright win light on his scoreboard.
Jeff Arend had taken out Paul Lee in the first round, and he brought a fine car and solid reputation as a quick leaver into the fight with Wilkerson in round two. This one, however, was over far quicker than Wilk had hoped, as his Mustang lost traction near the 330-foot timer while Arend sped away.
"There's a bump out there, and we made it over it in the first round, but we saw it on the computer and we knew we had to be a little worried about it," Wilkerson said. "This time, it got out there, hit the bump, and unloaded the tires. That's enough to make you just a little bit crazy, there's no doubt about that. But, that's racing and we keep on plugging and keep on learning. We are picking up some round wins now, and that's the only way you can have a shot at the big trophy, or even the smaller ones you get for winning a race. There's no substitute for winning rounds. Period."
After a weekend off, the Full Throttle tour will reconvene at Atlanta Dragway, on May 13-15.