CLEAN SLATE AND NEW RULES HAVE WILK READY TO ROCK
POMONA, Cal. (February 21, 2011) -- Tim Wilkerson has long been known as a racer who is rarely hard on parts, often going many months on the NHRA Full Throttle tour without dropping so much as an ounce of oil on the race track. How ironic, then, that Wilkerson's Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang was the unfortunate transgressor at the final race of the 2010 season when new rules were implemented, and the letter of one such rule stated that any time a team that did leave oil on the track, the run in question would be thrown out. On a lap that was quick enough to have qualified him for the field, last November in Pomona, Wilk blew up a motor, caught on fire, and oiled the track, all of which added up to the deletion of his elapsed time and an inglorious DNQ to finish the season.
This year, the new rules remain as a permanent part of the landscape in the Funny Car and Top Fuel classes but Wilkerson feels confident that, despite last season's fiery end, his track record should fit nicely with the harsh new statutes. When the Full Throttle tour reconvenes this weekend to kick off the 2011 campaign, right back in Pomona at the Kragen O'Reilly Auto Parts Winternationals, Wilk will simply rely on a career full of clean racing to help him avoid the pitfalls of the new regulations.
"I guess that was just one of those Murphy's Law deals last year, because I couldn't even remember the last time we blew up and caught on fire, but we managed to do it at the first race with the new rules, on the run that would've qualified us," Wilkerson said. "The whole thing was kind of strange, but a rule is a rule and we got bitten by it. I do think that there ought to be some sort of reward for the teams that consistently don't oil the track, not just a punishment of anyone who does, but we're all going to have to live with how it's written and hopefully, over the long haul, we might pick up some ground on people if we just do our normal thing and keep the track dry.
"Nobody goes to the starting line thinking they're going to oil the track or trying to do it, we all know that, but as the season ended last year we had some really bad sessions where we couldn't seem to go two laps without a huge clean-up, so they had to do something. It was getting to be a terrible show for the fans, and we can't stand for that. Now, we just have to get back to our routine, and the Levi, Ray & Shoup team should be fine, but as a class we all have to work a little more on containment, I think. These motors are bombs, and you're not going to keep them airtight and clean forever, so we all need to work on better ways of keeping most of the oil off the track, even when things do go wrong."
The kickoff for a new season also wipes the slate clean on points, and Wilkerson will join the entire Funny Car contingent in a huge tie for first place when he arrives in Pomona. That tie will be broken as soon as Thursday, with the awarding of qualifying bonus points based on the top three runs in Q1, and by Sunday evening the first version of an actual points leader board will begin to take shape. As Wilk knows well, however, in the ever-changing world of Full Throttle points, things don't begin to solidify for quite a few races.
"It's really easy to get caught up in that stuff right off the bat, but you're way better off to just ignore it for a while," Wilkerson said. "Don't get me wrong, coming out of Pomona in first place would be great, because it would mean you won the race, but coming out of there in 16th isn't nearly as bad as it looks. If you're 16th in the points once June rolls around, then you're in a bit of trouble, but at the start the season you can just go to the next race and get it all back.
"The overriding goal for us to get out there and be competitive from the first lap on. We didn't do nearly the preseason testing that a lot of other teams did, but we're ready to race and we'll take our chances on figuring out what the Pomona track wants to give us on any given lap. We'll just do what we always do, and that's race the track not the opponent. If we do that, and if we run as well as I think we should, I'll be happy. If we're competitive, and I don't have any reason to think we won't be, we'll be right in the thick of it all year long."
A fresh start. New rules. A gigantic tie for first place. It only happens at the beginning of a new season, and the new 2011 campaign is now on the stage and ready for action. In a little less than 10 months, Wilk and his Funny Car colleagues will return to Pomona to end another season and crown a new champion. Only time, and some seriously competitive racing, will tell if that new champ is a popular guy from Springfield, Ill.