WILKERSON READIES FOR '11 IN CONSISTENTLY TYPICAL FASHION
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (February 7, 2011) -- While many of the top professional teams on the NHRA Full Throttle tour have recently been testing in Florida, making lap after lap of "spring training" runs prior to the start of the 2011 season, fans of Levi, Ray & Shoup driver Tim Wilkerson may have noticed that things are "all quiet on the Wilkerson front." Too quiet? Not according to the popular Funny Car contender from the Land of Lincoln. For Wilkerson, it's simply a matter of following the plan and not deviating from the norm.
Always known as a racer who can stretch a dollar as if it's elastic, Wilkerson keeps a sharp eye on his operating budget with the focus of a hawk. While it was surely tempting to join the legions of pros down in the Sunshine State, such an adventure was never in the plans, and that approach is really nothing new in Wilk territory.
"There have been a few times in our history where the boss went out and spent a bunch of money he probably shouldn't have, but those times are really pretty rare," Wilkerson said, speaking of himself when referring to the boss of his organization. "Once we get back to the shop at the end of the season, and get our sponsorship stuff squared away for the next year, we know what we have to work with and we know what works best for us. We've never been a big preseason testing team, unless we have so much new junk we feel like we have to make sure it all works and doesn't blow up on us, and this year there's not much reason to change our approach because we're heading right back into it running the same combination we used last year.
"As nice as it sounds to be down in West Palm Beach when we have ice and snow up here in Illinois, it'd be a very expensive vacation to haul all of our stuff down there just to make a few laps. The trip was never really in the cards for us, so we mapped out our preseason work schedule on the calendar based on that. That's why our trailer has been in Indianapolis for the last week, getting a new vinyl wrap installed on it. We knew we'd have this week at the shop and we wouldn't be in Florida."
Wilkerson's rare use of preseason testing is born from a combination of elements, but the key ingredient is consistency. Year after year, the LRS organization finds a way to maintain its pace and direction with few major overhauls, which lessens the need to shake things down and learn new approaches. Other than cosmetics (the aforementioned redesigned transporter, new uniforms, and a freshened-up hospitality area) there will be little to differentiate the 2011 version of Team Wilkerson from the two prior years.
"Same car, same paint job, same driver, same crew chief, same tune-up," Wilkerson said, again referring to himself, the ultimate multi-tasker. "We didn't have a good Countdown last year, which left us with kind of a sour taste, but we won three races during the regular season and put ourselves in the thing. You can't win it if you're not in it, and we got in it pretty solidly against some tough competition.
"When we race, it's always a work in progress and we add things as we go, so we're not standing still or standing pat. We'll just get after it and adjust as we go. That's nothing new. When we get to Pomona, every crew chief and driver out there will be adjusting on the fly, based on the track, the air, and all the variables we face on that day. The playing field is pretty level."
Even with all that consistency, Wilkerson still values a chance to get his crew limbered up and in game shape, so the current plan is for the team to make a few test runs in Las Vegas, on the weekend prior to the season opener. The session will be approached as a chance for his guys to get out of the shop in the snowy midwest and back into action, so Wilkerson isn't going there to light the world on fire.
"I don't go into any year trying to throw all my touchdown passes in the preseason," he said. "Las Vegas is on the way to Pomona, it's a great track, and it will give us a chance to fire the car up and make sure we don't look like knuckleheads when we start the season. It's like a walk-through, but we'll also have the chance to run the car for a few laps to make sure everything is bolted together right and ready to go. It's not about running big numbers or anything like that, it's just a chance to run a few plays and make sure the guys know their positions.
"After that, we'll pack it up and head straight for Pomona. My guys know each other, and they know how to work together. Like I said, we're not coming into this year with all new stuff and a bunch of new people, so we should be fine. We have one new guy on the team this year, but he's fit right in with this group that's been together for a while now. We'll just trust what we know and try to make the adjustments. The competition will be tough, there's no doubt about that and it seems like it gets tougher every year, but we usually find a way to be in the hunt and that's our goal again this year. We want to be right in it, and then maybe we'll have a chance to win it."
With a conscientious approach to his budget and his racing, Wilk has indeed found a way to battle the bigger teams on the biggest stage. His 11 race victories over the last three years are all the evidence needed to prove such a thing, even if he doesn't match the competition in terms of preseason testing.