Heartland Park Topeka
TOPEKA REBOUND A CAPITAL IDEA, FOR WILK
TOPEKA, Kan. -- Just when things were beginning to pick up for Tim Wilkerson and his Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang Funny Car team, with a final round appearance in Charlotte and then a strong No. 2 qualifying spot in Houston, along came Atlanta. Struggling through qualifying and only earning the No. 16 spot on an imperfect Q4 lap, Wilk then was handed a first-round defeat by 15-time champion John Force in the opening round, setting his progress back a notch.
This weekend, as the NHRA Full Throttle tour completes its first back-to-back of the season, Wilkerson will take to the Heartland Park track in Topeka and look to turn around his fortunes in a big way, having learned much from his travails in Atlanta. Wilk has always strongly believed that more knowledge is gained from difficulty than from success, and his career record certainly appears to back that up. 2006 and 2007 were two of Wilk's worst seasons ever, with a combined total of 14 DNQs and zero race victories spread evenly between them, but since then he's won 11 races in three seasons, proving his point that failure can be the best possible teacher, if the student is willing to learn.
"I've always believed you can learn more when you fail than when you succeed, but only if you're paying attention and have your eyes wide open," Wilkerson said. "You can stumble onto something that works out here, and all of a sudden you think you're a genius. But that's sort of like being the kid who guesses and gets the right answer in algebra class. The answer was right, but he didn't do the work to figure it out, so it's not really worth that much.
"If your car is driving you a little nuts, you have to keep your head in the game and use each lap as a lesson. That way, at the very least you know what doesn't work, or what the car doesn't like. After a while, you ought to be able to figure out what does work and which way the car wants to run. Believe me, we had a lot of opportunity to learn some stuff in Atlanta, and hopefully we can bounce right back and put all that to good use this weekend in Topeka."
The sprawling Heartland Park complex, located just a few miles south of the Kansas state capital, can throw a wide variety of conditions at the racers and tuners and the track's personality can be nearly schizophrenic, depending on the weather. With a mid-May date in 2011, Topeka is not yet mired in the sultry weather of summer, but strong winds and the chance for storms are nearly constant companions out on the prairie.
The good news is the track is terrific ...
"They based 'The Wizard of Oz' in Kansas for a reason," Wilk said. "We've seen just about every possible style of weather you can imagine at Heartland Park, from tornadoes that had us running for cover, to huge thunderstorms and wild changes in temperature. The wind is pretty much a constant too, so you just have to be ready to adjust, all the time. We've also spent a few weekends at Heartland Park when it was just fantastic, so you never know what you're going to get.
"The good news is the track is terrific, 1105288and the shutdown area is one of the longest on the tour, so if the weather lets you run fast you can throw the kitchen sink at it and run pretty good. Way back in 1993, Chuck Etchells ran the first 4-second run in a Funny Car and Jim Epler ran the first 300 mph speed in one of these things, and they both did it on the same weekend on this same Heartland Park track in Topeka. It's a great place, with great fans, and we'll just hope we get some decent weather so we can put on a good show and win some rounds with the LRS Ford."
Knowledge is good. Heartland Park can be fast. Put together, that combination might just add up to round wins and a solid rebound for Tim Wilkerson.