Tim Wilkerson Lost to Paul Lee in round one As Bob Frey likes to say, "This is why we don't run them on paper." Tim Wilkerson put his best qualifying effort of the year on the board here in Topeka, by grabbing the No. 2 spot with a 4.103 on ...
Tim Wilkerson Lost to Paul Lee in round one
As Bob Frey likes to say, "This is why we don't run them on paper." Tim Wilkerson put his best qualifying effort of the year on the board here in Topeka, by grabbing the No. 2 spot with a 4.103 on Friday. He only missed the top spot, held by Robert Hight, by 8-thousandths of a second.
Paul Lee landed in the 15th spot, which represented the final ladder position occupied by an actual team, due to the fact the Funny Car class ran this event with only 15 cars after one pre-entered car withdrew earlier in the week.
Wilkerson has one race victory to his credit this year. Lee had one round win on his record, prior to Topeka. Wilk had won nine rounds in the last six races. Lee had registered three DNQs in the last six races.
In the end, none of that mattered, as Paul Lee streaked to a strong 4.168 while Wilk struggled to a 4.269 with a cylinder out for nearly three seconds. All signs pointed to a Wilkerson advantage, but the nod went to Lee and his Jim Dunn-led team, who did exactly what they had to do to take out the much higher qualified driver.
"It plowed through the clutch a little early, and that led to dropping number seven about 1.4-seconds into the run," Wilkerson said, after the defeat. "If they put a full lap on the board over there, which they did, we were going to have a tough time beating them on seven cylinders, and that's nobody's fault but our own. It just wasn't our day, but you know there aren't any freebies out here when someone lines up next to you, and that's a good car and a good team that beat us. We absolutely knew they were capable of doing that, and I expected them to do that, but we thought we'd outrun them on eight and it didn't happen. If you don't perform, you get spanked. We got spanked."
The one constant throughout qualifying here was an unabated wind that wore out the competitors and the fans, howling up from the south at consistently more than 20 mph throughout Friday and Saturday, while often gusting closer to 40 mph. Couple that with bright sunshine and hot temperatures, and the Friday late session was truly the only opportunity to shine. This time, at this race, Wilkerson did just that as he connected for a solid lap when it counted the most, putting his 4.103 on the board to momentarily take the top spot with only one pair of cars behind him. Wilk was under no illusion that the time would stick, considering Hight was part of that final pair and the defending world champion's Auto Club Mustang has been certifiably hot as of late. Sure enough, Hight wrapped up the qualifying session with a 4.095 and Wilk knew he'd be entering the race from the No. 2 spot.
On Saturday, it was believed that the only question would revolve around who Wilkerson would face, as a handful of cars battled for the final three or four spots on the grid in very challenging conditions. When Lee and his team landed 15th after Q3 and then skipped the final session, the match-up was locked. Wilkerson did not skip the final session, but after the outcome of his lap he might have wished he had. Running fairly strong with no tire smoke, his Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang made a quick and hard move to the right as it approached the finish line in the left lane, and an instant later Wilkerson was collecting some orange foam timing blocks, punching a large hole in the nose of his 2010 Shelby in the process.
"It was running on down there, and running okay for the conditions, but then it just turned right on me," Wilkerson said. "Whether there was a weird cross-wind there, or something with the track, I don't know but it headed for the center line so I lifted. I'm pretty proud of the fact I don't ever run into anything out here, and I thought it would come back as soon as I got off the throttle, but it kept going for a bit and all of a sudden there's bits of orange foam flying everywhere. I felt bad about it, but mostly I was just mad. I was mad at myself for not getting it back over and mad we hurt the body."
The team had an identical and unused 2010 Shelby in the transporter, so Sunday morning was spent getting it ready to race, with just a few final touches necessary to make that happen. A few additional wire supports for the rear wing, a couple of tail light vent panels, and a slew of contingency decals later, the pristene new body was ready to head out on its maiden voyage. Unfortunately, that first trip down the track ended with the win lights flashing in the other lane.
"That's just how it is, and around here we don't beat ourselves up when this happens," Wilkerson said. "We analyze the data, we digest all that to make ourselves a little better next time, and we move on. You can't yell at the car, because it doesn't care, and we don't yell at ourselves. We're disappointed, but we're fine and we'll take a week now to get our stuff in order before we go to Joliet. It's probably a good thing we have the next weekend off before we go out for four in a row, because we have plenty of stuff to fix."
As noted, Joliet (June 4-6) will be the first of four consecutive races on the NHRA schedule, and Wilk's son Daniel is slated to make his 2010 debut there in another LRS Shelby. The goal between now and then: Get ready, be prepared, and expect to win some rounds.