As the the annual NHRA Western Swing looms, veteran Funny Car racer Tim Wilkerson is finding his Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang team in a familiar but uncomfortable place in the points: No. 11 – 21-points out of the coveted Top 10.
Wilkerson has made the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship every year since its inception in 2007, but it seems that the Western Swing – Denver, Seattle, and Sonoma – is essential to putting him into that position. Out of Wilkerson’s 17 National Event wins, five have come out of this set of races.
So, going into the 2014 events, can Wilkerson, once again, get momentum back on his side and if so, how?
“Obviously, I need to stop getting my butt beat first round,” jested Wilkerson. “I haven’t been doing a very good job the last couple of races in the first round. Unfortunately, some of it was due to qualifying, but we need to qualify a little better so we don’t get such a tough car first round and in all, do a better job. “
It’s the heart of the season and with only five races left before the Championship starts, Wilkerson explains that it simply has to be done and it needs to begin, starting with these next three races, to cement their place in the Funny Car Top 10. This way, they can start preparing for the championship hunt.
“Well, I would like to tell you I thought that’s what it was,” laughed Wilkerson, who truly understands that trailing Jack Beckman by 21 points is his first obstacle to just entering that Top 10. “We make a big deal out of it in importance, because it really is. I think you get to that time where you think now ‘Well, what the hell are we going to do?’ We gotta make this work. It comes down to everyone paying attention and doing a good job.
“Yeah, it seems that we do okay on these string of races. I really need to do something special at Denver again. I used to run really well at Denver. The last couple of years, we haven’t been able to get out of the second round. I really don’t know why.”
The spread from fifth to 11th is 145 points and a total of 20 rounds of racing remaining with each round being worth 20 points. Wilkerson likes his odds.
“It’s just a matter of rounds now,” said Wilkerson. “It’s pretty simple. We need to go at least two rounds each weekend until we get to Indy and hope the guys close to us are getting beat first round so that will give us enough cushion so we’re not in trouble. We did that a couple of years ago where we went into Indy and we had to basically have all the right people lose and for us to almost win the race. We did it, but we don’t like that kind of situation. That’s a little too nerve racking.”
In Sonoma last year, Wilkerson ran a great time of 4.026 seconds to qualify No. 5. In his first round against Johnny Gray, Wilkerson smoked the tires giving valuable points away, but learned from it.
“First round, I got a little greedy and smoked the tires, so after that when I got to Seattle, I pulled the power back a little bit and it ran okay again,” said Wilkerson. “From there we got to the semi-finals and beat ourselves. I’m hoping I learned something from that mistake last year where you can’t run as hard during the day as you can at night based on the sun being on the track.
“I red lit in the semis at Seattle and had Tasca covered,” said Wilkerson. “I would like to do well there again. We have a special car up there. We’re actually going to be the Rottler Funny Car. Rottler Manufacturing builds machine shop equipment. Dick Levi allows me one race where I can sell that race and we’re excited about that.
“There’s just a correlation that there are a lot of good cars running right now. Not that really means anything to me because you should be able to beat any of them first round, if you’re going to beat them second or third round, you ought to be able to beat them first round. We had a good chance to beat Capps first round in Epping and at Chicago. I screwed both of those up.”
Wilkerson’s charge has to start this weekend at Bandimere Speedway. Even if things stay the status quo, he will be pretty satisfied with that.
“If I’m still in the same spot I’m in; we’re not in too bad of shape,” grinned Wilkerson. “Traditionally, at Brainerd and Indy, I do pretty well. If I can go two to three rounds in a couple of them, I think we can make up enough points unless the guys in eighth, ninth, and tenth win when I win. I think you’re going to see some pretty close racing in these upcoming races. Even if they do, that’s just going to tuck us in tighter to the fourth, fifth, and six places. I think it’s going to be pretty exciting when we get to Brainerd.
“We need to try and go for the bonus points. We’ve already committed to skipping some runs in Sonoma just trying to save some money, logistically from some of the blowups we had earlier in the year. I don’t know if we’ll be able to afford to skip them now. We’re going to need every point we can get.”