Tim Wilkerson isn’t your typical NHRA Funny Car driver. He doesn’t race for the fame. He doesn’t do social media, and he doesn’t pay someone to tune his race car — he does it all himself. The business owner from Springfield, Ill., has an old-school approach to NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing, and it’s a process that has worked well for the veteran driver over the years, especially at Pacific Raceways, where he has won the last three Funny Car titles.
Wilkerson returns to Pacific Raceways, Aug. 3-5, for the 25th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries, where he’ll try to increase his streak to four consecutive victories. Del Worsham (Top Fuel) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) join Wilkerson as the 2011 winners of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event that will be televised on ESPN2HD.
“I don't really know what to think about having won Seattle three years in a row,” Wilkerson said. “We all show up at every race with the exact same opportunity, and we all have to figure it out as we go. For some reason, we’ve just been able to put it all together in Seattle, and it’s a track that kind of fits our style of racing. You can’t go to Seattle and just overpower everyone because it’s not that kind of track. We’re pretty good at walking that fine line when you have to finesse it a little, and that works in Seattle. We just hope to do well there again."
The driver of the Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang sits in 11th place in the championship points standings, 69 out of 10th. It’s only one spot, so what’s the big deal, right? Well, after the event in Seattle, only two races remain before the Countdown to the Championship cutoff, and drivers who are not in the top 10 won’t be racing for the 2012 NHRA Full Throttle Funny Car world championship.
“I just said the other day that, in this case, I’d rather be the hunted than the hunter,” Wilkerson said. “I’d rather be the guy in the top 10 who holds his fate in his own hands rather than chasing some really great teams and drivers, trying to knock one of them out. We faced [John] Force in the first round at Norwalk, and even though we didn’t talk much about it, I think we all knew it was kind of a make-or-break round for us. If we could beat him, we could start making up ground, and that’s how we went from being 90 points out to being just 30. I think the key thing now is to keep things going in the right direction, which for us right now is up in the standings.”
Not only did Wilkerson move closer to the top 10 with his final-round appearance in Norwalk, but his Mustang also started becoming more consistent and gaining momentum, which is extremely important as the NHRA rounds out the Western Swing in Seattle.
“We are, but the truth is, we’ve been making progress for a number of races,” Wilkerson said. “We finally combined a little consistency with a little luck in Norwalk and got to the final. We’ve been qualifying well and running better for quite a while but just couldn’t find a way to make that work for us on Sunday, so maybe we’re getting over that hump now. I know my guys really needed a boost because they’ve been working so hard and not getting much reward for it, so the Norwalk thing came at a good time"
Wilkerson has been known to make a late-season rally to earn a spot in the Countdown. He has also earned quite a reputation for being able to maximize the tune-up on his hot rod in sizzling weather conditions, which can sometimes be the case in the Pacific Northwest in August.
“For the most part, over the last number of years, we’ve been racing in pretty hot and sunny conditions in Seattle, so the track tends to get hot, and that always makes it harder to go end to end,” Wilkerson explained. “What’s tricky is that you’re near sea level and surrounded by a forest full of trees, so there’s just a ton of oxygen to burn, and it’s really easy to end up throwing too much power at it for what the track will give you. That’s the beauty of drag racing. If all the tracks were tight and we only raced on 70-degree cloudy days, the guys with the fastest cars would win every race. Instead, we have to figure it out on a daily basis, and we’ve found ways to do that in Seattle the last three years. We’ve beaten a lot of really good teams there, to do that.”
As Wilkerson tries to battle his way into the top 10, reigning Funny Car world champ Matt Hagan and rookie Alexis DeJoria are right behind him, hoping to gain momentum and earn playoff berths. Battles to make it into the top 10 are intense in all NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series classes, and as the tour heads to the Northwest, they are getting down to the wire, which means plenty of exciting racing is in store for NHRA fans.
Not only will fans be privy to great on-track action, but because every NHRA ticket is a pit pass, they also can meet their favorite drivers all weekend and take part in all of the action in Nitro Alley, where driver and former Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Valerie Thompson will be displaying her North American Eagle land-speed vehicle.
On Sunday, fans are welcome to go down to the starting line to be a part of driver introductions and get an up-close-and-personal view of the top 16 drivers in each Full Throttle category and enjoy the NHRA pre-race ceremonies. After competition is complete on Sunday afternoon, fans are welcome to return to the starting line for the winner’s circle party and be a part of the Wally presentations. Team Full Throttle always makes it exciting with giveaways, games, and music.
* TICKETS: For tickets for the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries, call 800-884-NHRA (6472) or log on to www.NHRATix.com.
* ON TV: ESPN2 and ESPN2HD will televise 90 minutes of qualifying coverage at 10:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, Aug. 4, and three hours of eliminations coverage at 6 p.m. ET on Sunday, Aug. 5.
* LUCAS OIL SERIES: The O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries will feature competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where some of the future stars of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series are born. Lucas Oil Series qualifying begins at 9:15 a.m. on Aug. 3; eliminations begin at 9:15 a.m. on Aug. 4 and continue through Aug. 5.