The opening race for the 2012 NHRA Full Throttle Ddrag Racing Series season is still two weeks away, but Tim Wilkerson has already improved in one area from 2011. He and his Levi, Ray & Shoup team took their Shelby Mustang Funny Car to South Florida last weekend, where they participated in a "spring training" test session. Last year, the LRS team stayed home and prepared for the season in the shop, forgoing the shakedown runs that others found useful.
At the same time, during the recent test session, Wilkerson exhibited one bit of forced behavior that many would be hard-pressed to recall having seen, when he skipped a couple of laps because of a nasty head and chest bug that tested him as much as the weekend tested his car and crew. In the end, Wilk and his team made a series of successful runs, all with planned early shutoffs, and the work was important to the crew, which features three new members. The illness, however, was something Wilk found to be no fun whatsoever.
"Terrible timing, on my part, but it's hard to schedule exactly when you're going to get sick," Wilkerson said. "It started out like any head and chest thing, but by the time we got down to Florida, it was whipping me pretty good, and not only did I feel lousy, but I really didn't have a lot of energy either. That's OK, though, because the race car doesn't care how you feel, and we all needed the practice. There are going to be days during the season when you don't feel 100 percent, and you have to gut it out, but since it was just a test session, I didn't feel too guilty about packing it in early each night so I could get some rest.
"I'm feeling better now, and we even stopped at Taco Bell on the way home from the St. Louis airport, so I must be improving. Nothing sounded good for four days because I couldn't taste anything, but a couple of tacos with some hot sauce hit the spot. We'll get back to work on all the parts and pieces, and we expect to get after it pretty hard out in Pomona for the Winternationals."
The conditions and track surface in Florida were conducive to big performance, and many of the top teams in the sport were there, putting up impressive numbers. Wilk, however, is a believer in sticking to the program and staying within the plan, so he is not easily seduced by the allure of hitting home runs when they don't count. Hence, all of his successful runs were clicked off a couple of hundred feet short of the stripe.
"You can sift through the records in every major sport, and you won't find any important statistics that ever happened in the preseason," Wilkerson said. "For us, the key was seeing how the new car reacted at the hit and how it went down the track while we worked on our tune-up a little bit. Getting the guys some game-type repetitions servicing the car was really important, too, and that's just the equivalent of getting in shape. We made three runs that all would've been in the 4.10 to 4.12 range if I would've stayed in it, so we weren't the fastest guys there, but we were consistent.
"We legged a few down there to 800 feet or so, and it was running great, and everything looked good. I don't think we would've learned much more by running it out the back door, but that's always been one of the ways we keep a lid on costs around here. You can do a lot of damage in those last couple of hundred feet, even if you don't do anything wrong, so we try not to tempt fate down there until it counts.
"It was a real success for us, and just about every Funny Car and Top Fuel team got some solid work in. Some of those guys were definitely swinging for the fences, and there were some big runs made, but I feel good that we were there, and we worked the kinks out a little. We're definitely in better shape going into this season than we were last year, so hopefully that will help us get off to a better start. On top of that, I can taste and smell again, so I must be getting better, and I'm glad to get that junk out of the way before the season starts."