Charlotte's web, big hope for big D, and TVTuesday, September 17, 2013

Where to start? At the beginning? Oh how cliché' that would be. What the heck, I'll start at the beginning but I'll give you a taste of what's to come. Sort of a preamble to the following nonsense.

Charlotte was equal parts incredible and disappointing, but I guess in the world in which we make our living that's not necessarily a good thing, unless the equal parts were qualifying poorly but then winning a bunch of rounds. Unfortunately, we did it the other way.

Dallas is on the horizon (the guys are already there) and we aim to do big things in Big D. Why not? We have a fast car, a solid team, and a great driver. The crew chief and the team owner are pretty good guys too. And there will be crickets, so we got that going for us! My colleague Lachelle Seymour, who does PR for Bob Tasca and Ford, is not a fan of crickets. Also not a fan of clowns. If she sees a cricket dressed up like a clown, she's apt to have a nervous breakdown.

And then I'll wrap up this blog installment by addressing the huge elephant in the room, the giant pachyderm everyone has been talking about for the last 48 hours, if by "talking" you mean ranting, screaming, complaining, threatening, and just otherwise going nuts. That would be the "situation" ESPN put us all in when, during a commercial break, they switched from our race on Sunday night to the rain-delayed NASCAR race, while moving our show over to ESPN News. You'll read more about that below.

Anyway, back to Charlotte. I was there in spirit, of course, and I was there via cyberspace, but I was not there in human form. We didn't do hospitality at zMAX, so by general rule during these tough budget times I was not required to be there. I had originally planned on going anyway, because it's the first race of the Countdown and we are in said playoffs, but once I looked at flights from Spokane (GEG) to CLT, the sticker shock was, well, shocking. I either hit Delta at the wrong time, or they're trying to make it impossible to get from this upper lefthand corner of the country to the lower righthand area, but for whatever reason it was ugly. Best I could find was two connections at something close to $800, and for that price you got to leave your house at 4:00 a.m. and arrive at the Charlotte hotel around midnight. What a deal!

Once you add in a rental car and a hotel room, you're way up over $1,000 for the weekend. Sorry, but with all these instantaneous internet tools in my possession, it wasn't worth it.

I was watching ESPN3 on Friday night, during Q2, when Wilk came up to the line (I waved at all the guys, but apparently they didn't see me inside the robot cameras) and all I was thinking was "Just make it to the end, just make it to the end…" I didn't really care what the specific number was, because I figured if we went from starting line to finish line under power, in those conditions, it would have to be pretty good. I'll tell you this, I was nervous!

These four-second laps seem to take forever when you're chanting "Just make it to the end" over and over…. It did, and it took a half-second for me to digest the stats that popped up on the screen. 4.020 at 318.99 mph. I knew both were career bests, but I still had to quickly do the research just to confirm. The 4.020 was indeed, and it was our third time to reset the new number within the range of the 4.02s (next stop, 4.01 and then we'll just go ahead and dip into the 3s because that's the hip and cool thing to do). The 318 mph number was also a new best, and for a second there I didn't even focus on the .99 part of it. 318 blew me away, and we were only a hundredth of a mile per hour away from 319! Well, that 318.99 didn't just set a new career best (at 1,000 feet) for Wilk, it shattered, blasted, and demolished his previous 315 mph number.

So… That was a good night and I was pumped up until I finally calmed down enough around midnight (20 minutes in the steam room helped). Saturday, with both runs being in the afternoon, was going to be all about set-up runs, but we smoked the tires on the first one and broke the camshaft on the second. Breaking the cam is usually not pretty, and it did cause the motor to pop, and that gave us our first look at the practical application of our new side-window vents. In this case, they worked as advertised. Here's the short version of how they came to be.

When the dual-latch and tether system was mandated, there were some teams who didn't necessarily think it was the right way to go. I'd list Team Wilk as one of those. When Johnny Gray had his big bang in Sonoma, there were a lot more teams who were against the tethers and everyone got more vocal.

From the beginning, on this issue, Wilk wanted to go in a different direction, to find a way to quickly release the energy of an explosion without trying to contain it, which as we saw in Johnny's explosion was not a good thing. Wilk comes from the Top Alcohol ranks, and those cars have addressed this problem in a different way for a long time. They bang their blowers a lot, and they quickly adapted by making the firewall (dashboard) area more V-shaped, to allow some pressure to get out that way, but they also had a number of variations on what they call the "stove pipe" which, as should be obvious, was a large-diameter tube that ran from the back of the manifold, through the firewall, and then to a side window. The pressure from an explosion had a place to go, and the TAFC guys rarely broke their bodies.

Now granted, nitro Funny Cars produce a lot more power and the bangs are much bigger, but Wilk was fairly certain the theory would work here as well. He got with famed chassis expert Murf McKinney, and they talked their way through it. The typical TAFC stove pipe wasn't going to work, because the pressure releases out of the front of our manifolds, but they put their heads together and came up with a pretty good idea. Murf built it, Tim got it approved by NHRA, and he ran it in Charlotte.

The first thing you'd notice is the oddball side windows in the car. There is an opening now, which runs horizontally for the entire length of window, along the bottom edge. Murf even scalloped the shape of it, to give it more integrity in all directions. That opening is not connected to the cockpit of the car at all, because there is a "box" behind it that connects to the engine compartment, and part of the way to do that was to make the firewall more of a "V" like the alcohol guys have them. If the engine were to bang, there's plenty of room for all that pressure to travel up the sides of the body, up into the box, and out the side windows. It was a heck of a theory.

The broken cam gave us a good bang, and everything worked exactly as planned. We hope we don't have to find out how it works when a valve breaks or gets hung open (that's when the really BIG bangs happen) but so far it really looks like a heck a great idea. Kudos to Wilk and Murf for thinking in an area beyond the borders of the square enclosure (outside the box).

We qualified third, which is very good. Did you know that Wilk has qualified in the top half at 14 of the 19 races we've run so far? I think that's pretty incredible for a team our size, and when I say size I mean both in terms of people and dollars. That's a stat of which we can be very proud.

When I heard who we were matched up with, I was a little nervous but, let's face it, I'm always nervous about who we run in the opening round. If Alan Reinhart said "And Tim Wilkerson will face the winner of the Akron Soap Box Derby in round one" I'd be nervous. It was Tony Pedregon, who hadn't won a round all year but who, quite obviously, has been running very well as of late. Being a superstitious ex-baseball player, who was known to put his uniform on in the exact same order for about 20 years, I don't like omens or streaks that seem like they have to soon be broken. Superstitious ex-baseball player? That would be redundant.

Sure enough, the first thing out of the announcers' mouths on Sunday morning, after we sat through a 5-hour clean up when the final pair of Top Fuel cars covered the track with synthetic 70wt lubricant (okay, it only felt that long, but it was a lengthy clean-up) was "Tony Pedregon has not won a round this year." Thanks guys.

Well, I'll say this. We would've had a heck of a time beating Tony even if we didn't smoke the tires. He ran great, we coasted across the line, his streak was over, and we were first-round losers. Thank you Charlotte…

Now, we move on to Dallas and the NHRA Cricket Nationals. It's going to be warm, but the track there is awesome. There are going to be millions of crickets, but we'll adopt a few as good-luck charms. Let's go win this race!!!

And why not? We have the car, we have the crew, and we have the driver. We just need it to be "our day" for once. Did you know that Wilk has now gone 50 races without a win? That's another streak that's got to end. We're way too good of a team to not win for 50 races.

I'm flying to MSP tomorrow, and will spend a short night in Woodbury (I don't land until 6:30) before hopping on a 1:00 flight on Thursday down to DFW, then into my rental car for the 45-minute ride down to Waxahachie. It could also be a two-hour ride to Waxahachie, depending on traffic. I'm looking forward to getting out to the historic and famous Texas Motorplex on Friday. Ya'll…

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The newly designed (and apparently effective) side windows.
Meanwhile, I dropped my lovely bride off at GEG yesterday, and by this morning she was in Dublin, I think. It's yet another international trip on business, in the U.K. this time, and I think Dublin was the first stop, but it's hard to keep it all straight. When I park at GEG tomorrow, I'll text her the location of the car and she'll be able to pick it up when she returns. The life we lead...

And now, to the big elephant in the room. His name is Snafu, and that's pretty much what Sunday night was. I had already watched the whole race "live" on, and when Barb was flipping channels and came across the opening of the show on ESPN2 she said "Do you want to watch this?" By that time, on Sunday night, I was just finally getting over the disappointment of our loss, and I said "No, I don't want to watch it. I know how it ends…" So, we watched other stuff.

I was unaware, therefore, until Monday morning when I found my in-box jammed and my Facebook page lit up. Apparently, the NASCAR race had been rain-delayed, and when it resumed someone at ESPN either thought it was a good idea, or more likely they were contractually obligated, to put that race back on ESPN2, where our race was in progress. They moved NHRA over to ESPN News, a channel a lot of people either don't get or have no idea how to find on their 800-channel cable connections. From what I've heard (and, oh boy, I've heard…) the NHRA race went to commercial, and when the ads were over the NASCAR race had taken its place.

I'm guessing there must have been at least some mention of what they were doing, but not everyone hears all that, not everyone gets ESPN News, and a lot (a LOT) of people DVR the race anyway, so they were completely out of luck. This move, for whatever reason or motivation, was not received well by NHRA fans around the country. And when I say "not received well" I mean people were irate, incensed, and very very angry. Also exasperated, frustrated, and a little mad.

I've never seen such an outpouring of rage over drag racing. Like I said, a lot of people only have limited options for voicing their displeasure and a lot of them know how to reach me and how to post on our Team Wilk Facebook page, so those were the options many of them chose. They, of course, weren't blaming me or our team. They were happy to blame everyone else however, and I was simply a readily available outlet for them. At first, since I hadn't actually seen it happen, my gut instinct was to think they were overreacting, as avid fans tend to do when something goes haywire. But then I started looking around the inter webs, and man oh man the uproar was everywhere.

Believe me, I understand the anger. NHRA understands it too, and they even posted on Facebook, letting fans know that they also share the frustration. They urged everyone to contact ESPN directly, and I'll pass that along here as well.

You can call ESPN at 888-549-3776 or you can go to this web page and send them an email:

I'd ask you to be polite, because notes that dip into bad language or hateful rhetoric don't have as great of an impact. But, if you're upset about how it all happened on Sunday night, you should let them hear your voice. Maybe, just maybe, ESPN doesn't quite get how loyal and avid NHRA fans are. If that's the case, you have your chance to show them… I did, and I even started my email by telling them who I am and what I do for a living.

Be polite, but be firm. And yes, you'll probably get an automated "canned" response, but don't be disappointed. The volume of emails or calls they get, about any specific situation, is documented and the decision makers at the network will clearly get the message.

BREAKING NEWS: Well, we just heard that ESPN2 is at least going to re-air the entire Charlotte race show, albeit in the middle of the night, but at least those of you who were so sorely disappointed to find the NASCAR race on your DVR can set that box again, and have a chance to see the show. It will be on TONIGHT from 3:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m Eastern Time. That's 12:00 midnight to 3:00 a.m. Pacific Time, and you know how to do that math for Central and Mountain. Set those DVRs is you want a chance to watch the full race.

But, really, I urge you to show ESPN how passionate you are about NHRA Drag Races. If they don't hear from you, they won't know...

So… Here's hoping we aren't mysteriously preempted again. Here's hoping we run well in Dallas and win rounds, hopefully four of them. Here's hoping there are no crickets dressed as clowns (just for Lachelle). Here's hoping we don't find out how well the window vents work after a major boomer. Let's just go get a Wally. I'm for that.

Wilber, out