The AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals marks the midpoint of the six-race Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, and Illinois-based Funny Car racer Tim Wilkerson is looking for a breakthrough weekend at the event. He will attempt to rocket to his first world championship in the 8,000-horsepower Funny Car category with a strong showing in the shadow of the St. Louis Arch during the event at Gateway Motorsports Park, Sept. 27-29.
“It's just about getting hot at the right time,” Wilkerson said. “This isn't like most sports, where the effort can be turned up and you can do better just because you're trying harder. Every now and then, though, you get on a little hot streak, and it all seems to come to you. Other times, when you're on the other side of it, this sport seems impossible, and nothing is easy.”
Wilkerson has raced to one runner-up finish and seven semifinal appearances during the course of the season. He is looking to move into the winner’s circle and break a streak of 50 events without a victory. In the first two playoff starts, Wilkerson has posted first-round losses and sits ninth as the circuit heads to his home track.
“We haven't won a race since Seattle in 2011, and I don't remember a string like this in my career,” he said. “We're running good but just can't win a race. We've gotten as far as the semifinals seven times this year, so that shows a lot of consistency, but it sure would be great to break this winless streak right now.”
If Wilkerson were to win the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, it would be in front of numerous supporters as the Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang team calls nearby Springfield, Ill., home.
“We really do have a huge group of supporters in St. Louis every year,” Wilkerson continued. “Some of them are the old original Wilk's Warriors from way back. On top of that, LRS brings so many people they have to rent a hospitality tent in addition to the space we have in our pit area, so all told, we're talking about thousands of people who are there to support our team, and that's pretty neat.”
The Mello Yello Drag Racing Series returns to Gateway Motorsports Park for the second consecutive season after not racing at the track in 2011. The support from the area drag racing fans was second to none last year, and Wilkerson and all the series competitors are eager to get back to the facility.
“It's such a great market,” Wilkerson said. “The fans are terrific there, so it's easily one of the best stops on the whole tour for us. It's our home race, and we love racing at Gateway.”
For Wilkerson to win the event, he will have to hold off a tough Funny Car field that includes 2011 world champion and current points leader Matt Hagan, 2012 world champion and defending race winner Jack Beckman, along with Dallas winner Cruz Pedregon, a two-time world champ, John and Courtney Force, red-hot Robert Hight, Ron Capps, Del Worsham, and Johnny Gray.
The Top Fuel field will feature 2012 world champion and event winner Antron Brown attempting to secure his second Top Fuel season title. Current points leaders Shawn Langdon and Doug Kalitta have the edge and will be challenged by Countdown contenders Morgan Lucas, Tony Schumacher, Spencer Massey, Clay Millican, and Bob Vandergriff Jr.
In Pro Stock, Erica Enders-Stevens will race her Husky Liners Chevy Camaro down the track in pursuit of her first Pro Stock world championship and try to defend her 2012 event victory. Series points leader Jason Line, who raced to victory in Dallas and was runner-up in Charlotte, has the momentum ahead of regular-season dominator Mike Edwards, Charlotte playoff winner Jeg Coughlin Jr., defending world champ Allen Johnson, Greg Anderson, and Dallas runner-up Shane Gray.
The two-wheeled warriors in Pro Stock Motorcycle return to Gateway Motorsports Park with Dallas winner Eddie Krawiec aiming to defend his event win from last season. Hector Arana Jr. has been the class of the field this season and leads the points prior to the start of event. Matt Smith, Michael Ray, and John Hall have won races during the second half of the regular season and have some momentum in the Countdown.
The race also will feature exciting competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.
Fans of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series in St. Louis will be able to meet their heroes during the free Fan Fest sponsored by Mid-America Chevy Dealers in downtown St. Louis Sept. 26. The event will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. on Washington Avenue (14th and Tucker) with activities for fans of all ages. A driver autograph session, a car show, interactive displays, food, music, and ticket giveaways will all take place during the event. Downtown St. Louis will be electric with the excitement of Thursday Night Football, and this will be a way to rev up the action before the game.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. No other sport offers fans an up-close-and-personal experience.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA's popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food, and fun for the entire family.
Families can take part in a special ticket offer as children 12 and younger will be admitted free in general admission and grandstand two with a paid adult. A special 12 and younger rate is also available in the Nitro 2 section.
AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals qualifying sessions are scheduled for 2:45 and 5:15 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27. Qualifying continues at 11:45 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 29.
For tickets for the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, log on to www.gatewaymsp.com or call 855-RACE-TIK (722-3845).