Tim Wilkerson wounded his primary Funny Car during Saturday night qualifying at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals thanks to a spectacular wheelstand. While inconvenient, particularly because he had just pulled the chassis out in Norwalk two races ago, his team managed to get the backup car ready for Sunday’s first-round race against J.R. Todd.
Then things got worse. Once again, Wilkerson’s front end lifted off the ground before smashing back to Earth, damaging the front end of the chassis. Now, the Funny Car driver is without a ride with two races to go in the Western Swing and his chassis shop way back in Springfield, Ill.
"Right now, we have no car," said Wilkerson. "I called [chassis builder] Murf McKinney, and he has a third chassis that he is front-halving. He's going to try to get that done, and we'll be at his place on Wednesday to try to pick it up. Then we'll go straight to Sonoma. It looks like we could stop once, maybe, and be there [in Sonoma] Friday morning. We'll have to swap all the parts from one car to the other, and with any luck, we'll be able to make the second qualifier on Friday. If not, we'll be there Saturday to make those two runs."
Wilkerson had the better reaction time (.068 to .073) and trailed narrowly at 660 feet (3.317 to 3.291), so he stayed in the race as the front half raised off the ground. That led to a spectacular wheelstand and, unfortunately for the veteran Funny Car driver, a damaged chassis.
"I really thought I had that round won," said Wilkerson. "I was truckin' down through there, smiling for the camera already. Then it came up, and when it did I said, 'Well I'm not just going to shut the throttle.' So, I shut it about halfway, and it stayed there. I thought, 'I got it whipped now.' As it started to come back down, I stepped back on it again, and when I did, it put a hole out. It slapped onto the ground, and that was it. It's crazy that it still went 4.203 and with the front end in the air for about 300 feet. It was cool, but it bent the left side of the chassis."
That first-round loss allowed several drivers chasing Countdown to the Championship spots to gain ground on Wilkerson, including Cruz Pedregon, Jonnie Lindberg and Jim Campbell. Pedregon and Campbell reached the semifinals, while Lindberg earned a round win. Wilkerson is still in eighth place and has a 103-point lead on 11th place Campbell.
"These boys, including Richard Hartman, all have my demeanor, and that's a good thing," said Wilkerson. "We all know this is the job, and we have to fix it. We're not here to drag our chins on the ground and say, 'woe is me.' We're a team, and thank goodness, we live and die as a team.”
They’ve got a small window to get things turned around. The first qualifying session for Funny Car is scheduled for 5 p.m. Pacific Time.