Funny Car veteran Wilkerson feels sense of urgency at NHRA Southern Nationals Powered by Mello Yello
It is just six races into the 24-race 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, but veteran Tim Wilkerson already feels a sense of urgency heading to the 38th annual NHRA Southern Nationals Powered by Mello Yello, which takes place May 4-6 at Atlanta Dragway.
In the star-studded Funny Car class, Wilkerson hasn’t had the start he has wanted in his 10,000-horsepower Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang. The 20-time event winner has three round wins through six events, sitting 12th overall in the loaded class. Hoping to advance to the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship for an 11th straight season, Wilkerson knows the importance of continuing his move into the top 10 in Atlanta.
“It's real important,” Wilkerson said. “I was just talking to the guys about that, about how we have to get back to our composure and winning rounds. We aren't very good at it lately, but we need to get back to making that happen. Basically, we've been trying to run our car like we did last year – and we just can't do that. Running well in qualifying (at Atlanta) and having lane choice has helped me on raceday the last few years I've been there, and I think if I could just get my race-composure back, we'll be okay this time around, too.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Bo Butner (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including finals coverage starting at 6:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, May 6. It is the seventh of 24 events in 2018 and the annual spring race at Georgia’s House finishes a stretch of three straight race weekends. For Wilkerson, the three-race stretch comes at a pivotal time.
Returning to an Atlanta track where he won in 2015 and was the runner-up to Capps last season could provide the boost Wilkerson needs at a track he has always liked, especially as Wilkerson and the team believe they’ve found the issues that have plagued them early in the year.
“We knew this was going to be a tougher year than the last couple-three (years) because the cars are all of a higher quality than they've ever been before,” Wilkerson said. “Most of my initial issues were personnel. We lost key people, but at Vegas, I thought we jelled real well. I just made a mistake tuning it first round. I'm hoping that I can get that behind me and go on down the road.”
Wilkerson knows all about navigating the ultra-competitive Funny Car class, which includes the likes of points leader Jack Beckman, defending world champion Robert Hight, Phoenix winner Courtney Force, two-time winner J.R. Todd, Capps, seven-time Atlanta winner John Force, who also sits outside the top 10, Tommy Johnson Jr., and Pomona champ Matt Hagan. But Wilkerson has proven capable of beating the elite in the class for years and he’s ready to continue that.
“I can almost compare this year to 2008, a year I did really well,” said Wilkerson, who finished a career-best second that season. “There were a lot of good cars that year, but we always seemed to run well. I think the level of competition, both tuning- and driving-wise, is better now than it's ever been. There is a different level of competition that there hasn't been in a long time. I'm a little behind the eight-ball, but I'm not an excuse guy. I'm trying my best to get back ahead of the curve, and I really think it's going to be okay.”
Steve Torrence has three wins in 2018 and is the Top Fuel points leader. He’ll try to keep the likes of Tony Schumacher, looking for his first career Atlanta win, Antron Brown and Clay Millican at bay.
Bo Butner, the reigning world champ in Pro Stock, won in Pomona and has the points lead over Charlotte winner Erica Enders, Vegas winner Vincent Nobile, Phoenix winner Chris McGaha, and Gainesville champ Tanner Gray.
LE Tonglet ended up with six Pro Stock Motorcycle wins in 2017 and the Charlotte victory, but is looking to track down Gainesville winner and defending world champ Eddie Krawiec in the loaded two-wheeled class.
The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport.
Those in attendance will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with a few of the most renowned names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This will feature meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the NHRA Southern Nationals include Don Garlits, Warren Johnson and Rhonda Hartman.
As always, fans can 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. This opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
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.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 3:30 and 6:45 p.m. on Friday, May 4 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, May 5, at 11:15 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 6.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call (800) 884-NHRA (6472) or visit www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.