Seeing his team come together and start clicking at the end of a trying 2020 season left Funny Car veteran Tim Wilkerson with high hopes entering this year.
Through two races, it’s become much more than hope as Wilkerson has been one of the top performers to kick off the 2021 campaign.
He qualified third in Gainesville and advanced to the final round in Las Vegas, running the best time in the final quad. Heading into this weekend’s Lucas Oil NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, the team is clicking on all cylinders, which makes Wilkerson a dangerous opponent for anyone.
“We had a good car at the end of last year. The car is working well now, and everybody is working hard,” Wilkerson said. “More than anything, we’re getting everybody to do their job well. We had a couple of new people last year, and that’s come together, and we’re all on the same page.”
Getting an early-season victory would be huge for the veteran and his single-car operation, and he nearly had it in Vegas.
Wilkerson went a final-round best 3.922 seconds at 320.43 mph, but Bob Tasca III was quicker off the starting line to pick up his first victory in nearly two years. A 20-time event winner, Wilkerson was after his first victory since 2016, but he’s not dwelling on that.
In fact, his focus was on Atlanta a mere 24 hours after the Vegas race.
“I’ve got a 24-hour rule no matter what happens. After 24 hours, it starts over,” Wilkerson said. “I was the guy who didn’t have a good light in the final, but the car is running well. Each race is its own animal, and when one is done, it’s away you go to the next one.”
The next one in this case is a big one because it’s also the last one.
The 40th Lucas Oil NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway is the finale at the track, and Wilkerson sees it as the perfect time to grab his first victory of the season.
With only two qualifiers on Saturday, it presents a different scenario, but one teams got accustomed to a year ago during the COVID-19 pandemic. Plus, it’s not like Wilkerson is going to change his style.
“I’m usually wide open and go up there and make the best guess we can,” Wilkerson said. “I don’t get that worried, and just go out there and stand on the gas.”
It’s an approach that has served him well, and he’s eager to try and have the perfect send-off in Atlanta.
He’s won at Georgia’s House of Speed before, grabbing the 2015 victory that gave Richard Hartman, who helps tune Wilkerson’s 11,000-hp Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang, his first NHRA victory. It’s a memory Wilkerson still enjoys, and he wouldn’t mind grabbing one more.
“That was cool for me to get that victory for Richard, plus we got to beat [Ron] Capps, too,” Wilkerson said with a laugh. “To be the last Funny Car guy to win there, that would be terrific. We’ve won there before, so I think that would be cool to win again. Plus, we could use the points.”