After a pair of recent mishaps threw his racing season for a loop, Tim Wilkerson figured he had two choices after scuffing the wall and enduring a huge fireball explosion in Sonoma and suffering a crash in Topeka.
It doesn't take much of an expert to know which option the Funny Car veteran would select.
“You either throw your arms up and quit or you dig your heels in. You get back to work. That’s all you can do, and you figure out how it won’t happen again,” Wilkerson said. “Hopefully, we got our issues figured out, but we know the car runs fine. We always have a good car, but a couple of bad weekends really throws you off-kilter.”
Wilkerson termed the massive explosion in his first-round win in Sonoma and crashing into Cruz Pedregon — and then the wall — during qualifying at Topeka as “hiccups,” but they definitely threw things out of whack for a team that had shown promising signs.
Wilkerson had advanced to the semifinals at three of the previous four races before Sonoma, qualifying third in Denver. He then suffered through a forgettable three-race stretch that included the incidents in Sonoma and Brainerd, and a first-round loss in Pomona.
But as things started to get unfavorable, Wilkerson and his team kept working, and they enjoyed a positive — and incident-free — weekend in Brainerd.
The team qualified third with a run of 3.883 seconds at a huge 334.40 mph, picking up a round-win before losing by a mere 0.01 (or about five feet) to J.R. Todd in the quarterfinals.
That part was tough, but Wilkerson admired his team’s resolve, and it gave him hope big things may be coming at next weekend’s Dodge//SRT NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indy and the Countdown to the Championship.
“That whole atmosphere of a couple of races with mishaps, it’s not a good thing for a small team,” Wilkerson said. “It just bogs everybody down and makes everyone upset. But you’ve seen how we’ve rebounded. We keep racing, and we know we can run with anybody. Funny Car is tough, but I feel like we’ve got a car that can win every weekend.”
The biggest remaining downside from the troubles in Sonoma and Topeka is Wilkerson is down to his last chassis and body, which puts him on a little bit of thin ice for the rest of the 2021 season.
But it’s not going to change his aggressive racing style heading into Indy and the playoffs, where Wilkerson, who is ninth in points, believes he can be a threat. That’s not surprising, considering Wilkerson has always been a thorn in the side of the bigger teams, but there’s plenty to support that.
He’s qualified in the top half of a loaded Funny Car field nine times this year, advancing to a final in Las Vegas and the three aforementioned semifinal appearances. If everything gets clicking, Wilkerson is confident more success is headed his way before the year is done.
“Everyone in this class has excelled so much,” Wilkerson said. “It’s going to be an interesting Countdown. I’m hoping one of us teams like myself or Alexis [DeJoria] or Jim Head’s car [with Blake Alexander driving] can make a run. Everyone is running well, and there’s a lot of fast cars. It’s going to be a good chess match, so hopefully, we can get our act together and poke the bear a little bit.”