Tim Wilkerson is a testament to perseverance in the sport of drag racing. The popular Illinois-based racer has had a rough summer with a body-destroying blower explosion in Sonoma and a body-damaging top-end collision with Cruz Pedregon in Topeka, but all of that is forgotten now that the popular driver has claimed his second U.S. Nationals Funny Car crown.
Wilkerson’s Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford had to come from behind to claim the title and deny Ron Capps what would have his first U.S. Nationals win, 3.91 to 3.94. Wilkerson had not won since the spring Charlotte event in 2016 and had lost nine straight final rounds before claiming this one at the biggest of all races,
“I try not to let it mess with me at all,” he said of his past misfortunes. “We try to have a 24-hour rule: After 24 hours, it doesn’t matter -- win, lose or draw. I just go up there and try to run my car and don't worry about what's going on, but I've got one Ford Mustang body left -- just one -- and that one just won the U.S. Nationals, and that's the car that I crashed at Topeka. We picked that thing up Tuesday, spent all day Tuesday and half the day Wednesday putting it together, and drove here Thursday morning.
“It was good to get one back on ‘ol Capps. He has used me up the last two or three years. And I think we've had three or four or five finals and he whupped me every time. But not this time.”
Wilkerson reached his first U.S. Nationals final way back in 1997 but was runner-up there to Whit Bazemore. Six years later he reached the top of the mountain with a win at the 2003 event then got close again in 2012 where he was runner-up to Nike Neff.
Wilkerson qualified just eighth with a solid 3.94 then belted out a pair of 3.92s in the first two rounds to beat Bobby Bode and John Force. Wilkerson, who tunes and drives the car, dialed it up for the semifinals with a 3.88 that was low e.t. of eliminations to beat tire-smoking Pedregon for the right to contest the final. That was another fortunate round for Wilkerson as an oil-pump malfunctioned blackened all of the bearings and the crankshaft but stayed together long enough to get the win.
Capps had done a lot of winning at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, including three wins in the specialty shootout races and a victory at last year’s Dodge NHRA Nationals race held at the track, but had never won the U.S. Nationals and, in fact, had only been to the final round once, in 2017, where he was runner-up to J.R. Todd.
Capps’ NAPA Auto Parts Dodge, tuned by Dean Antonelli and John Medlen, who wrenched Jack Beckman to the U.S. Nationals victory last year, qualified sixth with a 3.90 that he matched in round one to defeat Justin Schriefer. Robert Hight went up in smoke against his 3.95 in round two in a stanza that also claimed Todd, Bob Tasca III, and points leader John Force and, suddenly, Capps was the new points leader. Capps and Co. then returned to their 3.90 pace in the semifinals to beat 2014 U.S. Nationals champ.