Battling through a tough line up composed of a rising star and three former world champions, Tim Wilkerson raced to his second NHRA U.S. Nationals title in front of a packed house today at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis. Driving and tuning his Levi, Ray & Shoup Summit Racing Ford Mustang with only one qualifying session under his belt, Wilkerson made consistent runs to earn his 21st career win and first in over five years.
“I go out there and just run the car,” said Wilkerson, in the media center after the final. “I just race the lane and I don’t really care who is in the other lane. I am an old guy. I have been here for 25 years. I was in the finals in 1997 and won in 2004. It scuffed a piston in 2012 when Mike Neff beat me. I was half a car ahead of him when it shut off. This place loves me. It really does. I usually run well here. I won a lot of races in my alcohol car here. This place and we have a good relationship. It always treats me well.”
Wilkerson gave the credit for his success throughout the day to his car chief Richard Hartman and his crew members.
“My guys are who I am really happy for,” said Wilkerson. “Most of the guys on this team besides Richard have never won a race period. Those guys are all new to me. That is what really makes me happy. I think we have been to six finals with all those kids, and I couldn’t get that monkey off my back.”
“I am pretty proud of my guys. We had a lot of adversity today. We put three motors in that car. We had an oil pump malfunction in the semis. It had no oil pressure from two seconds until the end. I don’t know how it didn’t break. Thank god for those rods and that good crankshaft because they were still together,” added Wilkerson.
Racing second generation driver Bobby Bode in the first round had Wilkerson confident but also wary of the young driver. Wilkerson knew Bode had a quick racecar and the veteran knew the first round would be tricky with different track conditions. This was the first time these two drivers have matched up in eliminations. Both race cars had issues on their run, but it was Wilkerson getting the win after he gave his Ford Mustang Funny Car a quick pedal to regain traction as he accelerated down the track. He was able to generate enough power to get to the finish line first even though he had had no power and was coasting.
Wilkerson had the luxury of watching three pairs of racecars hit the track before his quarterfinal race against 16-time Funny Car champion and U.S. Nationals No. 1 qualifier John Force. In a dominant race Wilkerson made a smooth, quick run, in front of a tire smoking Force. He got to the stripe first with a 3.974 second pass and raced to the semifinals against Cruz Pedregon.
In the past six races leading up to today’s race Pedregon and Wilkerson have raced each other three times with Wilkerson looking for his first win this season against the two-time Funny Car champion. In Topeka, Wilkerson collided with Pedregon severely damaging both race cars during qualifying. Today Wilkerson made another solid pass in front of a tire smoking opponent to race to his first final round of the season. Wilkerson’s winning time of 3.983 seconds was just slightly slower than his quarterfinal pass and showed what a good handle he had on his race car which was making its debut this weekend.
“This is a brand-new car,” said Wilkerson. “That is the car I crashed into Cruz with at Topeka. (Chassis builder) Murf McKinney did a good job for me. We picked that thing up last Tuesday. We spent all day Tuesday and half the day Wednesday putting it together. We drove over Thursday morning and won the race.”
“We were almost financially devastated by all that,” added Wilkerson. “That body that I wrecked with Cruz was brand new. It had two runs on it and I junked it. We came to the U.S. Nationals with one body. Chad Green is sort of my team car and he said I could use his old Mustang body so at least I have something to run if something happens. We are going into the Countdown with one body and we will see how it goes.”
With one more opponent standing between his team and the winner’s circle Wilkerson threw caution to the wind and tuned up his race car to make its best run of race day. In the past Wilkerson by his own admission had missed opportunities for wins by being conservative in the final round. Today he would not take the chance against Capps. In a monster effort Wilkerson took the win with a 3.912 second run in the right lane to outrun Capps’ 3.946 second run.
“Capps has used me up the last two or three years. I think we have had him in three or four finals. I waited for him one year at Gainesville because they were having problems and he and (crew chief) Rahn Tobler just spanked me. My wife told me they ran 3.90 in the semifinals and I told my guys they ain’t ready for us in the finals and they better run 3.90 again if they want to beat us. We have a good car.”
“I am not saying I was sandbagging all day, but I was making sure I was going down the track,” said Wilkerson. “We are in the finals and I know what NHRA is going to do for us. They bit me before tuning that track up. I went up there thinking it was crummy. This time I told Richard we are going to plan on that track being great because they are going to tune it up. We are at Indy and they are going to do a good job for us. I ran that thing like it was trying to run a night run.”
“We have a twenty-four hour rule, after twenty-four hours it doesn’t matter. Win, lose or draw. I just go up there and try to run my car. My guys do such a terrific job. You can see our car very rarely does anything wrong. There is a lot of emotion today. We are not a rich team. I have one Ford Mustang body left. One. That is the one that just won the U.S. Nationals,” said Wilkerson.