Tim Wilkerson returned to the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals as the Funny Car event runner-up after having advanced to the final round in 2022. He was seeking a fourth Maple Grove Raceway final-round outing on Sunday during the first event of the six-race NHRA Countdown to the Championship.
Making his 15th Countdown appearance, the driver/tuner of the SCAG Power Equipment/Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang, began the playoffs from the No. 8 seed. Wilkerson’s best prior Countdown finish was a second-place effort in 2008, and with two national event wins in three final-round appearances so far in 2023, Wilkerson looks prime for a strong Countdown showing as he closes out his first season as a member of the JCM Racing team.
Wilkerson began race day in Reading, Pa. as the No. 4 qualifier, which he earned on the strength of his 3.881-second at 329.91 MPH pass from the fourth round of qualifying. The run held up to be the third-quickest of the round, earning the Maynard Wilkerson Racing team one bonus point.
Armed with the advantage of lane choice, Wilkerson drew No. 13 qualifier Alex Laughlin in round one on Sunday morning. He launched hard in his 11,000-horsepower machine and kept the SCAG/LRS Ford hitting on all eight cylinders to clock a 3.900-second pass for the win against his opponent’s 4.303-second effort. Round two featured a Wilkerson-family intramural skirmish with the 24-time race winner lining up opposite Chad Green and his crew chief, Daniel Wilkerson. It was the fifth time the father/son duo raced each other in eliminations in 2023, with the elder Wilkerson carrying a three-to-one round-win lead over his son. In a weird turn of events, Wilkerson did his burnout before NHRA officials instructed both he and Green to shut their machines off due to rain. After a brief delay, the skies cleared and the opponents were instructed to fire up their Funny Cars. Green completed his burnout and then Wilkerson started his car back up. The two cars pulled up to the beams but Wilkerson’s hopes for a fourth Pep Boys NHRA Nationals final round appearance went up in smoke as soon as he stood on the throttle while Green made a full pull in the opposite lane for the win.
“We had a good car this weekend but just got kind of snakebit there on the shutoff and restart deal,” explained Wilkerson of how having to shut off after the burnout affected his run. “Next time, I’ll go to the back of the pack and re-look at everything and take assessment of what I’m doing right and wrong. I let it cool off a little bit and I really thought it would be fine. We’ve been in that same situation before where we opted to run it right away instead of going to the back of the pack, and the car went right down the track, so, I think it just sat too long today. But, we’ll see how it goes and go onto the next race and try again.”
The No. 8 ranked SCAG/LRS Ford Funny Car team won’t have to wait long for redemption as the NHRA continues onto Concord, N.C. next weekend, Sept. 22 – 24, for the NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway where Wilkerson returns as a two-time facility event champion.