K&N Filters Winternationals
Wilkerson's weekend is bittersweet
Pomona, Sunday: The 2003 racing season has begun, filled with record-setting runs and exciting upsets. For Tim Wilkerson and the Levi, Ray and Shoup (LRS) Pontiac, the 43rd Annual K & N Filters Winternationals will be a race they will never forget. Beginning his first season as a full time competitor under the LRS banner, Wilkerson laid down a blazing 4.759 in the first round of qualifying, which held the first place position throughout qualifications.
On Sunday, Wilkerson faced 16th place Frank Pedregon in the first round of eliminations. Wilkerson's 4.857 at 317.57 mph run was no match for Pedregon's tire smoking 5.888.
Wilkerson had lane choice over his next opponent, Johnny Gray in the blue Checker Shuck's Kragen Pontiac. On this pass it was Wilkerson who went up in smoke, allowing Gray's 5.093 to be enough to earn the win light.
"That first pass is really what we wanted to do all day long," explained a disappointed Wilkerson. "So then we went and zipped the thing up a little bit because she was kinda slow in the middle. We really thought it would be ok on the starting line, but obviously we're going to have to be a little more cautious on the start line from now on. We don't have much of a window out there for some reason.
"Any how, we're still happy with the weekend. Being the No. 1 qualifier is an accomplishment we can be proud of. The team did a great job. We're a little upset that we got beat by a 5.09, because that 'stunks'. If we were going to get beat, I would have liked it to be in the final round. But we can't fix it now. We'll go to the next race and try to be a little more consistent."
Wilkerson leads the pack in Pomona
Pomona, Saturday: For the first time since the Mile High Nationals in Denver in 1999, Tim Wilkerson in the Levi, Ray & Shoup Pontiac are going into race day as the leader of the pack. After three days of qualifying, no one was able to outdo the 4.759 pass that he made right out of the trailer on Thursday.
With the security of a guaranteed qualifying position, Wilkerson used the remainder of his passes to do some testing. On the first pass of the day, Wilkerson laid down a respectable 4.82 at 318.09 mph. Then in the coolness of the late afternoon, the LRS Pontiac went up in smoke after just two spins of the tire.
"Believe it or not," said Wilkerson, "on every run since the 4.75, the car has done exactly what we expected it would do. We tested on our last three runs, and we learned a lot. But it's going to be a tough day tomorrow. Boy, you saw those cars go through there. There's nobody taking it easy on anybody. I feel very fortunate that our No. 1 spot stuck. "If you would have told me that we would be the No. 1 qualifier this weekend, I would have told you no. I knew the car would run good, but I really didn't think it would run a .75. I'm really proud of the fact that all the work we did over the winter seemed to pay off.
"Like I said in the very beginning, I want Dick (Levi) to feel comfortable doing this. It's an extremely expensive investment he is making in Team Wilkerson Racing, and I want him to be proud of us every time we do something. That's the most important thing we are going to do. Then we'll also look to Pontiac and Mac Tools and those folks, and keep going out there every weekend and try to make our worth even greater. That's our goal for the entire year.
"Now we're trying to figure out how to race on race day. So now tomorrow hopefully we can put it back to how we had it, and it will go out there and run between a .80 and a .82. That's what it should do. So you should see a good run out of us tomorrow."
Crew chief Fred Mandolini summed up the teams race day strategy as, "we'll try to do the best job we can, go down the race track every run and hope to be in the final."
Wilkerson holds on to No. 1 spot
Pomona, Friday: With one more day of qualifying complete at the 43rd K&N Filter Winternationals, Tim Wilkerson still is basking in the pleasure of being the No. 1 qualifier. Even though Wilkerson slowed to a 5.108 at 225.37, no one was able to outrun the 4.759 he laid down in the first round of qualifying. Gary Densham moved into second place with a 4.774.
"At 2.98 seconds it struck the tire," Wilkerson said of his second attempt. "And believe it or not I shut the thing off right then and it still went a 5.10. It would have gone .77 or .78 if it had made it to the end. We lowered the spoiler in the car to see what we could get away with. We thought, we've made a good run so this is the time to see if the spoiler deal we thought up over the winter works. I don't know if it had anything to do with it but we also put that F-rotored blower on there. And that's really known to be zippy in the middle of the race track. So with both of those scenarios going on, when it went to strike the tire in the middle of the race track I had to shut the throttle. I think we probably learned something. We'll go up there tomorrow with a different blower on it and try something different.
"We were going to equal Gary's run there I think; and that would have been a feather in our cap, to do it twice. That's the crap you always get when you make a good run, you know they couldn't do it twice so they must not be very good. But we would have done it twice if the thing would have stuck in the middle. It made it through the bad part, and the bull's-eye of the bad part is the first few hundred feet. We just have to tame it down a little in the middle and it will be just fine."
There is a chance of rain in the forecast for tomorrow, but if the weather works in NHRA's favor, the Funny Cars will have two more qualifying attempts. So Wilkerson will have two more times to put that feather in his cap.
Wilkerson currently the No. 1 qualifier
Pomona, Thursday: As the sun set on the first day of qualifying at the 43rd Annual K&N Filters Winternationals, the Funny Cars put on an exciting show for the crowd. The star of the show was Tim Wilkerson in the Levi, Ray and Shoup Pontiac.
On a career best run, Wilkerson laid down a 4.759 e.t. at 318.32 mph., just .02-seconds off of the national record. Only the three-car teams headed by John Force and Whit Bazemore have ever run quicker.
"I'll tell you the truth," said Wilkerson, "I didn't think the car would run that fast. I was looking for the car to run a low eighty. But the car surprises me a lot, and the crew does such a tremendous job working on it and I just try and drive it down through there. I have the easiest job in the world. I really didn't expect such a great number, but as we sat in the staging lanes the air got cooler and cooler. Quite honestly, we were pacing back there, because we didn't know if we made the right tuning decisions, but obviously we did.
"Now the question is where do we go from here? Do we go out there tomorrow and try and step on the gas? I don't know if she has much more in her. We have a lot of spoiler in it, so we could pick up a couple of hundredths in the middle of the race track if the conditions were just perfect. So we'll take it apart and look at it and then we'll have a talk about it and decide what to do."
Wilkerson ready to be a dark cloud over the competition
Pomona, pre-race: As the winter winds blew across the Illinois plains, dumping record snowfalls around the state, Springfield-based Tim Wilkerson and his crew worked long, hard hours preparing for the biggest challenge of his Funny Car career. Wilkerson spent the off-season getting his cars ready, building up his parts inventory, getting the team ready and planning his strategy. The 2003 season will be the first year that Wilkerson will run the entire POWERade Drag Racing series since splitting with John Costanza in the summer of 1999.
Something Wilkerson was quoted as saying before his first race of the 2002 season, the Mac Tools Gatornationals, was "the other teams have 20-30 runs of data, and John Force has 60 runs since he has three cars, that we don't have," is not a concern for Wilkerson this year. Due to the increased support of his sponsor Levi, Ray, & Shoup, not only will Wilkerson be at the first race of the season, but he was also able to test. Wilkerson attended the 2003 Las Vegas Blast-Off at The Strip in Las Vegas this past weekend.
"I'm really pleased with the weekend," Wilkerson said, "and LRS's financial commitment is already evident. Not only in the fact we were able to attend a pre-season test session, but I'm thrilled with the results. This new car went straight as an arrow. And even though I didn't make a full pass, based on the incrementals they would have been 4.84 or 4.85 runs. I really need to thank Dick Levi and Ed Hohenstein of Levi, Ray, & Shoup for believing in our program and giving us the additional support we needed."
Since Wilkerson was able to put the Levi, Ray, & Shoup Pontiac in 12th place for the 2002 season on an abbreviated 16-race schedule, he can only imagine what a contender he will be for a top 10 finish this year. Wilkerson isn't a multi-car team, he doesn't have an enormous database of run data, and he doesn't have a full-time highly paid crew. But what Wilkerson does have is skill as both a driver and a tuner, a talented and dedicated crew, and the ability to be one of the most consistent Funny Cars around. Wilkerson is ready to show the competition that he is a force to be reckoned with.
As the teams roll into Pomona, Wilkerson is singing a line from a song that he and his sons often sing, "We're going to be a dark spot in everybody's day".
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