NHRA: Wilkerson Riding Early Season Surge; Seeking Back-to-Back Atlanta Wins

RaceChaser Staff Drag Racing, Featured, NHRA, Southeast 0 Comments

COMMERCE, Ga. — official series release — NHRA photo —

The last time Tim Wilkerson arrived at Atlanta Dragway, he was hoping to finally end a long dry spell in the winner’s circle.

A year later, Wilkerson is simply aiming to add to what has been an impressive start to his NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

The Funny Car veteran has already won twice in his 10,000-horsepower Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang and shares the points lead with Courtney Force. It’s a considerable difference from 2015 when Wilkerson won at Atlanta, snapping a winless streak that dated back to 2011.

This time, the veteran will enter this weekend’s 36th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals in a far different place, riding a wave of momentum thanks to his early-season success in the loaded Funny Car class.

“It’s been a good start, no doubt,” Wilkerson said. “I’m excited to do as well as we’ve been doing and I think we’ve shown a lot of potential. We’ve got a good car and we’ve created those opportunities. We want to beat somebody that’s tough to beat and I think we’ve proven that so far this year, and having a good car has really helped our cause.”

Wilkerson has already proven to be a championship contender in a deep and talented class Funny Car class.

He has wins in Phoenix and Charlotte, and he advanced to the final round at the most recent event in Houston before falling to Force in a thrilling matchup. Wilkerson also picked up his first No. 1 qualifier at the race, running extremely well in the warmer conditions. He ran a 3.899 at 327.59 mph there, a performance that could carry over to this weekend in Atlanta.

“What was telling about it was it gave us an opportune time to learn how Atlanta could possibly be,” said Wilkerson, who has 20 career victories. “We did some crazy, bizarre things (in Houston) and the car seemed to respond. But we got beat in Houston and I was not happy about that.”

That end result in Houston has pushed Wilkerson and his team, which also includes assistant crew chief Richard Hartman, to get even better. Wilkerson lamented bad decisions earlier this season in Las Vegas and Gainesville, both of which led to first round losses.

It led Wilkerson to performing even better in crucial moments, a notion he will carry throughout the season. He has enjoyed the quick start, but with six races coming over the next seven weeks, as well as the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, Wilkerson knows he can’t let up.

“It’s a long year and it really is a marathon and not a sprint,” Wilkerson said. ‘You can be a hero today and a zero next week. But we’ve got a car that we believe can win its share of rounds this year and that’s a good feeling to have.”

Wilkerson and Hartman have meshed almost flawlessly since Hartman came on board before the 2015 season. The cohesiveness of the team allowed Wilkerson to move into a new car this season, even after winning in Phoenix with the old one.

But the team and Wilkerson haven’t skipped a beat with the new, lighter car, and Wilkerson believes there is plenty the new car still has to offer.

“We showed at the beginning of the year in Phoenix that we have a good car,” said Wilkerson, who has finished in the top 10 in Funny Car for each of the past eight seasons. “The new car is a little bit lighter and we thought things could be a little bit better. I had no problem with (making the change).”

Wilkerson will enter the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals as one of the favorites, but will face off against plenty of top competition, including Courtney Force and defending world champion Del Worsham. Other standouts include Alexis DeJoria, who won in Las Vegas, Robert Hight, a three-time Atlanta winner, seven-time event winner John Force, Jack Beckman, Pomona winner Capps, Chad Head and two-time world champ Cruz Pedregon.

But the thrill of recent wins this season has Wilkerson excited for what is still to come and that enthusiasm has carried over to everyone on the team.

“It’s extremely gratifying to see the looks on their faces,” Wilkerson said of his crew members. “It’s just been super. We’ve got our swagger back a little.”

CREDIT: NHRA Communications

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.