NHRA: Wilkerson On the Right Track Headed to Gateway

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

MADISON, Ill. — official release — NHRA photo — It took a strong performance in a pressure moment just for Tim Wilkerson to compete in the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.

The Funny Car veteran has since responded with strong performances at the first two Countdown races, keeping him in championship contention in a Funny Car class that has only tightened over the first two playoff races.

But Wilkerson also knows he will need to make another major move in his 10,000-horsepower Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang to muscle through the list of title challengers and that includes racking up the wins in the loaded class.

His next chance to do so comes this weekend at the third annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park, where a breakout performance could put him right in the middle of the championship conversation.

“Considering we needed another rally just to make it in at the tenth spot, I have no complaints,” Wilkerson said. “Two races in and we’ve won three rounds. What I think is interesting is that instead of the guys at the top pulling away, the whole thing seems to be compressing. We’re ninth, but we’re within one good race of being right in the hunt. I’m not satisfied, but I’m happy with how we’re doing.”

Antron Brown (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event. The AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals also marks the halfway point of the six-race Countdown to the Championship and is the third of four straight race weekends.

Wilkerson may be ninth and 135 points behind leader and reigning Funny Car world champion John Force, but he sits just 41 points outside of fifth after advancing to the semifinals this past weekend in Dallas. Taking it a step further would put Wilkerson, who advanced to the final round at Bristol, in range of Force heading into the final three events. But also don’t expect Wilkerson to change his approach.

“I try not to do anything different no matter what’s going on,” said Wilkerson, who has finished in the top 10 in Funny Car for the past six seasons. “Every time I go against that, I seem to mess up.”

Wilkerson also isn’t afraid to admit what the St. Louis event means for him and his team. Gateway Motorsports Park is just 100 miles away from Wilkerson’s hometown of Springfield, Ill., which makes it a special event.

“To be honest, the St. Louis race is such a huge event for us in terms of Levi, Ray & Shoup guests, Springfield fans, and family and friends, and that’s what sets it apart for us and for me,” Wilkerson said. “We try to take on every race at the same intensity level, and if you really want to analyze that you could make the case that every person on the team has a different ‘game face’ and they approach each lap with their own personal mentality.”

“But we have so many people in attendance at Gateway that it makes for an overall intense weekend. After the race, when we decompress, I’ll be able to look at how we did and have a better idea of what that means in terms of the Countdown playoffs.”

Gateway Motorsports Park also remains a favorite for Wilkerson, who has 17 career Funny Car victories, in part because of the atmosphere a passionate fanbase has created.

It would mark the ideal setting for Wilkerson to pick up his first Funny Car win since 2011, but he will also have to do it against an ultra-talented field that includes Countdown competitors Force, Ron Capps, who has three St. Louis wins, Robert Hight, Courtney Force, who won the most recent event in Dallas, Matt Hagan, who won the first race in the Countdown, Alexis DeJoria, Tommy Johnson Jr., Cruz Pedregon and Del Worsham.

“I think the fans were always pretty great in St. Louis,” Wilkerson said. “The ownership and management group that’s in place there is fantastic and they’re doing all they can to make it fan friendly. St. Louis, in general, is just a great sports town and you can see that in the pits at Gateway. If it’s sports, and it’s a big event, St. Louis fans turn out.”

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