TEAM WILKERSON RACING
LEVI, RAY & SHOUP NHRA Nitro Funny Car
NHRA Carolina Nationals
Tim Wilkerson - No. 4 (4.003 seconds)
Lost to Alexis DeJoria in round one
TIRE SMOKE AND DEJORIA CONSPIRE TO KNOCK WILK OUT EARLY
Tim Wilkerson knew what he was in for. Despite having qualified strongly in the fourth spot on the Funny Car ladder, he was still saddled with a very tough opponent in round one, after Alexis DeJoria stumbled a bit in qualifying and landed in the 13th position. Then, both the Levi, Ray & Shoup and Tequila Patron drivers and teams witnessed quite a bit of mayhem in the opening round of Top Fuel, and they knew traction was going to be scarce on a hot Sunday afternoon. As he'll do almost anytime it's available, Wilk chose the first pair for their matchup, relying on his theory of "bring whatcha got and let's see who gets it right" but it was DeJoria and her team who did, indeed, get it right with a strong 4.107, and it was Wilk who smoked the tires early.
Qualifying in Charlotte went like this for Wilk: Good - Very Good - Not So Good - No Run Whatsoever. On Friday, it was a solid if unspectacular 4.091 in Q1 followed by a very strong 4.003 in the Q2 night session; the run that landed him fourth on the ladder. On Saturday, after smoking the tires in Q3 on a very hot track, Wilk chose to sit out the final session in order to change motors and save parts, knowing his 4.003 was untouchable.
"Whenever we get down the track decently in Q1 I'm usually feeling like we're going to be in good shape, because that one sets the tone and gives you the confidence to step on it a little bit on Friday evening," Wilk said. "Sure enough, we came right back out there and ran the four-flat and it all looked good. But then it heated up again on Saturday and, honestly, I didn't see any reason to go back out there just to chew up more parts.
"We also had some engine problems earlier and I wasn't 100 percent happy with the motor we had in the car, so I had the guys put a new one in and we let them do that at their own pace, rather than have a mad thrash just to get ready for a final session that wasn't going to do us any good anyway."
With a 12:00 noon start in Charlotte, and with a strong sun and a hot day on tap, there were a lot of Funny Car crew chiefs paying strict attention to the Top Fuel cars that ran in front of them, and it was mostly a very ugly round they witnessed. Tire smoke, mad pedaling efforts, and at least three very lengthy cleanups not only frustrated the Funny Car teams still waiting to run, but the series of miscues also pushed the FC round further into the heat of the day.
"It was, basically, completely different than anything we'd run on in qualifying, but we were all in the same boat out there," Wilk said. "I like to go first because I always have confidence that we'll get it right, but this was a very difficult track to negotiate, and a lot of people had a hard time with it. That's why this sport is so challenging."
Wilk's LRS Ford spun the Goodyears basically at the hit of the throttle, while DeJoria's car powered to the 4.107 that held for low of the round until Courtney Force bettered it with a 4.086 as part of the final pair.
"Just during that last Top Fuel cleanup the track temp went from 112 to 120, so it got worse on us. Even with that, though, I was still thinking we were on the safe side of it. We took clutch out of it compared to Q1, and the track actually checked as being better on our track meter, but it sure didn't play like it was better. Maybe we have something broken in the clutch system, so we'll have to pull all of that apart back at the shop and make sure we're good going into the next one."
Wilk wasn't alone in the surprise and frustration department. Robert Hight lost to Shane Westerfield, who won his first-ever round of Nitro Funny Car competition while making only his second career start. The points leader coming in, Jack Beckman, was the victim of Courtney Force's clean pass when he smoked the tires. And, Countdown participant Cruz Pedregon took his lumps from a strong-running Matt Hagan. That added up to a 40 percent loss rate among the 10 drivers competing in the Countdown playoffs.
The NHRA Mello Yello tour now heads directly to Gateway Motorsports Park near downtown St. Louis for the second stop on the six-race Countdown to the Championship.
Team Wilkerson Racing
NHRA Nitro Funny Car
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