TEAM WILKERSON RACING
LEVI, RAY & SHOUP NHRA Nitro Funny Car
NHRA Keystone Nationals
Maple Grove Raceway
Tim Wilkerson - No. 4 (7.717 seconds)
Defeated Tony Pedregon in round one
Lost to John Bojec in round two
STRANGE WEEKEND ONLY GETS WEIRDER FOR WILK IN ROUND TWO
Tim Wilkerson will most likely not look back on the 2015 version of the NHRA Keystone Nationals with much fondness. It was cold, it was rainy, it was frankly miserable, and with only one qualifying session to settle things he posted a pedestrian 7.717 on Saturday afternoon. Somehow it only seemed weirdly fitting that such a run, which featured about 900 feet of idling, would actually earn him the No. 4 spot in a field that included only one fully clean lap. Sticking with the theme of strange occurrences, that one clean run was a home-run ball hit by Robert Hight, who clocked in at 3.922 seconds on a track no one else could solve.
Mercifully, Sunday dawned not quite as chilly and much less wet, allowing eliminations to begin on time. Wilk faced Tony Pedregon in round one, as the third pair of Funny Cars to compete, and 3.985 seconds later Wilk was on his way to round two. That was the good news. The other news was the continuation of the bizarre nature of this race. Little-known Funny Car driver John Bojec stunned the crowd by beating Matt Hagan in his first-round pair, and that set up a Wilk-Bojec round two. The second round also eventually featured a complete lack of John Force Racing drivers, a matchup between Chad Head and John Hale, and Wilk versus Bojec, while the law firm of Capps, Pedregon (Cruz), Beckman, and Johnson were all bunched on the other side of the ladder. Tommy Johnson had taken out points leader Del Worsham in the opener, to add to the championship intrigue.
"Richard Hartman and I were talking about how good the track was right down the middle, but the groove was really narrow because of how cold the surface was," Wilk said. "There was a little heat and some good grip right in the middle, but it went away fast on the edges. It was giving a lot of people fits in the first round, because you had to get after it at the hit to avoid the shake, but then you were right on a razor-thin edge of smoking the tires.
"It was more like the only options you had were instant tire smoke, instant shake, or a perfect run. We made a pretty perfect run there, and that was great. It wasn't easy, by any means, and I knew that going in. Anyone who was going to win was going to have to be lucky, or very good."
Wilk and Bojec were both a bit tardy off the line, and neither car was really making much of a charge, but Wilk had to quickly backpedal his to get it to hook up. Once he did that, the Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford dropped a cylinder on the right bank and that immediately caused a move out of the groove and toward the centerline. Wilk kept charging and seemed to be on his way to an eventful win, but the LRS Mustang kept hunting the line and eventually plowed through the final two timing blocks on the track. Game over. Meanwhile, Bojec's ride got more interesting after a large engine explosion and a significant fire in the shutdown area. Bojec and his team did not return for the semifinal.
"I haven't been that mad at myself in an awfully long time, but that really teed me off," Wilk said. "I had it cranked over to the left, but once it got half a tire out of the groove it was impossible to correct it. Plus, we missed on the tuneup and I had to pedal the car, and then the driver couldn't keep it where it was supposed to be. That's just a round we totally gave away. The only thing we didn't do wrong was red-light, but maybe that would've been better. As it was, we did some damage to a good body and we lost the round. Not a fun day."
Wilk did reclaim the eighth spot in the standings by winning his opener, and that also evened his season won-lost record at 20-20 with three races remaining in the campaign. Next stop on the tour is the Texas Motorplex in Dallas, October 16-18.
Team Wilkerson Racing
NHRA Nitro Funny Car
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