INDIANAPOLIS (August 28, 2012, 2012) — It is standard procedure for most professional drag racers to at least attempt to verbally downplay the importance of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals by stating “it’s just another race” or something similar, and in terms of points that may be true. However, combining the historic significance of “The Big Go” with the fact it is also the final race of the Full Throttle tour’s regular season, and it now also contains the Traxxas Shootout special event, well there’s just no getting past the fact that Indy is a big deal.
For Tim Wilkerson, owner/tuner/driver of the Levi, Ray & Shoup Shelby Mustang Funny Car, the plot lines for this multi-act play are many and interwoven. Some will necessitate large amounts of luck in order to turn out well, while others will need outstanding performance, but in the end the story cannot be written ahead of time. It simply has to play out.
The first act for Wilk will be getting his LRS Shelby Mustang not just in the show, but high up on the ladder. Coming off a brilliant qualifying effort in Brainerd, where he admitted to having finally come to the realization that he was over-thinking and under-performing for most of the season during qualifying runs, a newly aggressive Wilk powered his way to the No. 2 spot. At the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, however, the unique five-session format pushes the times down even further, as it also ratchets up the tension.
“You can look at the five-lap deal two ways,” Wilk said. “When you’re not running well to start the week, you feel better knowing you’re going to get one more shot at it than you would anywhere else, but when you are running well you also know that all these big hitters out here have one more shot to knock you off your perch and push you down the ladder. It’s a very difficult race to qualify well at, because everyone gets that extra chance to figure it out.
“We finally got our heads screwed on right in Brainerd, just kind of going for it instead of being conservative, and it worked. We’re going to keep that same mindset the rest of the year, too. We have nothing to lose, so we might as well take some shots. Not wild and crazy shots, where you’re just guessing, but more like you look at the range of what you think you might be able to run, and instead of thinking ‘Well, we’ll aim for the middle of that window’ you kind of just aim for the best option. You go for it.”
Once Wilk gets his LRS Ford into the field, the next act centers on the drama created by four drivers attempting to wedge themselves into the final two spots for the Countdown. With Wilk and Matt Hagan both less than two rounds out of either 9th or 10th place (positions currently held by Jeff Arend and Bob Tasca, respectively) all sorts of scenarios are apt to play out as all four teams battle to secure a playoff berth. The two teams who end up with those berths will almost certainly have earned the right with a big showing at The Big Go, but luck is likely to enter into the equation.
“You’ve got four of us here, trying to earn the last two spots, so winning rounds is obviously really key,” Wilk said. “If we had control of how it lays out, it would be great to have your fate in your own hands. If the four of us could somehow line up racing each other in round one on Labor Day, that would be some huge drama and a lot of fun. If we’re all running someone else, all you can do is run your best and hope they lose. I think it would be way cooler if we could somehow duke it out against each other, but none of us can control that. Being the team in 11th, we might need some luck to have the ladder fall our way. We’ll see.”
In the midst of all of that, there’s also the Traxxas Shootout, to be contested on Sunday as a special-event “race within the race” with $100,000 going to the winner of the three-round event. The first seven slots in the Traxxas Shootout were earned by the first seven drivers to win races in 2012, while the last spot will be awarded after a fan vote and a lottery. The lottery will take place on Wednesday afternoon, at Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis, and each driver will have his or her odds weighted by the percentage of the fan vote they earned. Currently Wilk’s vote percentage is around 8 percent, while the marketing might of Courtney Force and her JFR organization have her way out in front, with about 65 percent of the vote. For Wilk to win the lottery, one mighty little ping pong ball is going to have to “force” its way out of the lottery machine.
“We’re pretty proud to have the number of votes we have, to tell you the truth, because we’re up against some big budget teams that have really put on a full-court press on this deal,” Wilk said. “Our fans, from the Wilk’s Warriors to the casual folks who come out to one race a year and like the way we handle ourselves, have really been supportive in this vote. Right now, out of the eight drivers in the running, we’re in third place so that’s pretty good. Courtney is running away with it, so the odds of her getting in the Shootout are enormous, and she’s really done a heck of a job this year. If the odds go her way, she will have earned it. If the odds somehow go our way, we’ll do all we can to win the thing because that’s big money for our team.
“However any of this stuff plays out, both in terms of the Countdown and the Traxxas Shootout, all we can do is our best and we’ll see where we end up. You can write all the scripts you want, but the story is going to be told on the race track and that’s how it ought to be, if you ask me. We’re going to go for it, and hope for the best.”
It’s going to be a dramatic weekend in Indy.