TOPEKA, Kan. (May 14, 2013) — Tim Wilkerson has never had any illusions about his place in the hierarchy of Ford Racing Funny Car drivers. He’s thrilled to have driven his Ford Shelby Mustang since 2009, and has represented the Ford Motor Company quite well with Countdown playoff appearances in every one of his Ford seasons, while also putting his Levi, Ray & Shoup Mustang into the Winner’s Circle six times. But, with the John Force Racing empire, featuring three of the best Funny Cars in the sport, usually parked directly across from him at each race, while Bob Tasca’s flagship team is parked next door, there’s little question the smallest operation in the bunch belongs to Wilk.
With all of those details in the light of day, it’s a proud moment for Tim Wilkerson as the NHRA Mello Yello tour heads to Topeka this weekend, for the 25th Annual Kansas Nationals. One quick glance at the points standings shows Wilk in fifth place, but it also shows him as the top Ford driver in the class, albeit his lead over Ford stablemate Courtney Force is a razor-thin two points. Still, leading the Ford contingent into Topeka is a good thing, and being on a hot streak is even better. Over the course of the last three races, Wilk has picked up seven round wins and seven spots in the standings, and those seven round wins are more than the rest of the Ford contingent combined. Wilk, however, sees this moment as just that, a snapshot of one moment in a long season.
“When you race a Ford Funny Car, you’re going to spend a lot of time talking with the guys over at John Force’s operation, and we’ve always spent a lot of time working with Bob Tasca’s group, so you get to know what they can do,” Wilk said. “It’s a lot of fun to head to Topeka as the top Ford team, but all four of those other cars are more than capable of going on a tear that can turn the entire standings upside down. We’re just happy to be hot right now and do Ford some good.
“We have nine round wins at this point, and I was thinking back to last year and couldn’t even remember when we won our ninth round. Turns out it was Seattle, in August, so we’re definitely headed in the right direction this year and we’re just focused on getting better every week. If we do that, and stay focused on what we’re doing, the points will come and the wins will come. We’ve been the runner-up in our last four finals, so I hope we break through here at some point, and we’ll put this Ford in the Winner’s Circle.”
The NHRA Mello Yello season features a long haul through 18 races in the regular season, and throughout those months teams are battling to earn enough points to stay in the Top 10 in order to make the playoffs. With Topeka being the eighth race of the year it’s still early and there are a lot of points left to be earned but, just like in other sports, an early win counts just as much as one on the season’s last day. Just one year ago, after Wilk struggled in the early season, he needed a miraculous rally at Indianapolis to earn his playoff spot on the final day. This year, he hopes to be in a much more secure position.
“Every point counts, from the rounds you win in April to the bonus points you get during a qualifying session in June,” Wilk said. “Last year we were just horribly inconsistent, and every time we’d have a good day and think he had a handle on it, we’d struggle at the next race. This year, once we got some things sorted out we got over the hump a little bit, and we’ve been pretty good here for a few races. It’s a tough sport, though, and every driver in the class can tell you about the last time they had a slump and couldn’t buy a round win. It happens, and it happens to everyone.
“The key for us is to just be what we are and be the best we can be as the LRS Ford. We’re not a team that tries to set track records or run low e.t. every round. We try to take care of our parts, get in the show solidly, and hopefully be in the top half and win some rounds. If we do that, there will be days when the track comes to us and we’ll win a lot of rounds. Houston was kind of like that. We had a good handle on a track that was giving everyone else fits, and we almost won the thing. We’ll just go to Topeka and get back to work, and we’ll see how it plays out.”
The moment is now. It’s simply a snapshot of this point in time, when the Mello Yello tour is nearing the halfway mark in the regular season. Tim Wilkerson leads the powerful Ford Racing contingent in points and round wins. As snapshots go, it’s a nice one to look at for the Levi, Ray & Shoup team and the legions of Wilk’s Warriors around the world.
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