Wilkerson Picking Up Steam as NHRA Rolls Into Gainesville
Posted by: Kelly Topolinski
SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS (March 15, 2017) – Tim Wilkerson is more comfortable than ever in the Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang, and it shows. As the 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series returns to Gainesville for this weekend's 48th annual Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals, Wilkerson fully intends to continue bettering his program.
Gainesville Raceway is special to Springfield, Illinois-based Wilkerson – it is where he made his debut in an NHRA nitro Funny Car in 1996 – and he is eager to return to the facility on the heels of a charging performance at the Arizona Nationals.
"This is really an exciting time for us," said Wilkerson, who won Gainesville in 2010 and was low qualifier there in 2004. "I do wish I could have gone one more round there in Phoenix. I wanted to be in the semifinals badly, but that's okay. Six runs in a row now we've had a pretty good car."
'A pretty good car' is putting it lightly. Wilkerson efficiently recovered from a slight blunder in his first pass in Phoenix, and from there he built upon the sturdy foundation laid at the season-opening Winternationals two weeks prior. Three times in the past two events, Wilkerson has reset his career best elapsed time in the Levi, Ray & Shoup Funny Car. His career best currently stands at 3.844-second with a best speed set in Topeka last season at 333.74 mph.
The forecast for the weekend in Gainesville is clear and cool, which could easily translate to another group of very quick and fast passes. Wilkerson, though, isn't only excited about the opportunity to go fast on the racetrack. He is just as thrilled to reconnect with longtime sponsor and friend Dick Levi.
"Oh yeah, it's going to be a great time," said Wilkerson. "We'll have Dick Levi there and all the people from Diversified Yacht Services, and we've got a brand new hospitality trailer to make it really special. We're going to look like a shiny new penny with our new crew uniforms and everything. If our Levi, Ray & Shoup Funny Car is fast, I'll be pretty happy.
"I'm excited to get there. We'll have completely different atmospheric conditions in Gainesville because it's a sea level track. Usually it's hot and sticky at the Gatornationals, but it looks like that might not be the case this time. It's been a long time, but I think we know how to win there. The way these cars are now, though, anything can happen. We'll see."
Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang
Car No.: FC9
Wilkerson at the NHRA Gatornationals
1 win in 1 final round in Gainesville
Won 2010 (defeated Bob Tasca)
No. 1 in 2004
In 2016: Qualified No. 4, lost to Cruz Pedregon in first round
Career Stats through 2017 Arizona Nationals, NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series race 2 of 24
Tied for No. 8 in Funny Car standings
17 runner-up finishes
37 overall final rounds
18 No. 1 qualifier awards
Career best e.t.: 3.844 (2017 Phoenix)
Career best speed: 333.74 (2016 Topeka)
48th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals
Run Schedule (all times ET)
Thursday – Sportsman qualifying 8:30am
Friday – Pro qualifying 12:45 & 4:15pm
Saturday – Pro qualifying Noon & 2:30pm
Sunday – Eliminations 11am
Television Schedule (all times ET)
Friday, March 17 – Pro qualifying Midnight on FS1
Saturday, March 18 – Pro qualifying 11pm on FS1
Sunday, March 19 – Eliminations 1pm LIVE on FS1
NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series
Funny Car Standings
(after Phoenix, race 2 of 24)
1. Matt Hagan, 240
2. Ron Capps, 178
3. Courtney Force, 140
4. Tommy Johnson Jr., 134
5. John Force, 112
6. J.R. Todd, 105
7. Jim Campbell, 102
8t. Jack Beckman, 90
8t. Tim Wilkerson, 90
10. Robert Hight, 88
11. Del Worsham, 85
12. Alexis DeJoria, 67
13. Phil Burkart, 62
14. Cruz Pedregon, 58
15. Gary Densham, 47
16t. Jeff Arend, 41
16t. Jeff Diehl, 41
18. Bob Bode, 26
Photo credit: Auto Imagery