Wilkerson Eager to Defend NHRA Arizona Nationals Title
Posted by: Kelly Topolinski
SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS (February 21, 2017) – Last season, NHRA Funny Car fan favorite Tim Wilkerson made a heck of an impression on the competition in his Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang, and he did so in the dawn of the season with a dominant performance at the NHRA Arizona Nationals. The victory was the earliest in any season that the Springfield, Illinois-based driver had won, and the triumph was particularly memorable as it came with a final-round defeat of the most decorated competitor in NHRA history. Now a 20-time NHRA Funny Car winner on the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour, Wilkerson is hoping for a repeat and to lay the foundation for a strong 2017 charge towards the championship.
Last year at the NHRA Arizona Nationals, Wilkerson qualified in the No. 8 position at Phoenix-area drag strip christened Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. The owner, driver, and tuner of the Levi, Ray & Shoup nitro machine dialed in on a track that threw many for a loop. Wilkerson wheeled his way to elimination round-wins over Chad Head, Ron Capps, and Robert Hight to score a final-round meeting with John Force. The veteran drivers were tied in head-to-head final round meetings entering the round, but Wilkerson gained a 4-3 advantage as he defeated Force by .0425-second.
"The thing I remember most is going up for the finals, and we got up there about the same time as all Force's guys did," said Wilkerson. "I looked at them and saw that they all had nice, shiny shirts, and they didn't look like they'd worked that day. My guys looked like they'd just been drug through the dirt. I turned to my wife and said, 'These guys think they're going to win.'
"We'd been running pretty good all day, and the Levi, Ray & Shoup Funny Car had a lot left in it from the round before. I thought if we could correct the mistake I made the round before, we might be able to pull it off. John had a blower belt fall off, but we made them work for it. If they were going to win, they were going to have to run pretty darn good. That win gave me a lot of confidence, actually. We had one lucky round when we smoked the tires against Capps, but we earned the win."
This season marks the 33rd annual running of the Arizona Nationals, and for Wilkerson, the Phoenix event will be his 447th NHRA nitro Funny Car race. He has finished in the prestigious top 10 in the Funny Car standings 12 times over the course of his career, including in each of the last nine seasons. However, Phoenix is just the second of 24 events on the 2017 NHRA tour, and Wilkerson isn't counting points yet.
"I'm a day-by-day guy," said Wilkerson. "I'm not thinking about the end-result until Indy," said Wilkerson, referring to the U.S. Nationals – the final race of the regular season before the Countdown to the Championship playoffs begin. "This year, you better believe that there is going to be a good car that gets beat first-round every race. It'll be nip and tuck the whole year long."
NHRA Arizona Nationals
Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park
February 24-26, 2017
Run Schedule (all times MT)
- Friday – Pro qualifying 1:30 & 4pm
- Saturday – Pro qualifying 1:30 & 4pm
- Sunday – Eliminations 11am
Television Schedule (all times ET)
- Saturday, February 25 – Pro qualifying Midnight-1am on FS1
- Sunday, February 26 – Pro qualifying Midnight-1am on FS1
- Sunday, February 26 – Eliminations 6-9pm on FS1
Wilkerson at the NHRA Arizona Nationals
- 1 win in 1 final round in Phoenix
- Won 2016 (defeated John Force)
- No. 1 in 2008
- In 2016: Qualified No. 8, defeated Chad Head, Ron Capps, Robert Hight, and John Force.
Career Stats through 2017 Winternationals, race 1 of 24
- No. 11 in Funny Car standings
- 446 races
- 20 wins
- 17 runner-up finishes
- 37 overall final rounds
- 18 No. 1 qualifier awards
- Career best e.t.: 3.857 (2017 Winternationals)
- Career best speed: 333.75 (2016 Topeka)