Wilkerson Doing Lots With Less
By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
CONCORD, N.C. – Most people in motorsports adhere to the philosophy that money buys speed, but sometimes a team’s heart and experience can overcome what many would consider insurmountable odds.
Such was the case Saturday at zMAX Dragway during qualifying for Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals.
Funny Car driver Tim Wilkerson has only four full-time employees, roughly half the size of the well-funded operations. He has a couple of veterans, one who once worked for John Force, fly in to help. Another person flew in this weekend to clean oil pans. Some parts were scavenged from John Force Racing and the Springfield, Ill., driver had to go to the finals in the rain-delayed U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis just to make it into the Countdown to the Championship. He slipped into the title run seeded 10th.
However, when the elimination rounds begin Sunday, Wilkerson’s Mustang will be recognized as the No. 1 qualifier with a 4.048-second run at 309.70 mph. It’s the first time this year and the first time at zMAX that Wilkerson has achieved the coveted No. 1 position.
“You go into the Countdown in 10th, you have nowhere to go but up,” the 51-year-old Wilkerson said after being the No. 1 qualifier for the 17th time in his career. “I told the team we need to win two rounds a weekend. If we do that, by the time we get to Pomona (Calif., for the finals in November); they’ll have to contend with us.”
Cloudy conditions are predicted for Sunday and Wilkerson said that could cause more issues, quicker speeds than what were faced Saturday.
“We’re going to race the race track and race whatever lane we decide to take,” Wilkerson noted. “You worry about the lane and the conditions you’re racing in. The good thing about drag racing, you don’t have the guy beside you trying to bump you and spin you out. We’re usually the enemy, not the other guy.”
Ron Capps, who’s seeded first in the Funny Car standings, qualified fourth in a Charger with 4.096 at 308.21. He faces Jim Head in Sunday’s first round.
In Top Fuel, Shawn Langdon took the No. 1 position in the second qualifying round and never lost it with 3.807 at 324.12. It’s his second straight No. 1, third this season, fourth of his career and first at zMAX.
“As long as we keep our heads on right, I don’t think the pressure will get to us,” said Langdon, who’s seeded seventh entering the first event in the Countdown. “With this team, I think we’re shooting straight for the championship.”
Langdon meets 80-year-old Chris Karamesines in Sunday’s first round. It’s the second time the two have faced each other in the opening round.
“Even though they qualified 16th, I don’t think it shows how good that car can actually run,” Langdon said. “They can put up good numbers. They’ll keep us honest. It’s cool to race guys I watched as a kid.”
Karamesines, nicknamed the “Golden Greek”, has been drag racing since the 1950s, obtaining his first victory in 1952. The Chicago resident made his NHRA debut in 1962. His first final round came in 1965 at Bristol, Tenn.
“The love of the sport, the people are the main reasons (I keep drag racing),” said Karamesines, who has life-time sponsorship from Lucas Oil and Strange Engineering. “In the olden days we ran 50 races a year. It’s rougher now, but I’m getting older, too. When you’re young you can do all this and it’s easier. We match race once in a while.”
Top Fuel seed Antron Brown emerged the No. 10 qualifier with 4.98 at 319.22. He faces Khalid alBalooshi in the first round.
No. 1 qualifier in Pro Stock was Vincent Nobile, who was seeded fifth in the standings entering the Countdown.
“This is a huge confidence booster,” Nobile said about his first-ever achievement. “It takes a lot of pressure off your shoulders. It’s definitely a surprise, but a pleasant surprise. It’s nice to know I have a car that can beat everyone out there.”
Nobile faces Lewis Worden, who hasn’t raced since 1997, in the first round.
“You can always expect the unexpected in Pro Stock,” said Worden, 56, who last attempted to qualify for an event in 1999 at Memphis, Tenn., and has since retired from the construction business. “It takes luck and it takes skill. Right now, luck more for us than anything. By all rights, Kurt (Johnson) should have been in ahead of us. He had an unfortunate day and luck was more on our side.”
Johnson and John Gaydosh were the two drivers who failed to qualify for Sunday’s Pro Stock event.
Harley-Davidson riders continued their domination in Pro Stock Motorcycle with Andrew Hines emerging as the No. 1 qualifier and point standings top seed Eddie Krawiec No. 2. Hines earned top qualifier with 6.851 at 195.82.
“The left lane is very tricky for our motorcycles,” Hines said. “It’s not exactly great compared to the right lane. It’s probably going to be a right lane race track for our motorcycles tomorrow, so we’re going to do our best to keep lane choice.”
Elimination rounds begin Sunday at 12:15 p.m., EDT.
– Deb Williams can be reached at email@example.comNo Comment