NHRA: No need to fear, Wilkerson is here

Tim Wilkerson has a gentle voice, a happy face and drag racing by the throat.

For years, he has raced with bandaids and bubble gum on a shoestring budget.

For years, he has been consigned to the second tier.

For years, he has been in the shadow of John Force, Tony Pedregon and Gary Scelzi.

Not this year.

He is the best story in motorsports, the second coming of Alan Kulwicki, who stunned NASCAR when his single car team won the Winston Cup championship in 1992.

In a sport with four Force entries, three Don Schumacher entries and two from the Pedregon brothers, Wilkerson is leading the NHRA Powerade Drag Racing championship. He has fewer resources than Kenny Bernstein and Del Worsham, yet six times this season he has held Sweet Wally Purebred over his head, the trophy that goes to every winner who is a real life Underdog.

By no rights should he be on point with only three national events remaining, including the race Sunday at Virginia Motorsports Park.

Yet Tim Wilkerson led the field to the Countdown to One  even though he was a first-round loser in the first two events of the season. Three races into drag racing’s playoff, he’s leading that, too, even though he was a first-round loser in the first playoff race.

After leading the championship, it looked like it might all be wasted after losing in Charlotte.

“That motivates me, I’m into that,” Wilkerson said. “I wrestled in high school.”

First thing you need to know about high school wrestlers: They’re not normal. They don’t know when to stop.

“I wasn’t very big, I wasn’t very good, we were a Triple-A school and the kids were very good,” Wilkerson explained. “I used to spar with this kid who was the state champion all the time. Coach said, ‘When you wrestle him, you don’t even look like the same wrestler. Why don’t you treat everybody else that way when you wrestle?’

“I’ve been thinking about that. When I race these champions I’ve got to treat them like that, stop treating them like there’s no way to beat them. Those are the guys you want to beat. So that’s how we live it. Race those guys like it’s the last race of the season, the last race of our lives.”

Since Charlotte, he was won two in a row, at Dallas and Memphis.

It’s his championship to lose, and how glorious it would be if someone could stand up like Villanova against Georgetown, Buster Douglas against Mike Tyson or Doug Flutie against Miami.

It would be a championship as unlikely as John Force checking into Talk Rehab.

Wilkerson’s six victories this season is one more than he had in his first 12 seasons combined. But he is making a statement for the little guy, the independent who is typically cannon fodder for the likes of Force, Robert Hight and Ron Capps.

More amazing, Wilkerson is his own crew chief.

In his last event, he beat Team Force in succession: John Force, Hight and Ashley Force.

“For me, I have responsibilities with tuning the car, so when I beat those guys, I feel like I’ve climbed a big mountain,” Wilkerson said. “To be as fast as them on any given day makes me feel my team and I really did a terrific job.”

And that’s just the point. Wilkerson has been doing a terrific job all year, and when it was suggested after Memphis that his little team that could was making a mockery of the multi-car teams, he made sure perspective was in place.

“Truth be known, there hasn’t been a day that one of those crew chiefs hasn’t helped me in one way or another,” he said. “Tomorrow I can go over and talk to (Austin) Coil or Jimmy Prock or Johnny West or Todd Okahara, any of those guys. If I had a question or a problem, I guarantee you they would be nice enough to help me.

“Seriously, that’s a great group. We’re like a little family over there, and there’s not a crew chief out here that at one time or another in the last year hasn’t helped me fix my car with something bad on it.”

So they’re all to blame. They have created the Wilkerson monster. Or, perhaps, the Wilkerson hero. Time will tell, but there’s no reason to fear his reign as a champion.

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2 Responses to “NHRA: No need to fear, Wilkerson is here”

  1. I’ve watched Tim run since he ran the Napa Alky FC back in the 90’s. In all of my days following this sport, I’ve never seen ANY Pro driver make the year to year turnaround Tim has made this year! Going from finishing 13th in Pts. in ’07 to leading this year is unimaginable! Most people are attributing his success to the added weight NHRA imposed on the FC class in 2008! Whether or not that is the main reason is everyones guess, but his race to race consistantsy reminds me of the 90’s when John Force dominated like he did. I sure hope Wilky brings home the championship to Springfield, Ill. It doesn’t get more deserving than this!

  2. […] back-to-back victories, Wilkerson the underdog, whose championship would be good for the sport, can still win it. But Cruz is in the […]

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