MADISON, Ill. — It took a strong performance in a pressure moment just for Tim Wilkerson to compete in the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship.
The Funny Car veteran has since responded with strong performances at the first two Countdown races, keeping him in championship contention in a Funny Car class that has only tightened over the first two playoff races.
But Wilkerson also knows he will need to make another major move in his 10,000-horsepowr Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang to muscle through the list of title challengers and that includes racking up the wins in the loaded class.
His next chance to do so comes this weekend at the third annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park, where a breakout performance could put him right in the middle of the championship conversation.
“Considering we needed another rally just to make it in at the tenth spot, I have no complaints,” Wilkerson said. “Two races in and we’ve won three rounds. What I think is interesting is that instead of the guys at the top pulling away, the whole thing seems to be compressing. We’re ninth, but we’re within one good race of being right in the hunt. I’m not satisfied, but I’m happy with how we’re doing.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event. The AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals also marks the halfway point of the six-race Countdown to the Championship and is the third of four straight race weekends.
Wilkerson may be ninth and 135 points behind leader and reigning Funny Car world champion John Force, but he sits just 41 points outside of fifth after advancing to the semifinals this past weekend in Dallas. Taking it a step further would put Wilkerson, who advanced to the final round at Bristol, in range of Force heading into the final three events. But also don’t expect Wilkerson to change his approach.
“I try not to do anything different no matter what’s going on,” said Wilkerson, who has finished in the top 10 in Funny Car for the past six seasons. “Every time I go against that, I seem to mess up.”
Wilkerson also isn’t afraid to admit what the St. Louis event means for him and his team. Gateway Motorsports Park is just 100 miles away from Wilkerson’s hometown of Springfield, Ill., which makes it a special event.