WILKERSON RETURNS TO GATEWAY INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY ON DIFFERENT MISSION: The missions are entirely different, however, and the potential payoff is just as important. One year ago, Wilkerson came to his home track—Gateway International Raceway—looking for a win and hunting the No. 1 points position in the Full Throttle Series Funny Car standings. This year, the Springfield, Illinois, racer is still hunting for a win, however, this time around he's trying to navigate his way into the top 10 in the ultra-competitive Funny Car class in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.
Last year, he was successful with both goals at GIR. He won the race and moved into the points lead for the first time in his career. He used that race win as momentum to go on a summer winning spree that flipped the category upside down.
He narrowly missed winning his first world championship title in the season-ending playoffs. Riding that wave from his second place points finish from 2008, Wilkerson's once independent race operation took on a makeover during the off-season. He decided to partner with Bob Tasca and switched from Chevy Impalas to Ford Shelby Mustangs.
Though still in the intial phase, Wilkerson is at the point now in the transition where he's starting to see the bright light at the end of the tunnel.
"We're definitely making progress, and Atlanta showed that, I think," Wilkerson said. "We basically made five great laps in a row, and our first-round race on Sunday was our best of the weekend. We also brought out a brand new chassis in Atlanta, as if we haven't been starting from scratch in just about every area all year, anyway.
"I think some people thought I'd lost my mind when we finished second last year, but came out for 2009 with all new stuff. They'd ask me 'Why don't you just keep running what you had?' But if you don't keep moving forward, you're going to get left behind. With the new chassis and the Shelby Mustang, we're definitely moving forward."
You can see Wilkerson and all of your favorite NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing drivers at the 13th annual O'Reilly NHRA Midwest Nationals, May 1–3 at Gateway International Raceway.
SCHUMACHER PRESENTED 2008 DRIVER OF THE YEAR TROPHY: U.S. Army NHRA Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher received his 2008 Driver of the Year trophy Thursday night in Talladega, Alabama, during the annual International Motorsports Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Last December, an elite panel of broadcasters and journalists named Schumacher the 2008 Driver of the Year after the Chicago-area resident posted a record fifth-consecutive world championship to go along with 15 victories.
Schumacher became the third NHRA driver to win the prestigious Driver Of The Year award. Funny Car's John Force captured the 1996 honor, and Pro Stock's Greg Anderson won it in 2004. For more information on Schumacher's award, visit www.NHRA.com.
GATEWAY INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY UPGRADES READY FOR O'REILLY NHRA MIDWEST NATIONALS: Gateway International Raceway recently put the finishing touches on the most extensive dragstrip renovation in years with improvements to both the top-end emergency shutdown area and the facility's timing system. Improvements include an increase in the gravel trap length and depth, improvements in the guardrails on both sides of the trap, the addition of two 12-foot nylon catch nets and various other improvements made to the top end of the dragstrip.
The timing system was upgraded by Compulink Timing after a lighting strike ruined the system used in previous years. Both the new timing system and top end will be on display this weekend when the NHRA Full Throttle Series heads to Madison, Illinois, for the O'Reilly NHRA Midwest Nationals.
O'REILLY NHRA MIDWEST NATIONALS, GATEWAY INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY, MAY 1–3: NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing returns to the Gateway to the West in Madison, Ill. Defending event winners include Rod Fuller (Top Fuel); Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car); Kurt Johnson (Pro Stock); and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
NHRA THUNDER VALLEY NATIONALS, BRISTOL DRAGWAY, MAY 15–17: NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing heads back to Thunder Valley and the Mountains of Northern Tennessee for the eighth of 24 events on the 2009 schedule. Defending event winners include Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel); Melanie Troxel (Funny Car); and Dave Connolly (Pro Stock).
O'REILLY NHRA SUMMER NATIONALS, HEARTLAND PARK TOPEKA, MAY 29–31: Heading to the heartland of America, the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series makes its ninth stop on the 2009 tour. Defending event winners include Hillary Will (Top Fuel); John Force (Funny Car); and Ron Krisher (Pro Stock).
HE SAID, SHE SAID
WHAT'S A FIRST SEASON WITHOUT A WIN?: Top Fuel rookie Spencer Massey on his first year driving for Don Prudhomme Racing: "Winning is the goal, and if we're not expecting that, 'Snake' might be kind of mad. We're going to go for it every weekend, no matter what it takes, and start going rounds and get these points because we need to get into the Countdown."
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
2: That's the number of repeat winners at Gateway International Raceway in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category. Both Angelle Sampey (2005, 2002, 1999) and Matt Hines (2000, 1998) currently are not racing, meaning that among active drivers, three could add a second GIR win this weekend. Here are those drivers below:
- Andrew Hines
- Steve Johnson
- Matt Smith
DID YOU KNOW?
...that among the active drivers in Top Fuel, only three have won at Gateway International Raceway. Doug Kalitta (2004, 2003, 2001), Brandon Bernstein (2005) and Tony Schumacher (2006).