COMMERCE, GA – May 10, 2016 – (Motor Sports Newswire) – The last time Tim Wilkerson arrived at Atlanta Dragway he was hoping to finally end a long dry spell in the winner’s circle.
A year later, Wilkerson is simply aiming to add to what has been an impressive start to his 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. The Funny Car veteran has already won twice in his 10,000-horsepower Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang and shares the points lead with Courtney Force.
It’s a considerable difference from 2015 when Wilkerson won at Atlanta, snapping a winless streak that dated back to 2011. But Wilkerson will enter this weekend’s 36th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals in a far different place, riding a wave of momentum thanks to his early-season success in the loaded Funny Car class.
“It’s been a good start, no doubt,” Wilkerson said. “I’m excited to do as well as we’ve been doing and I think we’ve shown a lot of potential. We’ve got a good car and we’ve created those opportunities. We want to beat somebody that’s tough to beat and I think we’ve proven that so far this year, and having a good car has really helped our cause.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana (Pro Stock Motorcycle) joined Wilkerson on the winner’s stage last year. The race will be televised on FOX Sports 1 with qualifying shows on Friday and Saturday and three hours of finals coverage on Sunday. It the seventh of 24 events in 2016 and Wilkerson has already proven to be a championship contender in a deep and talented class.
He has wins in Phoenix and Charlotte, and he advanced to the final round at the most recent event in Houston before falling to Force in a thrilling matchup. Wilkerson also picked up his first No. 1 qualifier at the race, running extremely well in the warmer conditions. He ran a 3.899 at 327.59 mph there, a performance that could carry over to this weekend in Atlanta.
“What was telling about it was it gave us an opportune time to learn how Atlanta could possibly be,” said Wilkerson, who has 20 career victories. “We did some crazy, bizarre things (in Houston) and the car seemed to respond. But we got beat in Houston and I was not happy about that.”
That end result in Houston has pushed Wilkerson and his team, which also includes assistant crew chief Richard Hartman, to get even better. Wilkerson lamented bad decisions earlier this season in Las Vegas and Gainesville, both of which led to first round losses.
It led Wilkerson to performing even better in crucial moments, a notion he will carry throughout the season. He has enjoyed the quick start, but with six races coming over the next seven weeks, as well as the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, Wilkerson knows he can’t let up.
“It’s a long year and it really is a marathon and not a sprint,” Wilkerson said. ‘You can be a hero today and a zero next week. But we’ve got a car that we believe can win its share of rounds this year and that’s a good feeling to have.”
Wilkerson and Hartman have meshed almost flawlessly since Hartman came on board before the 2015 season. The cohesiveness of the team allowed Wilkerson to move into a new car this season, even after winning in Phoenix with the old one.
But the team and Wilkerson haven’t skipped a beat with the new, lighter car, and Wilkerson believes there is plenty the new car still has to offer.
“We showed at the beginning of the year in Phoenix that we have a good car,” said Wilkerson, who has finished in the top 10 in Funny Car for each of the past eight seasons. “The new car is a little bit lighter and we thought things could be a little bit better. I had no problem with (making the change).”
Wilkerson will enter the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals as one of the favorites, but will face off against plenty of top competition, including Courtney Force and defending world champion Del Worsham. Other standouts include Alexis DeJoria, who won in Las Vegas, Robert Hight, a three-time Atlanta winner, seven-time event winner John Force, Jack Beckman, Pomona winner Capps, Chad Head and two-time world champ Cruz Pedregon.
But the thrill of recent wins this season has Wilkerson excited for what is still to come and that enthusiasm has carried over to everyone on the team.
“It’s extremely gratifying to see the looks on their faces,” Wilkerson said of his crew members. “It’s just been super. We’ve got our swagger back a little.”
In Top Fuel, Brown raced to his second victory of the 2015 season when he defeated Leah Pritchett in the Atlanta final one year ago, finishing off his year with a world championship. He has tallied four victories at Atlanta, the most of active Top Fuel drivers, but defending his Atlanta title will not be easy. Points leader Brittany Force picked up her second win of the season in Charlotte, while others to watch include Texan Steve Torrence, eight-time world champ Tony Schumacher, who has yet to win the Southern Nationals, three-time event winner Doug Kalitta, who won in Houston, Terry McMillen, Clay Millican, J.R. Todd, 2014 Rookie of the Year Richie Crampton and Shawn Langdon.
In Pro Stock, Line outlasted his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro teammate Greg Anderson in the 2015 final in Atlanta. This season, Line and Anderson have dominated thus far in the redesigned factory hot rod class, splitting the first six races. Line has three of those wins and the points lead, but the competition will be tough in Atlanta. Jeg Coughlin and Allen Johnson are the only other two active drivers with wins at Atlanta Dragway, while two-time and defending world champ Erica Enders, Drew Skillman, Bo Butner and Chris McGaha are also expected to make a push for the Wally at Atlanta.
The sleek new Pro Stock cars feature fuel-injected engines, shorter wheelie bars, flat hoods and a 10,500 RPM rev-limiter.
The Pro Stock Motorcycle category will hit the track for the third of 16 events this season. Eddie Krawiec is the current points leader and will look to hold off a talented field that boasts plenty of championship level talent. That includes teammate and reigning world champion Andrew Hines, a two-time Atlanta winner who won last weekend in Charlotte, and three-time world champ Angelle Sampey, who has four wins at the track. Others gunning for the Wally include alligator farmer Jerry Savoie, 2011 event winner LE Tonglet, Hector Arana Jr., Chip Ellis, Hector Arana Sr. and 21-year-old rookie Melissa Surber.
The race will also feature plenty of thrilling action in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Series, which makes its third stop of 2016.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Qualifying for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals in Atlanta will feature two rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. on Friday, May 13 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, May 14, at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 15.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call (800) 884-NHRA (6472) or visit www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
SUMMIT RACING EQUIPMENT NHRA SOUTHERN NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 36th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals, the seventh of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships. Competition in the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Series and the NHRA Lucas Oil Series also will be featured at this event.
WHERE: Atlanta Dragway, Commerce, Ga. I-85 to Exit 149 (Hwy 441). After exiting the freeway, go north on Highway 441 to Steven Tanger Blvd. Take left on Tanger and then go right on Ridgeway Road.
COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 1,100 feet above sea level; Track direction is southeast to northwest.
WHEN: Friday through Sunday, May 13-15, 2016
FRIDAY, May 13 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 3:15 and 5:45 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 4 and 6:30 p.m.
SATURDAY, May 14 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
NHRA J&A SERVICE PRO MOD SERIES qualifying at 12:45 p.m. Round 1 of eliminations at 3:15 p.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1:30 and 4 p.m.
SUNDAY, May 15 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
Friday, May 13, FOX Sports 1 (FS1) will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 7:30 p.m. (ET).
Saturday, May 14, FS1 will televise one hour of qualifying coverage at 10 p.m. (ET).
Sunday, May 15, FS1 will televise three hours of finals coverage at 4:30 p.m. (ET).
2015 EVENT WINNERS: Antron Brown, Top Fuel; Tim Wilkerson, Funny Car; Jason Line, Pro Stock, Hector Arana, Pro Stock Motorcycle.
MOST VICTORIES: Dave Schultz, 8, PSM; John Force, 7, FC; Antron Brown, 6, TF/PSM; Warren Johnson, 5, PS; Kenny Bernstein, 4, TF/FC; Larry Dixon, 4, TF; Angelle Sampey, 4, PSM; Greg Anderson, 4, PS; Lee Shepherd, 4, PS.
Top Fuel – 3.732 sec. and 328.86 mph by Doug Kalitta, May ’14.
Funny Car – 4.010 sec. by Cruz Pedregon, May ’15; 320.58 mph by Courtney Force, May ’14.
Pro Stock – 6.493 sec. by Erica Enders, May ’14; 213.00 mph by Jason Line, May ’14.
Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.794 sec. and 197.54 mph by Eddie Krawiec, May ’14.
Top Fuel – 3.680 sec. by Antron Brown, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.
Funny Car – 3.879 sec. by Jack Beckman, March ‘16, Gainesville, Fla.; 331.45 mph by Matt Hagan, Nov. ’15, Pomona, Calif.
Pro Stock – 6.455 sec. by Jason Line, March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.; 215.55 mph by Erica Enders, May ‘14, Englishtown N.J.
PS Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.88 mph by Hector Arana Jr., March ’15, Charlotte, N.C.
TICKETS: For tickets call (800) 884-NHRA (6472). Tickets also available online at www.NHRA.com/tickets.
NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS STANDINGS
GLENDORA, CA — Point standings (top 10) following the sixth of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series –
1. Brittany Force, 464; 2. Doug Kalitta, 463; 3. Antron Brown, 445; 4. Steve Torrence, 417; 5. Clay Millican, 355; 6. J.R. Todd, 316; 7. Tony Schumacher, 295; 8. Leah Pritchett, 291; 9. Richie Crampton, 275; 10. Terry McMillen, 259.
1. (tie) Courtney Force, 439; Tim Wilkerson, 439; 3. Ron Capps, 417; 4. Robert Hight, 404; 5. John Force, 384; 6. Jack Beckman, 379; 7. Del Worsham, 376; 8. Alexis DeJoria, 339; 9. Chad Head, 303; 10. Matt Hagan, 280.
1. Jason Line, 689; 2. Greg Anderson, 610; 3. Bo Butner, 508; 4. Drew Skillman, 399; 5. Chris McGaha, 339; 6. Allen Johnson, 318; 7. Vincent Nobile, 262; 8. Erica Enders, 257; 9. Jeg Coughlin, 255; 10. Alex Laughlin, 220.
Pro Stock Motorcycle:
1. Eddie Krawiec, 232; 2. Andrew Hines, 197; 3. Hector Arana, 154; 4. Chip Ellis, 135; 5. Jerry Savoie, 108; 6. LE Tonglet, 107; 7. Michael Ray, 104; 8. Matt Smith, 93; 9. Angelle Sampey, 92; 10. Jim Underdahl, 84.