JOLIET, IL – June 30, 2016 – (Motor Sports Newswire) – Tim Wilkerson has experienced the tremendous highs and also the lows the sport of drag racing has to offer, all in about a span of two months during the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.
From winning Funny Car races in Phoenix and Charlotte to a wild crash near the starting line in Topeka to leading the points race to another mishap in Bristol, the Funny Car veteran has been a part of a wide range of events recently in his 10,000-horsepower Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang.
The engine explosion in Bristol left the team in a precarious position during the middle of a rigorous four-race stretch, also starting a string of back-to-back first-round losses. Now after a week off, Wilkerson is ready to get things turned around and build some positive momentum starting at the K&N Filters Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway, July 7-10.
“Hopefully we’re done with all those issues,” said Wilkerson, who is currently seventh in the Funny Car points standings. “Once we crashed that car (in Topeka), we were thrashing to survive more than anything. It was such a devastating blow to the team and we had to throw things together quickly. And then to have another mishap at Bristol, it’s been tough.”
Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that for the first time will be televised nationally on FOX Sports 1. The fan-favorite event at the state-of-the-art motorsports facility just south of Chicago will mark the official start of the second half of the 2016 season as the 13th of 24 events.
The week off gives Wilkerson and his team a chance to regroup after a series of frustrating events and he hopes it means a chance to get back to replicating his impressive performances from earlier this season. Wilkerson won the second event of the year, added another victory in Charlotte and advanced to the final round at the next race in Houston before falling to Courtney Force.
It put Wilkerson atop the points standings with Force, but the crash in Topeka started a quick descent that he hopes ended with a round one loss at the most recent event in Norwalk. Wilkerson has watched Don Schumacher Racing standout Ron Capps get red-hot in the process, rocketing to the top of the class on the strength of three wins in four races, and the Springfield, Ill. native knows he must step up with the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs approaching.
“The team is really working hard, buckling down and giving extra effort, and they don’t deserve to go out in the first round like we’ve done the last two races,” said Wilkerson, who has 20 career victories in Funny Car including one at Route 66 coming in 1999.
“But I think this just shows them that it’s much more difficult than we made it look the first few races of the year,” he continued. “Hard work does pay off, but sometimes with these cars when it goes bad, it can go really, really bad. The (DSR) guys have really stepped up after we won in Charlotte and Courtney has been running well. We have to step up and put our nose to the grindstone. Schumacher’s teams have a really talented group of people so we have our work cut out for us.”
In addition to Capps, Wilkerson will also have to deal with DSR standouts Matt Hagan and Jack Beckman, who has climbed to third in points, as well as Force, who is second behind Capps, reigning world champion Del Worsham, a three-time event winner at Route 66 Raceway, Bristol winner Tommy Johnson Jr., Alexis DeJoria, Robert Hight and 16-time world champion John Force.
But Wilkerson also knows his team must continue to stay locked in during an important stretch that includes the K&N Filters Route 66 NHRA Nationals and then the Western Swing.
“We just have to be more diligent in everything we do,” Wilkerson said. “We got a little sloppy in that swing and didn’t pay attention to some things. It was just fatigue, but we just have to continue to be diligent about our program. I think we were really doing a good job until that accident. It’s been really hard since then but we’re not going to give up.”
Racing at Route 66 Raceway also means a strong turnout of family and friends for Wilkerson during the weekend, but the longtime standout has become a master of balancing it all during a race weekend.
“The thing about Chicago that is really good is it’s a huge market for Levi, Ray & Shoup,” Wilkerson said. “It’s a huge turnout for them and that’s a big thing. For me, when it’s time to work on the car, I work on the car. When it’s time to race, I do that, and when it’s time to entertain, I do that. For whatever reason, I’ve been really good at separating all that.”
In Top Fuel, Chicago native and defending event winner Tony Schumacher, an eight-time world champion, will try to win for the first time in 2016. He’ll face off against a host of stars in the loaded Top Fuel class, including points leader Doug Kalitta, who has three wins in 2016, two-time 2016 winner Brittany Force, Steve Torrence, who also has two wins this year, J.R. Todd, Richie Crampton, defending world champion Antron Brown, red-hot Shawn Langdon, who has won the last two events, hometown favorite Terry McMillen and Clay Millican.
Pro Stock racer Allen Johnson earned his first victory of the 2015 season in Chicago and will have the chance to shake things up once again in the new-look Pro Stock class, which features fuel injected engines, 10,500 RPM rev-limiters, flat hoods and shortened wheelie bars. Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro teammates Jason Line and Greg Anderson have been dominant in 2016, as Line has seven wins and the points lead, and Anderson is right behind with five victories. Drivers like back-to-back world champ Erica Enders, five-time world champ Jeg Coughlin Jr., Vincent Nobile, 2015 top rookie Drew Skillman, Chris McGaha, veteran driver Shane Gray, and rising stars Alex Laughlin and Bo Butner are eager to get their hands on the elusive Wally trophy as well.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hector Arana Jr. raced to his first victory of the season and second consecutive Route 66 Raceway victory by defeating Matt Smith in the final round at the track last year. He hopes to repeat that effort so he can move back into the top 10 in the points order. Standing in his way of a three-peat at the track is points leader Eddie Krawiec, who already has three victories, and his Harley-Davidson teammate and defending world champion Andrew Hines. Others to watch in the two-wheeled category include Jerry Savoie, three-time world champ Angelle Sampey, who won in Englishtown, LE Tonglet, Pomona runner-up Hector Arana Sr. and Karen Stoffer.
The K&N Filters Route 66 NHRA Nationals will also feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, including the popular and highly-competitive JEGS Allstars bonus event.
As part of NHRA’s ongoing celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Funny Car class, one legendary Funny Car driver will be honored during pre-race ceremonies. In addition, several nostalgia Funny Cars will be on display, including the famed Chi-Town Hustler, and Funny Car legends Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen are scheduled to attend the event and participate in several activities, including an autograph session.
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 how the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 5:15 and 7:45 p.m. on Friday, July 8, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, July 9, at 3:15 and 6 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 10.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 888-629-RACE (7223) or 815-722-5500. Tickets also are available online at www.route66raceway.com. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
ROUTE 66 NHRA NATIONALS FACT SHEET
WHAT: 19th annual Route 66 NHRA Nationals, the 13th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season. 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. The NHRA Lucas Oil Series also will be featured at this event, including the popular JEGS Allstars.
WHERE: Route 66 Raceway, Joliet, Ill. The track is located 30 miles southwest of Chicago on Route 53 (historic Route 66), approximately three miles south of I-80 in Joliet. Take I-80 to exit #132A (Route 53 south) to the track.
COURSE: Championship drag strip; Track elevation is 632 feet above sea level; Track direction is west to east.
WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, July 7-10
THURSDAY, July 7 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
FRIDAY, July 8 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 5:15 and 7:45p.m.
SATURDAY, July 9 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 3:15 and 6 p.m.
SUNDAY, July 10 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
SATURDAY, July 9, FS1 will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 10 p.m. (ET).
SUNDAY, July 10, FS1 will televise three hours of live finals coverage at 2 p.m. (ET).
2015 EVENT WINNERS: Tony Schumacher, Top Fuel; Tommy Johnson Jr., Funny Car; Allen Johnson, Pro Stock, Hector Arana Jr., Pro Stock Motorcycle.
MOST VICTORIES: Jeg Coughlin, 5, PS; Tony Schumacher, 5, TF; Kenny Bernstein, 4, TF; Tony Pedregon, 4, FC; Whit Bazemore, 3, FC; Larry Dixon, 3, TF; John Force, 3, FC; Matt Hagan, 3, FC; Doug Kalitta, 3, TF; Kurt Johnson, 3, PS; Jason Line, 3, PS; Del Worsham, 3, FC.
Top Fuel – 3.729 sec. by Anton Brown, July ’15; 328.78 mph by Dave Connolly, July ’15.
Funny Car – 3.966 sec. by Cruz Pedregon, July ’15; 322.50 mph by Courtney Force, June ’14.
Pro Stock – 6.528 sec. by Drew Skillman, July ’15; 211.83 mph by Greg Anderson, July ’15.
PS Motorcycle – 6.856 sec. by Chip Ellis, July ’15; 196.82 mph by Hector Arana Jr., July ’15.
Top Fuel – 3.676 sec. by Brittany Force, May ’16, Topeka, Kan.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.
Funny Car – 3.862 sec. and 335.57 mph by Matt Hagan, May ’16, Topeka, Kan.
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 (888) 629-RACE (7223) or purchase online at www.route66raceway.com.
NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS STANDINGS
GLENDORA, CA — Point standings (top 10) following the 12th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series –
1. Doug Kalitta, 1,009; 2. Antron Brown, 940; 3. Steve Torrence, 846; 4. Brittany Force, 832; 5. Tony Schumacher, 729; 6. Shawn Langdon, 711; 7. J.R. Todd, 645; 8. Clay Millican, 572; 9. Richie Crampton, 570; 10. Leah Pritchett, 463.
1. Ron Capps, 966; 2. Courtney Force, 836; 3. Jack Beckman, 823; 4. Del Worsham, 762; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., 750; 6. Matt Hagan, 747; 7. Tim Wilkerson, 723; 8. Robert Hight, 722; 9. John Force, 668; 10. Alexis DeJoria, 640.
1. Jason Line, 1,389 *; 2. Greg Anderson, 1,274 *; 3. Bo Butner, 796; 4. Allen Johnson, 719; 5. Drew Skillman, 683; 6. Vincent Nobile, 613; 7. Chris McGaha, 557; 8. Shane Gray, 532; 9. Jeg Coughlin, 528; 10. Alex Laughlin, 498.
Pro Stock Motorcycle:
1. Eddie Krawiec, 557; 2. (tie) Andrew Hines, 391; Jerry Savoie, 391; 4. Angelle Sampey, 372; 5. Chip Ellis, 300; 6. Hector Arana, 291; 7. LE Tonglet, 253; 8. Matt Smith, 192; 9. Scotty Pollacheck, 183; 10. Steve Johnson, 179.
* Clinched playoff berth in NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship