CHANDLER, AZ – February 21, 2017 – (Motor Sports Newswire) – Tim Wilkerson believed his team showed its true potential early last year, racing to wins in Phoenix and Charlotte, and even grabbing a share of the Funny Car points lead at the quarter-mark of the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.
The rest of the season wasn’t quite as smooth, as Wilkerson finished ninth in points, but the Funny Car veteran is determined to extend last year’s hot start into a full season in 2017. To do that, he’ll need another impressive performance in his 10,000-horsepower Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang at this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, where Wilkerson is the defending race winner.
“I think the thing I’m most excited about this year is the opportunity to have the new car all year long,” said Wilkerson, who has 20 career Funny Car wins. “That will be something that makes us a little more consistent than we were last year, when we had a couple of those traumas.”
Leah Pritchett (Top Fuel) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) were also last year’s winners of the race that will once again be televised nationally on Fox Sports 1 (FS1). Qualifying will air on FS1 on both Friday and Saturday, with Sunday’s finals starting at 6 p.m. EST.
Last year’s strong start was squelched as the team battled inconsistency, car changes, various other maladies, and Wilkerson could never quite replicate that early-season success, earning only one semifinal berth over the final two-thirds of the season.
Determined to not see that happen again, Wilkerson has been impressed with the work his young team has done. The team fell in the first round in Pomona, but qualified sixth in an extremely quick field, running a blistering 3.857 second pass at 322.65 mph. It was the quickest run in Wilkerson’s career, giving him something to build on as the team eyes a second straight win in Phoenix.
“We have a couple of new guys, so to win early would really be a big deal for them,” Wilkerson said. “Some guys go years and years and never win a race, especially on a small team like ours. But to come into the season and have something like that happen would be really good for their psyche.”
There’s no doubt the win at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park had a positive effect on Wilkerson and his squad a year ago. He ousted eight-time event winner and 16-time world champion John Force in the final round with an impressive 3.937 and followed that up two races later with back-to-back final round appearances, taking another win in Charlotte.
Repeating that scenario is ideal but won’t be easy against a loaded Funny Car field led by Pomona winner Matt Hagan, defending world champion Ron Capps, Courtney Force, class newcomer J.R. Todd, who beat Wilkerson in Pomona, and Jack Beckman. But Wilkerson hopes the good vibes from Phoenix last year carry into 2017.
“We’d been running pretty good all day, and the Levi, Ray & Shoup Funny Car had a lot left in it from the round before (heading into the final round),” Wilkerson said. “I thought if we could correct the mistake I made the last round, we might be able to pull it off. John had a blower belt fall off the thing, but we made them work for it. If they were going to win, they were going to have to run pretty darn good. That win gave me a lot of confidence, actually. We had one lucky round when we smoked the tires against Capps, but [other than that] we earned the win.”
Leah Pritchett’s first career Top Fuel win came at Phoenix a year ago and she started 2017 great, qualifying No. 1 and winning in Pomona. She’ll have her hands full against the likes of back-to-back world champ Antron Brown, Doug Kalitta, Steve Torrence, Tony Schumacher and Brittany Force.
Jason Line’s first of his eight Pro Stock wins in 2016 came in Phoenix, jumpstarting his run to a third championship. Line, who won in Pomona, will try to hold off teammate Greg Anderson, as well as top contenders Jeg Coughlin, Chris McGaha, Vincent Nobile, Allen Johnson and Erica Enders.
The event also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. 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.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 1:30 and 4 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 24 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Feb. 25, also at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 26.
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. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.
NHRA ARIZONA NATIONALS
WHAT: 33rd annual NHRA Arizona Nationals, the second of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in three categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock – earn points leading to 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.
WHERE: Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, Chandler, Ariz. Track is located off Interstate 10 at exit 162. Follow the signs.
WHEN: Friday through Sunday, Feb. 24-26.
FRIDAY, Feb. 24 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying at 8 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1:30 and 4 p.m.
SATURDAY, Feb. 25 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations
MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at 1:30 and 4 p.m.
SUNDAY, Feb. 26 – Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.
MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.
Sunday, Feb. 26, FOX Sports 1 (FS1) will televise three hours of finals coverage at 6 p.m. (ET).
2016 EVENT WINNERS: Leah Pritchett, Top Fuel; Tim Wilkerson, Funny Car; Jason Line, Pro Stock
MOST VICTORIES: John Force, FC- 8; Bob Glidden, PS- 5; Tony Schumacher, TF- 5; Jack Beckman, FC- 3; Kenny Bernstein, TF-FC- 3;
Antron Brown, TF-3; Ron Capps, FC-3; Larry Dixon, TF- 3; Cory McClenathan, TF- 3; Darrell Alderman, PS- 3; Kurt Johnson, PS- 3; Warren Johnson, PS- 3.
Top Fuel – 3.716 seconds by Doug Kalitta Feb. ’16; 329.91 mph by Tony Schumacher, Feb. ’13.
Funny Car – 3.905 seconds by Robert Hight, Feb. ’16; 327.11 mph by Hight, Feb. ’16.
Pro Stock – 6.498 seconds by Mike Edwards, Feb. ’13; 213.77 mph by Mike Edwards, Feb. ’13.
Top Fuel – 3.671 sec. by Steve Torrence, July ’16, Sonoma, Calif.; 332.75 mph by Spencer Massey, Aug. ’15, Brainerd, Minn.
Funny Car – 3.822 by Matt Hagan, Aug. ’16, Brainerd, Minn.; 335.57 mph by 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.
TICKETS: For tickets call (800) 884-NHRA (6472). Tickets also available online at www.NHRA.com/tickets.
About National Hot Rod Association
Headquartered in Glendora, Calif., NHRA is the primary sanctioning body for the sport of drag racing in the United States. NHRA presents 24 national events featuring the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series. NHRA provides competition opportunities for drivers of all levels in the NHRA Summit Racing Series and the NHRA Drags: Street Legal Style presented by AAA. NHRA also offers NHRA Jr. Street program for teens and the Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League for youth ages 5 to 17. In addition, NHRA owns and operates five racing facilities: Atlanta Dragway in Georgia; Gainesville Raceway in Florida; National Trail Raceway in Ohio; Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis; and Auto Club Raceway at Pomona in Southern California. For more information, log on to NHRA.com, or visit the official NHRA pages on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
Source: National Hot Rod Association