COMMERCE, GA – April 23, 2019 – (Motor Sports Newswire) – After slow starts to each of his past two seasons, veteran Tim Wilkerson had to fight an uphill battle to reach the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship. With a pair of final-round appearances and a No.1 qualifier to open the 2019 season, that doesn’t appear to be a problem for the Funny Car fan favorite this year.
Wilkerson has looked strong at nearly every race in 2019 in his 10,000-horsepower Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang, currently sitting in seventh place through the first five races. He’s done it with impressive performances in a car that has delivered some of the best runs in the class, taking plenty of momentum into Georgia’s House of Speed, Atlanta Dragway, for the 39th annual Arby’s NHRA Southern Nationals, May 3-5.
“We’ve got our form back again and hopefully it keeps that way,” said Wilkerson, who has 11 straight top 10 finishes. “We’re pretty excited with how we’re running. My guys are doing a good job and it helps my confidence. Now we can just pick at the car a little. Sometimes you get in the groove of just trying to be there and if you have a couple of tragedies with a car, you get in a pickle and you can’t get the thing working. It drives you crazy, but the car is running good now.”
Leah Pritchett (Top Fuel), Courtney Force (Funny Car) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including finals coverage starting at 6:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, May 5. It is the seventh of 24 races during the 2019 NHRA season and Wilkerson will look for his second career victory in Atlanta. He has two final round appearances since 2015, hoping to build on his current momentum.
Wilkerson has qualified third or better, including a No. 1 qualifier in Las Vegas, at the past four races, running as quick as 3.872 with a number of runs at more than 320 mph. The next step is building consistency as he races against a talented Funny Car field that includes points leader Robert Hight, who has three wins in 2019, defending world champ J.R. Todd, and Phoenix winner Matt Hagan, but Wilkerson has been helped by a crew that’s stayed intact from a year ago.
“It’s just unbelievable how much that helps,” Wilkerson said. “The fact that we have the same guys, their confidence is up. They’ve helped make this car pretty fast and it’s a pretty fun thing. We’re testing every Saturday at a race. We’ll throw caution to the wind and test something every Saturday, so that makes that first day of qualifying real important. That sets the tone.”
It’s been a strong tone thus far for Wilkerson, who noted he tested blowers during Saturday qualifying in Houston, and tires, rims and clutch discs at the previous event in Las Vegas. But it’s a process that has worked out well for him, as Wilkerson has performed well during the two Friday qualifying sessions in 2019. He knows the elite performers in Funny Car will continue to push the envelope and, but Wilkerson isn’t content with just showing up. The 20-time event winner is there for winner’s circle celebrations and he’s determined to get there in Atlanta.
“We expect to make round wins every weekend,” Wilkerson said. “I never have any aspirations of anything less than that. Our goal is to go out there, whoop someone’s butt and go home. That shows in how the crew acts and how we operate as a team. That’s our deal and that’s the fun part of this, in my opinion.”
Leah Pritchett grabbed her first career victory at Atlanta Dragway in Top Fuel a year ago, and she races against defending Top Fuel champ Steve Torrence and points leader Doug Kalitta.
The Pro Stock Motorcycle class makes its fourth of 16 appearances in 2019 at the event, with everyone chasing Andrew Hines, who won the season-opening race in Gainesville. The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service has its fourth of 12 races in the 2019 season. Todd Tutterow and Stevie “Fast” Jackson both have wins this year, while the class also includes popular drivers Erica Enders, Alex Laughlin, defending world champ Mike Janis and three-time champ Rickie Smith. The event also features exciting competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport.
As always, fans can 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 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.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the cars and teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Nitro School to learn more about how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Atlanta Dragway will host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the Cruising with Castello Sealmaster Track Walk hosted by NHRA announcer Joe Castello. A can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans are invited to congratulate the winners of the event as they celebrate their Arby’s NHRA Southern Nationals victories.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 4:00 and 7:00 p.m. on Friday, May 3 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, May 4, at 12:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 5.
To purchase tickets, 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.
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 E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service. 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 four racing facilities: Atlanta Dragway in Georgia; Gainesville Raceway in Florida; 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