Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – INDIANAPOLIS, IN – Tim Wilkerson has been in this situation before, needing a strong performance at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals to secure his spot in the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. In fact, it was just a year ago when Wilkerson advanced to the semifinals at the world’s biggest drag race to clinch his playoff position.
Wilkerson needs another clutch performance at this weekend’s Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, as the veteran sits 10th in points with a slim 24-point lead over Bob Tasca III for the final spot in the Countdown to the Championship. But those moments have brought the best out of the 2003 Indy winner and Wilkerson is confident he can rise to the occasion this weekend in his 10,000-horsepower Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang.
“I usually do pretty good at Indy, and our car has been going down the track every run the last few races,” Wilkerson said. “Now is the time to really have your ducks in a row, so we’re pretty excited. We know that we can be a fast car there, so hopefully we can continue the trend. We’re not going to be lackadaisical about this. Everybody is doing a good job and working hard on the car. We’re going to Indy and we’re going to fight, fight, fight.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Drew Skillman (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of a race that will be televised on the FOX national broadcast network and Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including a live broadcast of Monday’s finals on both FOX and FS1 on Monday, Sept. 3. It is the 18th of 24 races during the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season and there is plenty left to be decided in the ultra-talented Funny Car class on drag racing’s grandest stage.
Three playoff spots are still up for grabs, though four-time Indy winner and 16-time world champ John Force holds a healthy 132-point lead on Tasca in his PEAK Chevrolet Camaro SS. But with the points-and-a-half system in play (150 points to the winner) at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, anything can happen. Three-time Indy winner Cruz Pedregon is 75 points back of Wilkerson, meaning his playoff chances are still alive, while Jonnie Lindberg has an outside shot. Sitting in ninth, 44 points ahead of Wilkerson, is 2013 Top Fuel world champ and Indy winner Shawn Langdon, who made his Funny Car debut this season. Showing rapid improvements in his Global Electronic Technology Toyota Camry, Langdon feels good about his playoff chances.
“We had a solid test session with the Global Electronic Technology team,” Langdon said. “Our focus is to go in and perform. If we perform to the standards we have set, then we will be fine.”
Tasca made a final round appearance at the Big Go in 2011 and is embracing the magnitude of the moment this weekend. Jumping back into a full-time schedule in his Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang for the first time since 2014, Tasca has made solid improvements all year. He was runner-up in Bristol and now looks forward to performing at a high level at the biggest race of the year.
“This is what you dream about and what you live for as a driver,” Tasca said. “I want to be in the final round against Tim and we have to win it to get in. You dream about being in this situation. Our goal from the very beginning of the year was to run for a championship. The car has shown signs of brilliance and there’s been times where we’ve struggled, but a lot of that is behind us. Our confidence has never been higher at any point this season and this will be a fantastic test. We’re going to give it everything we have and we’re confident we can put this car in the Countdown.”
In Top Fuel, Steve Torrence is after a second straight Indy win to maintain the points lead against the likes of defending world champ Brittany Force and 10-time Indy winner Tony Schumacher.
Drew Skillman would like his first Pro Stock win of 2018 to happen at Indy against the likes of points leader Greg Anderson, four-time 2018 winner Tanner Gray and Erica Enders.
Defending Pro Stock Motorcycle world champ Eddie Krawiec will look for another Indy win to jumpstart his title hopes against points leader Andrew Hines, LE Tonglet and Hector Arana Jr.
Drivers in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Series also will look to become winners of the prestigious event. The fastest Super Stock cars will challenge for ultimate bragging rights and bonus purse during the popular NHRA Dodge HEMI Challenge as well. After Nitro qualifying, stick around to see the El Arabe Racing “Majestic” jet car driven by Juan Cantu. Known for their exciting pre-run flame shows and after burner pops, jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines.
Those in attendance will also have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with a few of the most renowned names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This will feature meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. A star-studded lineup of legends is scheduled to attend the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, including Don Prudhomme, Don Garlits, Shirley Muldowney, Al Segrini, Tom Prock, Darrell Gwynn and Terry Vance.
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. 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.
A special Monday edition of the SealMaster NHRA Track Walk also will take place prior to final eliminations, where many of the sport’s most celebrated drivers will walk alongside fans down the historic dragstrip. Fan-favorite vintage racecars will be on display in the Hot Rod Junction, along with several autograph sessions featuring the biggest stars of the sport will be featured.
The first of five Mello Yello Series qualifying sessions is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 31. Two more sessions will take to the track on Saturday, Sept. 1 at 4:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m., and the final two qualifying sessions will take place on Sunday, Sept. 2 at 12:00 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. Final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 3.
FOX national broadcast and FS1 will televise coverage of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, starting with qualifying on Sunday, Sept. 2 on FS1 at 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. EST. The broadcasts continue on FS1 with two hours of live coverage of eliminations on Monday, Sept. 3 starting at 11 a.m. EST, continuing live on FOX at 1 p.m. EST.