Running two cars is tough, but for Tim Wilkerson when one of those cars is driven by his son, the challenge is doubled.
This weekend during the NHRA Summit Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio, Wilkerson's son Daniel is competing in a fuel Funny Car sponsored by Summit Racing Equipment.
“It’s like having four instead of two,” Wilkerson admitted. “We are trying to get everything in a pile so it goes smoothly. That’s the toughest part, more than anything. [The crew] does a pretty good job of this. We did a good job in Atlanta. There was very little babysitting involved.”
And for Wilkerson, right now he’s missing one of his key nitro babysitters/wrenches.
Rich Schendel was hospitalized during the NHRA Route 66 Nationals in Joliet, Ill., with severe heat exhaustion. He is still hospitalized.
Even with Schendel’s absence, Wilkerson has managed to form a crew where he can rest assured his son is in good hands with those turning the wrenches.
“I think we have a good enough crew where I don’t have to worry about his safety, I just want to concentrate on getting him in the show,” Wilkerson said. “We don’t come not to qualify. We want to get in the show and win some rounds.”
Wilkerson has Daniel behind the wheel of a car he ran previously.
“It’s a car I’ve run forever, so I am familiar with how it acts,” explained Wilkerson. “Most of the time it’s okay; so I can usually plug some basic numbers into it and it responds.”
Even though he has a good handle on the tune-up and nuances of the chassis, there are times when Wilkerson wonders if the challenge is worth the record.
“All the time,” Wilkerson responded with a chuckle, “It’s really harder on my crew than anybody. It’s hard on me psychologically. They do the prep work getting it here.”
Watching his child encompass the quarter-mile at 300 mph enables Wilkerson to walk in similar shoes to those worn by another nitro father – John Force. Force has two daughters with nitro license and a third one working towards one.
Wilkerson believes he and Force have different approaches to maintaining their nitro legacies.
“The difference between John and I … is he works with his head and mouth while I work with my arms and back,” Wilkerson said. “That’s just the way it is. He has enough money that he can hire people to watch over his kids. I have to go through all of that with his alcohol crew and my crew. John and I have a little different scenario on the starting line. He’s a nervous dad just like me on the starting line. I hate to say it’s easier for him, but I think it is. He produces his problems by having his kids do so much. He has them doing all of this media … Road Show … and all of that … but that’s what he’s good at. He’s a professional at it … no doubt about it.”
Wilkerson knows there’s a day when he will eventually hang up the driving suit and he believes he’ll be okay with vacating the seat for his son.
“I don’t know that I long for the days when I am crew chief and he is driver,” said Wilkerson. “It wouldn’t upset me if there was enough money in a budget, so we could run like that. I wouldn’t say it’s our goal but it would be okay. I like driving and I don’t mind it. I don’t know that I am getting any better than I was.”
Wilkerson confirmed with CompetitionPlus.com on Friday of ongoing talks with a potential sponsor where Daniel could drive and he could serve as crew chief.
Regardless of the outcome, Wilkerson believes he’s trained his son well.
“He’s going to make someone a pretty good driver,” said Wilkerson. “I bring him in and show him the videos and look at them. We talk about what he did, right or wrong. He sees it.
“I don’t know why they call him a rookie. He does a lot better than some of them out there now. I think Dan will do a good job for somebody.”
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