Story By: NHRA – ST. LOUIS, MO – Tim Wilkerson remains right in the thick of things in the Countdown to the Championship, already advancing to one final round in the NHRA Camping World Series’ six-race playoffs.
Now the veteran has a chance to put on a show at his home track in front of plenty of family and friends at this weekend’s NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway.
A proverbial thorn in the side of the bigger teams in the loaded Funny Car ranks, Wilkerson continues to perform at a high level in his 11,000-horsepower Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang. He’s currently eighth in points and is just 58 points out of fifth heading towards what will be a busy weekend for the fan-favorite driver.
The guest list among family, friends and sponsors is well past several hundred and growing by the day, as Wilkerson will aim for a big weekend at the halfway point in the Countdown to the Championship.
“It’s always gratifying and makes you feel good that so many people want to come to watch you race,” said Wilkerson, who has 22 career victories. “I get to feel like John Force for one weekend. But I know we can run with these guys, and we’ll have our car ready for everyone. We’ve proven we can run with them, so we’re not worried about that. I’m still optimistic and we still have opportunities to move up. We feel good and we’ll have something for them this weekend.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock) won last year’s race, while this year’s playoff event will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), with live action from eliminations set to air at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday, Oct. 2. It is the third of six races in the Countdown to the Championship and Wilkerson has already turned in solid performances in the playoffs.
He suffered a first-round loss last weekend in Charlotte, but Wilkerson opened the postseason with a final round. His car caught fire in the semifinals, but he praised the work of his team to get the car ready for the finals. If it’s somehow possible, Wilkerson may also be even busier in St. Louis. With Chad Green out with an injury, Wilkerson’s son, Daniel, who is also the crew chief on Green’s car, will step in to drive. It will make for a hectic weekend, but that’s nothing new for the longtime standout.
A frenetic schedule also seems to bring out the best in Wilkerson, who has lofty goals in store for the final four races of 2022, even while competing against a loaded Funny Car field that includes points leader Robert Hight, who has seven wins in 2022, John Force, Charlotte winner Ron Capps, Matt Hagan, Alexis DeJoria, who won the runner-up last weekend, Bob Tasca III and J.R. Todd.
“Semifinals or better, that would be a good weekend for us from here on out,” Wilkerson said. “Reading was really good outside of the finals. Of course, you don’t like the carnage, but that’s part of it. It’s all good and truthfully, we have a really good car. It’s serious right now, so we’ll see what we can do.”
Top Fuel’s Doug Kalitta put together one of his best events of the season last weekend in Charlotte, advancing to the semifinals on the strength of several good runs. That gives the veteran a pair of semifinal appearances in the past three races, giving him confidence a milestone victory could come this weekend in St. Louis in his 11,000-horsepower Mac Tools dragster.
Kalitta’s last Top Fuel victory came at World Wide Technology Raceway in 2020, while his next win would give him 50 in his impressive career. That would be a major milestone for Kalitta, but any victory in the Countdown to the Championship would be big. He’s currently sixth in points in the loaded class – and just 27 out of fifth – and with 20 entries slated to compete in St. Louis, a victory won’t come easy, especially going against the likes of points leader Justin Ashley, Charlotte winner Antron Brown, who has a strong track record at the facility, Brittany Force, Mike Salinas, and four-time defending world champ Steve Torrence. Kalitta, though, is eager for the weekend as his team gets closer and closer to a victory this season.
“I am ready to get to St. Louis for sure,” Kalitta said. “We had a solid race in Charlotte, and we made some big steps forward. We were provisional No. 1 qualifiers and raced to the semifinals. This is the time of year you need to start getting round wins and our Mac Tools team is starting to get that done. We have been running well in qualifying all season and that definitely gives the Mac Tools team a boost. Last weekend we made a lot of quick runs, and we will be looking to duplicate that this weekend in St. Louis.”
In Pro Stock, Enders picked up her fifth win in St. Louis last season, which ties her for the most in NHRA history. She’s after her fifth world championship and has seven wins in 2022, but teammate Aaron Stanfield closed in with a win in Charlotte. Others to watch include Greg Anderson, Dallas Glenn, Troy Coughlin Jr., and Kyle Koretsky.
After a year away, the standouts in Pro Stock Motorcycle return to St. Louis. Defending world champ Matt Smith has won four times at the facility, but he’ll have to take out Joey Gladstone, who won in Reading, to get back in the points lead. Other top riders include Angelle Sampey, Angie Smith, Steve Johnson, and Eddie Krawiec.
The NHRA Midwest Nationals also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, as well as the FuelTech NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by D-Wagon. The ET Racing Showcase, high school challenge and Jr. Dragster challenge will all take place during the weekend as well, and fans can also attend Nitro School on Saturday to learn more about how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. The Gear Jammer’s Car Club will be on display at the event, while fans can also be entertained by the PT Cruiser Wheelstander that will make exhibition runs following nitro qualifying.
Directly after nitro qualifying on Friday, fans will be treated to a special fireworks show and a concert by country music star Tim Dugger. Top Fuel and Funny Cars will run a special 7 p.m. CT night qualifying session that will kick off the racing weekend, leading into the fireworks and concert from Dugger.
Race fans at World Wide Technology Raceway can also enjoy the special pre-race ceremonies that introduce and celebrate each of the drivers racing for the prestigious Wally on Sunday and includes the fan favorite SealMaster Track Walk. Another can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes, where fans are invited to congratulate the winners of the NHRA Midwest Nationals
As always, fans also get an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet in St. Louis. This unique opportunity gives fans a unique chance to see teams in action and service their hot rods between rounds, get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers, and more. Fans can also visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create an exciting atmosphere that includes interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food, and fun for the entire family.
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature one round at 6:00 p.m. CT on Friday, Sept. 30, and the final two rounds on Saturday, Oct. 1 at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. CT on Sunday, Oct. 2. Television coverage includes qualifying action at 12:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, Oct. 2 and eliminations starting at 2 p.m. on ET. Both will air on FS1 as part of 4.5 hours of Sunday coverage.