FOR DANIEL WILKERSON, THIS DEAL IS REAL
Daniel Wilkerson admits he's dreamed of driving a fuel Funny Car on the NHRA tour for more than a race here or there, and the reality is when he heads into the season-opening NHRA Gatornationals in March, he will do so with less than ten races of experience under his belt.
And, for the first time, having not exhausted his maximum requirements for Rookie of The Year eligibility, he'll get to compete for the title.
Of course, his first opportunity puts him up against contenders such as motorsports legend Tony Stewart, Ida Zetterström, and Sienna Wildgust, to name a few.
"At first, I thought Tony Stewart was going to be the biggest hurdle to jump, but the hits just keep coming," Wilkerson said on a recent episode of CompetitionPlusTV's Power Hour show. "The last 10, 15 years for as long as I've been dreaming about doing this, they've all been tough. So it doesn't really change the way we're going to come out there anyway, though. We're going to come out swinging and let the chips fall where they do."
The second-generation Wilkerson's transition from tuner to driver shocked many, who believe Tim Wilkerson could have been forced out of the seat. Nothing could be further from the truth, Wilkerson said.
"Scag Power Equipment has been super supportive of the decision," Wilkerson explained. "They were open to [the move], but it didn't come from them.
"Tim's been ready. He kicked around doing something like this last year, which I'm glad he didn't, honestly, because we were able to put an awesome season together for Chad, but it didn't come out of nowhere for him. He's been kicking around for a minute. It's all Tim on this one."
While Wilkerson is younger than the driver he's replacing, at 35, he's no spring chicken, but for him, he sees 35 as the new 25. He has flirted with full-time before, and if a couple of deals had come to pass back in 2010, he'd already have 14 years under his belt. He also would have been competing against Jeff Diehl (Funny Car), Shane Gray (Pro Stock), and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) for the Rookie of the Year award.
"I had two done deals between (2008 - 2010), multiple-year contracts, 'We're going to be doing this, five-year multiple contracts, full-time rides, just sign here. In January, it'll be done," Wilkerson explained. "They all fell through, obviously, since I never got to drive. But I don't tell you that story to sound like a brat, but I mean, I probably had four or five times in my career where I was like, 'Sweet, we're doing it, we're going, we're going drag racing."
"And then, it never happened. So I kept expectations super low, right up until I'm driving the thing, or in this case, until we're literally, we've signed contracts, and re-wrapping trailers and re-wrapping cars. So it's for real now."
This time, it was real for Wilkerson. The contracts were signed in January, and trailers were being re-wrapped. This sealed deal was a foreign experience for Wilkson. What isn't foreign is experiencing the violence of a nitro-burning Funny Car. His most memorable was losing a wheel at the 2009 NHRA event in Memphis.
"I've been through all of them," Wilkerson said. "We had a tire or two fall off, so we had that crash. We had a fire that was, honestly, the worst. And then, we had an intake valve drop right in the lights. And it was a pretty big boomer, broke the body in half.
"It wasn't much of a fire, but it hit the chest pretty, pretty hard. It gets your attention. So we've had a little bit of all of them, and honestly, fire is the worst."
Wilkerson has his expectations for 2024, and they are positive that his team can win.
"I think it's beyond realistic, especially with that car Tim had all year last year and the one he finished with," Wilkerson said. "We should win a handful of races, right? If we don't win a couple of races, I'll call it a disappointment.
"I would not go if I didn't think we could win the whole thing. So there was a handful of cars last year that made it pretty hard to compete for No. 1. But we're right there. We ain't far behind them.
"Chad's car finished a couple of points out of fourth, so we are all right there. So if we can keep that performance up, I don't see a reason why they won't be biting the fingernails in Pomona again with us."