BAYTOWN, Texas --
The driver of the 8,000-horsepower Levi Ray and Shoup Ford Mustang gets his next opportunity to end the streak at the 27th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals presented by Super Start Batteries, April 25-27, at Royal Purple Raceway.
Wilkerson is well-aware of the near misses, close defeats, bad luck and whatever else that has kept him out of the winner's circle for far too long, but he remains confident that the next victory, which would be the 18th in his successful career, is coming soon.
"I absolutely feel like we have a lot of momentum going and I've felt it building for a couple of races now," said Wilkerson, who advanced to the final foursome at the recent Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte. "In Charlotte, I felt pretty good going in and basically the car did everything it was supposed to do until we hopped it up for the final round. We felt we had to roll the dice and run our best number of the weekend. Instead, we were the ones who messed up. Other than that, we have a good car and the team is clicking."
In all, Wilkerson has four final round appearances since his last victory, but just making it to finals last year in Houston was an adventure. With ESPN2 broadcasting live during the semifinals and finals, teams worked through tighter turnaround times. That presented a strong challenge to Wilkerson, who qualified second, and his young team, but with a little assistance they came through in that regard.
The only down note was falling to Pedregon in the finals as the two-time world champion won for the third time in Houston.
"As soon as I heard about (the tighter turnaround times) I said 'Well, I guess that guarantees that we'll be in the final' because our young crew was still really inexperienced at the time and I didn't think there was any way we could make it," Wilkerson said. "Sure enough, we really ran great there and went right to the final. Fortunately, the entire (Funny Car driver Bob) Tasca team was waiting for us in our pit when we got back after winning our semifinal, and without them I'm not sure we could've done it. I wanted to win that one so bad for my guys, who really worked their butts off all weekend and all day on Sunday. I wish it would've worked out."
"I'm not sure why we run well there, because it's a really unique place," Wilkerson said. "You're at sea level, so there's a ton of air, but you're also right off the Gulf of Mexico, so the humidity is through the roof usually. It's normally pretty hot and we always run well on hot tracks, so maybe it's the combination of the air being tricky and the sun baking the track and we just find a way to handle it."
Handling the impressive number of championship contenders in Funny Car is just as difficult. Points leader Robert Hight is red-hot after picking up his second win and fourth final round appearance of the season in Charlotte, while teammate and 16-time Funny Car world champ John Force's seven wins in Houston are the most for any driver.
Other favorites include Ron Capps, Matt Hagan, Tony Pedregon, Del Worsham, Jack Beckman and Tommy Johnson Jr., but Wilkerson is as focused as ever to return to the win column.
In Top Fuel, Vandergriff will face heavy challenges from a loaded Top Fuel field in his quest to repeat. The points leader is Doug Kalitta, who has one win and three final round appearances in 2014, but Antron Brown, the 2012 world champ and 2008 event winner, won in Charlotte and has two wins this season. Other marquee contenders include Tony Schumacher, who has two wins in Houston, reigning champ Shawn Langdon, Steve Torrence, Spencer Massey, 2014 rookie Richie Crampton and Winternationals winner Khalid alBalooshi.
In Pro Stock, defending event winner Line won the season-opening race in Pomona but is currently trying to track down points leader and Houston native Erica Enders-Stevens. Reigning champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. has four wins at Royal Purple Raceway while teammate Allen Johnson is expected to be among the title challengers in Houston along with the likes of two-time event winner Vincent Nobile, Chris McGaha, Dave Connolly, Shane Gray, Jimmy Alund, who picked up his first career victory in Charlotte, and V Gaines.
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 enjoy some cherished face time 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.
Mello Yello Series qualifying begins Friday, April 25, with sessions at 4 and 6:30 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, April 26, at 12:30 and 3 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, April 28. Pro Mod qualifying is set for Friday, April 25 at 6 p.m. and Saturday, April 26 at 2 and 4:30 p.m. Pro Mod eliminations are scheduled for Sunday at 9:45 a.m.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, log on to www.royalpurpleraceway.com or call Royal Purple Raceway at (281) 383-RACE (7223). Tickets for children 13 and younger are free in reserved sections on spectator side with paid adult tickets.