- John Schwarb
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LAS VEGAS -- Tim Wilkerson is two races from his first NHRA Funny Car championship, a David story in a sport full of multicar Goliaths.
Enjoy it while it lasts. In Wilkerson's case, it won't past this season.
The 47-year-old veteran announced Saturday that he will form a two-car alliance with Tasca Racing in 2009, running a Ford Mustang alongside current rookie Bob Tasca III.
"I've always been determined to create a championship-caliber program. Certainly since we've come through this year, it's become very apparent that a two-car team is a huge advantage," said Tasca, 12th in FC points as a one-car team.
"People ask me what it is like being a single-car team running against all these empires out here. I said, 'It's like trying to find a needle in a haystack at night, sometimes you can't even find the haystack, never mind the needle.' "
This year Wilkerson has found the haystack and the needle and is two races from the deed to the farm. In 12 previous seasons he won five races and never finished higher than seventh in points. This year he has won six races and holds a 51-point lead in the
Countdown with two races remaining, Sunday at Las Vegas and Nov. 16 at Pomona, Calif.
Wilkerson drives and tunes his Chevy Impala, and should he hold on to his lead he'd become the first driver/tuner to win a title in Funny Car since Shirl Greer in 1974.
Wilkerson, of Springfield, Ill., has an alliance with Don Prudhomme Snake Racing that has helped with research and development, but said he still spends time every day begging other FC crew chiefs for data.
"There's a lot of people responsible for my well-being this year besides me, because they are nice enough to talk to me, but when you can walk trailer-to-trailer instantly and talk, it is a huge advantage," Wilkerson said.
He will finally have that next year and will be under the Ford umbrella that includes John Force Racing, the four-car juggernaut that Wilkerson has beaten regularly this year along with just about everyone else in the class. Four of his six wins came after final-round matchups with Ashley Force or Mike Neff, and he is 3-2 against the 14-time champion owner.
"Goliath, is it hard beating up a little girl?" asked Force in Wilkerson's press conference announcing the move. "A little girl and a crippled old man, is it hard on you mentally?"
"I'm David," Wilkerson responded, smiling.
Yes, but not for much longer.
John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.