(Photos courtesy NHRA)

NHRA: With two wins and tied for Funny Car lead, Tim Wilkerson has his swagger back

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Even though he’s been drag racing for the better part of his life, you might say Tim Wilkerson is making up for lost time.

Prior to last season, the Springfield, Illinois native had not won an NHRA Funny Car national event since 2011. Then, when he got to Atlanta Dragway last spring, Wilkerson ended his long winless streak.

But that was only the start.

Thus far this season, the 55-year-old Wilkerson already has two wins in the first six races of the 24-race national event schedule.

Equally as impressive is Wilkerson, who now has 21 career wins in NHRA competition (20 in Funny Car), is now tied with Courtney Force for the Funny Car points lead.

2016_Tim_Wilkerson
Tim Wilkerson

And now Wilkerson finds himself right back where he started things last year: Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Georgia, for this weekend’s Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals.

“It’s been a good start, no doubt,” Wilkerson said about his season in an NHRA media release. “I’m excited to do as well as we’ve been doing and I think we’ve shown a lot of potential.

“We’ve got a good car and we’ve created those opportunities. We want to beat somebody that’s tough to beat and I think we’ve proven that so far this year, and having a good car has really helped our cause.”

Wilkerson’s wins this season have come at Phoenix and Charlotte, and he just barely missed a third triumph in the most recent race at Houston. After qualifying No. 1, he roared through eliminations before just barely losing to Courtney Force in the final round.

“We did some crazy, bizarre things (in Houston) and the car seemed to respond,” Wilkerson said. “But we got beat in Houston and I was not happy about that.”

Still, Wilkerson managed to accumulate enough points to tie Courtney Force for the lead in the point standings.

“It’s a long year and it really is a marathon and not a sprint,” Wilkerson said. ‘You can be a hero today and a zero next week. But we’ve got a car that we believe can win its share of rounds this year and that’s a good feeling to have.”

Or, as Wilkerson added, “We’ve got our swagger back a little.”

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Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.