Tim Wilkerson has been a regular in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Funny Car class for 27 years.
Within his career span, Wilkerson has amassed 22 wins, entered 48 final rounds and qualified for the Countdown To The Championship 14 times. And, he’s done most of it as a privateer. But, as he said on Tuesday afternoon, everything comes to an end.
Wilkerson is merging his Funny Car team, Tim Wilkerson Racing, with Joe Maynard’s Top Fuel operation, JCM Racing, to form Maynard Wilkerson Racing. Wilkerson and Maynard will act as co-owners of MWR, though, Wilkerson will continue to lead his Springfield, Ill., Funny Car operation as tuner and driver.
“I’ve been doing this by myself for 20-some years,” Wilkerson said. “This relationship is going to take my program to the next level.”
The whole idea started with the team’s primary sponsor, SCAG Power Equipment.
SCAG entered NHRA one year ago as a sponsor of Tony Schumacher, the full-time Top Fuel driver fielded by Don Schumacher Racing (DSR). When Maynard and his wife, Cathi Maynard, became majority owners of DSR in mid-2022 and re-branded the team as JCM Racing, SCAG continued to grow its drag racing presence with the new owners.
After finding the sport coupled well with the company’s customer base, SCAG CEO Randy Gloede reached out to JCM team owner Maynard to suggest adding a Funny Car to the operation. Gloede wanted to see the brand expand into another NHRA division, but his focus was also on building an experience for company employees and customers by giving them the opportunity to experience a drag race firsthand.
“When I went to the first races and I saw our dealers literally in the locker room, they were in love with being right there in the pits with the race team,” Gloede said. “It’s not like any other sport we’ve ever been a part of.”
With Gloede’s pledge of support, it was up to Maynard to choose who would fill the Funny Car opening.
According to the new owner, it wasn’t a difficult decision.
“My mind immediately went to Tim Wilkerson,” Maynard said. “I can’t think of a better thing that we can do for a sport we love than to help Tim Wilkerson to get that one championship that we all want him to have.”
With the extra manpower and financial growth that a partnership with SCAG and Maynard provides, Wilkerson believes being part of the trio might inch him closer to the Funny Car title that has eluded him. Or, at the very least, he can stop “racing scared.”
“Last year, when we hurt the motor in Pennsylvania, I raced the next three races with one chassis and one body,” Wilkerson said. “Now, I won’t have to race scared anymore. A little bit of money is really going to make a big difference.”
To put it in perspective, the 62-year-old driver has been buying used cylinder heads for the last 10 years. With his new venture, he’s looking forward to buying new parts.
Wilkerson doesn’t see a downside to the new setup. The essence of TWR will remain intact, as his Funny Car team will retain the same employees, continue to operate out of Illinois and co-crew chief Richard Hartman will remain Wilkerson’s “right-hand man.” Even his new teammate — Schumacher — is an old friend.
The two used to race against one another in the Top Alcohol Funny Car division, but will be competing in their respective NHRA classes for MWR this season. The way Wilkerson is looking at it, having another driver to run ideas past may come as an advantage. There’s already a few things Wilkerson has in mind to ask Schumacher.
But is this team the missing link that has kept Wilkerson from a Funny Car title?
Time will tell, but Wilkerson is optimistic about MWR’s chances.
“I think you’re going to see some good things out of us,” Wilkerson said. “We already have a darn good car every weekend. If we can make it 10 percent better, we’ll be in the top five, easy.”
SCAG will be the primary sponsor on his Funny Car during the upcoming season, but Wilkerson has also maintained a relationship with his main sponsor of 22 years — Levi, Ray & Shoup. The LRS brand will continue to be featured on the car.