NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

It's getting better and better for first-time full-time FC driver Daniel Wilkerson

After reaching the final round at the most recent event on the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series tour, crew chief turned full-time driver Daniel Wilkerson is settling right in behind the wheel of the Scag Power Equipment Ford Mustang.
16 May 2024
Kelly Wade
Daniel Wilkerson

After reaching the final round at the most recent event on the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series tour, crew chief turned full-time driver Daniel Wilkerson is settling right in behind the wheel of the Scag Power Equipment Ford Mustang.

This driving thing isn't new to Wilkerson, who made his nitro Funny Car debut in 2009 under the tutelage of his father, veteran Funny Car racer and tuner Tim Wilkerson. But when Dad handed over the reins this year and moved to the role of crew chief, the Springfield, Ill., native had never raced more than three events in a single season. Five races into his first full year of competition, the younger Wilkerson has made up a ton of ground very quickly. 

Two weeks ago in Charlotte, he clocked career-best numbers and powered his way to the final round for the first time. 

"That's going to be hard to beat," said Wilkerson, who recorded a career-best 3.885-second pass in round one after clocking a 331.16-mph blast in qualifying at zMAX Dragway. "I reset every possible aspect of my bests – best light, best e.t., best mph, being a finalist. I would call that the highlight of the year so far, but this car won two races last year and finished sixth, I don't see any reason it can't be in the top five this year and win at least three." 

Wilkerson isn't arrogant in saying that he can improve upon what his father achieved the year prior in their Ford Mustang – he's just a realist, and with his dad solely focused on wrenching instead of driving as well as tuning, he knows he has an advantage his predecessor perhaps did not.

"I have high expectations," Wilkerson admitted. "I thought we'd be able to pick up where we left off, but Tim was trying a few things, and I was eager to see if his new things would work. That meant I had to be patient, but I know how these things go."

Prior to gaining access to run the full schedule with the support of Scag Power Equipment and Summit Racing, Wilkerson had been following in his father's footsteps as a crew chief for Chad Green. Last season was a breakout year for Green and the team, including crewmembers Dean Marinis and Joe Serena, who took over as crew chiefs when Wilkerson made the move to driver. In 2023, Green reached the semifinals seven times, the final round twice, and finally closed the deal on his first win at the 91 Finals. 

Transitioning from his role as crew chief overseeing the Bond-Coat Inc. Ford to driving a Funny Car of his own was bittersweet, even though it was a dream he had shared with his father for decades. 

"I'm very proud of what we got done over there [with Green's car]," said Wilkerson. "I wouldn't say it was a difficult decision to make this move, but in a way, it was. This is what Tim and I have been wanting to do our whole lives, and for Scag Power Equipment to give us the chance to do it is awesome. But I did mope around for a couple days.

"Then we get to Gainesville, and sitting in the car for Q1, it's like, 'We're really going to do this. This is happening, and this is really cool.' "

Wilkerson was right around 8 years old when he realized he wanted to race a Funny Car. His dad had taken him on a father-and-son trip to Columbus, and there he saw the "floppers" run for the first time. 

"I thought it was the coolest thing of all time," he recalled. 

Now 36, the cool factor hasn't worn off a bit, even though he's been part of the program for years. Wilkerson experienced a successful run in the Top Alcohol Funny Car ranks and was the 2007 NHRA Division 3 Top Alcohol Funny Car champion, and ahead of taking on the role of crew chief over Green's car, he was a part-time nitro Funny Car campaigner, typically racing a second car under the Tim Wilkerson Racing umbrella two or three times a year. 

With or without thought to future intention, the 36-year-old had been preparing for this role for years, and he was ready. Not factoring in atmospheric or track conditions, Wilkerson's straight-up qualifying numbers have been quicker and quicker at each race this year. At the Pomona Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals, he was out of the box with the quickest and fastest pass of Friday qualifying to head into Saturday as the provisional pole sitter for the first time, and although he was bumped down to eighth by the time the field was set, their hand had been shown.

The Gerber Collision & Glass NHRA Route 66 Nationals presented by Peak Performance are taking place in his home state of Illinois this coming weekend, which will give Wilkerson the opportunity to shine in front of family, friends, and more than 700 dealers, distributors, and customers from Scag Power Equipment. 

"It's awesome to be part of this, and it's been really fun to work with the people from Scag Power Equipment," said Wilkerson. "They're always so proud of us, no matter what, and it's cool the way they stand behind all of us and say, 'These are our guys.' 

"This has been an easy transition for me, but honestly, I do think Tim thought he wasn't going to miss driving. In 2023, he said he was about over it and didn't really need to do it anymore, but when the car runs good, he'll say, 'Man, that would have been cool.' Every once in a while, I see a little glimmer of him missing it a little bit. But I think for both of us, this is some dream-come-true stuff. It's pretty amazing, and I would love it if we were doing this exact same thing in 10 years."