NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

'Father knows best' is a statement that Daniel Wilkerson knows is all too true

"You can take the boy out of the crew chief spot but you can't take the crew chief out of the boy,” according to Daniel Wilkerson, who is making the transition from tuner to driver this year, and learning his place with his father and tuner.
23 Mar 2024
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
Daniel Wilkerson

In his short but impressive stint as crew chief for Chad Green’s Funny Car, including his victory at last year’s season finale in Pomona, Daniel Wilkerson made some pretty good calls that carried Green to a fifth-place finish last year.

But now the firesboot is on the other foot and Daniel is the one behind the wheel now, driving the Scag Power Equipment Mustang vacated by his father, Tim, who continues to tune the car. After a ho-hum start in Gainesville — No. 13 qualifier and a first-round loss —  the team sits in the provisional No. 1 spot at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals as they were able to navigate a tricky track that most could not.

“It's almost awkward because usually when you run good, immediately someone's yelling at you on the radio telling you what you ran,” he said. “I could tell it didn't run that good because no one was talking, so I was surprised it stayed No. 1."

But old habits die hard. As he was strapped in waiting for his run, his dad was making tuning changes until the last minute based on what he’d already witnessed from the cars ahead of them, changes that the young crew-chief-turned-driver didn’t appreciate at first.

"You can take the boy out of the crew chief spot but you can't take the crew chief out of the boy,” he said. “He was in the [clutch-control] box and I could tell by his body language, that he was slowing it down, and then I heard him make a wing adjustment that was a slower adjustment. I said, 'What are you doing, you chicken? It’ll be fine. Come on, man. Let's go. Leave it alone.' Well, obviously I should shut up because everything he did worked.”

Wilkerson is still adjusting to his new role, not just as a full-time driver but also a driver with a sponsor to keep happy.

“It still doesn’t all seem real,” he admitted. “The first time we went to load the car and I saw my name on the car and trailer. I walked over to Tim’s office. I was like, 'Dude, my name is on the side of the trailer.' It's real. We're really doing this.'  

“So far, it’s gone exactly like I thought it'd be so far,” he added. “It's been really fun working with all guys and Tim and we've got a good hot rod. so it's exciting. As far as the sponsorship pressure goes, I get bad if I load up too much, when I think about too much stuff. Even though we are very fortunate to be partnered with people we are at Scag Power Equipment, Ford, and Summit -- we wouldn't be here without them – so while it's very important to me that it runs good and that we don't look stupid when we run it, personally, for me to perform my best, I just gotta act like it's just another run.”

And the relationship with his dad-turned-boss/team owner?

“Tim’s the same to deal with no matter what position we’re in,” he said. “He's one of my good friends, and with any friend, every once in a while you get in a disagreement, but you can tell a good friend because you always get over it,”