The recent announcement from the Scag Power Equipment NHRA “factory team” that Daniel Wilkerson would be replacing his father, Tim, behind the wheel of the Scag Funny Car this season took a lot of fans by surprise and left many — especially the rabid group of fans known as “Wilk’s Warriors” — feeling a bit melancholy that they wouldn’t have a retirement season to celebrate him.
“I’ll still be out there,” Wilkerson said, “just tuning now instead of doing both. I’m really excited for Daniel and what’s ahead for both of us, and I don’t have any regrets. Last season was good for us, I’m getting out of the seat on a high note and giving Daniel a car that I know will be competitive. It’s only going to get better with my focus being on tuning it. It’s not farewell, it’s just the next chapter.”
The seismic shift comes as Randy Gloede of Scag bought out Joe Maynard’s part-interest in Wilkerson’s team (and that of Top Fuel racer Justin Ashley) to form his factory team.
One of the big advantages to both Wilkerson and Scag is that Daniel can now become the face of the Wilkerson/Scag operation, able to interact with guests in the hospitality area while his dad continues to toil on the race car.
“Last year, there were a couple of times when I couldn’t get over there to sign autographs and meet Randy’s Scag dealers, and even times when I was so busy with the car that I couldn’t talk to anyone, let alone Randy,” Wilkerson explained. “That’s not right, it’s not right for me not to be able to take care of Scag, and any time that I’m taken away from my pit is like poisoning my car. Now Scag will have a liaison in Daniel at their beck and call, and I’ll be able to focus on the car, it’s a win-win.
“Randy was really good with me, as soon as I laid it out like that, he understood, and I’m glad that we were able to come to this arrangement. I'm a big-picture guy. I told Randy, ‘I don’t want Scag to go away from the sport. I think you’re a tremendous asset to our sport, and this will make our deal better. If you liked my performance last year, you will love it [this] year.”
Having Daniel driving the Scag Funny Car will take him away from the incredible job he did last season tuning Chad Green to a breakout season in the class, so there were some mixed emotions all around.
“Daniel was enjoying being a crew chief, so he was emotionally torn. But driving, specifically for me, has been a goal since he got licensed,” Wilkerson said, “Chad's car ran good, but it should. It’s a clone to my car, within one clutch disc, so it should act just like my car every run. Chad’s team is like a family to us, so that made it a little bit hard, but business is business, and Chad knows that. Chad was real good with Daniel driving, and not having him work on his car anymore, but we're working that out and getting people in place to take Daniel’s spot on that car.”
Although Daniel last drove in 2022, a one-race deal, he showed no signs of rust when his dad put him in his car for the Night Under Fire race at Summit Motorsports Park last summer, and Daniel clocked a 3.95 on his first pass.
With the announcement, Tim isn’t saying that he’ll never drive a nitro Funny Car again — he could run select races, he could test the car — but no matter what happens, if he never stands on the gas of an 11,000-hp, fire-breathing car again, he’s content.
“I've done more than I ever thought I'd be able to do,” he reflected. ”I really have. I feel so blessed to have run into Dick Levi and for him to take care of me for 24 years in a row or the folks at Summit and have them take care of me for 15 years. And now maybe we're passing that baton over to Randy Gloede at Scag, I never woke up dreaming that I could ever get this much done, and I'm so happy that I did that.”
Wilkerson has accomplished a lot, with 25 career wins, including two victories at the prestigious NHRA U.S. Nationals (2003, 2021) and was just a burned piston away from a third (2012). He finished second in the Funny Car championship once (2008), but never won a championship, yet won the hearts and admiration of so many by being a jack of all trades, the rare owner-tuner-driver in an increasingly specialized sport.
“I'm seriously blessed,” he said. “I never would have dreamed that when I started doing it that it would do this great, and not winning a championship doesn’t bother me a bit.
“It was more fun to me watching [assistant crew chief] Richard Hartman on the starting line after winning Indy than anything I've ever done, because that's what this is about — it's about emotions. It was so much fun to watch his interview because he was so excited — ‘We won Indy, we won Indy’ — so I thought that was maybe more thrilling for me than winning the race.
“I have so much to be thankful for — a great family, a great team, great partners, and great fans — but, again, I’m not going anywhere. I just won’t be driving. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone at the track for years to come, and to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”