During the semi final round of eliminations at the NHRA Kansas Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka, veteran funny car driver Tim Wilkerson would lose control of his Ford Mustang right off the starting line. Continue on to see the full sequence!
When covering NHRA I like to move all around during the different sessions for different angles. On this day I had shot round one from the shutdown area, round two from the left lane wall of the starting line and in the semi finals I made my way atop the Suites/Timing Tower behind the starting line for a different view of the racing.
NHRA has recently changed the access areas for trackside photographers so at this event NO photographers were allowed on the right side of the track for shooting. By getting on top of the tower on the right side it gave me a clear view of both lanes.
Jack Beckman would be racing alongside Tim Wilkerson. For the launch I had decided to shoot Jack Beckman. Unfortunately I had underestimated the heatwaves from the engines when they launched and was left with this lame mosaic view of Beckman, below.
I follow through when I shoot by taking a couple additional photos beyond the one I had intended on. In these wasted out of focus frames you can see the car of Tim Wilkerson, in the bottom right, losing control.
Took an instant for my brain to register what was happening.
But then I would lock onto the now out of control car of Wilkerson.
Despite the slow speed of the impact (for a 330mph car at least!) it lifted the entire car off the ground.
The head on impact into the concrete retaining wall would cut an oil line allowing the car to slide.
The impact also ruptured the fuel cell on the front of the car which created a small fire.
For a brief moment it almost looked like the car was going to flip.
Before coming back down.
And making a slow spin.
The crash really seemed to take place in slow motion.
But perhaps that is simply due to me being used to 300mph crashes instead of 40mph ones.
At this point it looked like the car was going to just come to a stop right there.
Until it started to lurch forward.
Thankfully it wasn’t aimed back towards the starting line, which was crowded with crew members and officials.
Instead, Wilkersons car would plow into the left lane wall.
As a brave photographer stood his ground.
Perhaps getting the shot of a lifetime.
Flames poured from the fuel cell on the front end of the car.
Tim Wilkerson would pop out of the escape hatch uninjured.
His son Dan Wilkerson, below, rushes to help his father exit the car.
The rest of the crew wasn’t too far behind.
Tim would rush to the front of the car to survey the damage as the flames burned at his feet.
NHRA chief starter Mike Gittings and other members of the Safety Safari would quickly be on the scene to extinguish the flames.
Tim would share a moment with his understandably emotional wife Krista following the accident.
Wilkerson has already said he intends to be back with a new car for the next race on the tour in Epping, NH in two weeks!
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