PSM – POMONA

Joey Gladstone and team owner Cory Reed finished the Auto Club Finals just like they wound up the year: number 2. Which is a lot better than they possibly could have imagined when the season began. “If anybody had told me a year ago that we’d be in a battle for the championship right down to the last day of the season … who wouldn’t take that?” he asked. “Matt [Smith] was a shoo-in to win the championship – everybody knew that. He’s been doing this a long time. He’s the best. So just to have a mathematical shot at it on the last day of the season is amazing.”

Gladstone personally knocked Smith out in the semifinals, and in the most gratifying possible manner: on a holeshot. Had he not, he’d have finished third, because the rider best positioned to overtake him for second in the final standings, Matt’s wife Angie, won the event. She edged Gladstone in a tight final-round race, 6.74/199 to 6.73/199, but not before Gladstone had locked up second place by upsetting Matt on a holeshot in the semifinals, where they ran identical e.t.s right to the thousandth of a second, 6.757 to 6.757. “That’s right up there with biggest rounds of my life,” he said. “Beating the world champ? That’s a hard thing to do to.”

Mired at the bottom of the qualifying order after a pair of shut-off efforts Friday, Gladstone wasn’t even in the field going into the final day of qualifying. “The team kept me from being depressed for very long,” he said, “and I really have to thank Vance & Hines for giving us the power to win. Anyone who doesn’t believe they give you everything … I don’t know what to tell you. They do.”

That was evident when Gladstone wheeled Reed’s Diamond W/Fatheadz Suzuki Hayabusa to the No. 3 spot with a career-best 6.72 Saturday morning. He kept his dwindling title hopes alive with a 6.76/198 to 6.97/197 first-round win over Hector Arana Jr., who was infinitely harder to beat than most No. 14 qualifiers. He’d just won the last two races, Dallas and Las Vegas. Three pairs later, Matt Smith put the championship mathematically out of reach with an uneventful 6.77/200 to 7.03/187 first-round decision over drag bike godfather Michael Phillips, who was instrumental in Gladstone and Reed’s success all season.

Maintaining focus and finishing strong, Gladstone defeated national record holder Karen Stoffer in the second round and Smith in the semi’s. “That might have been a little redemption,” said Gladstone, who amassed six final-round appearances, three wins, and a career-best 31-12 win-loss record over the course of the 2022 season. “To have a shot at the championship on the last day of the season was dream come true.”

TAFC – POMONA

Annie Whiteley wrapped up her 11th season as a Top Alcohol Funny Car driver at the NHRA Finals with her best run of the year on what turned out to be her last run of the year. Whiteley, who won the rescheduled Memphis Mid-West Drag Racing Series event, runner-upped at four other MWDRS events, and made her first final-round appearance in NHRA competition in three years, reached the semifinals at one of her least favorite tracks in either, fabled Pomona Raceway.

Led by crew chief Mike Strasburg, the team came off the trailer Thursday morning with an outstanding 5.49 at 269 mph, backed it up with a super-consistent 5.50, also at 269 mph, and locked up the No. 5 position Friday in last-shot qualifying with a stellar 5.46 at 270.00 mph flat. When eliminations began, the J&A Service/YNot Racing Camaro got only faster, with another 5.46/270 that, combined with a noticeable holeshot head start, made quick work of Alaskan Ray Martin’s best run of the year, 5.51/264.

In the quarterfinals, Whiteley clinched the 2022 NHRA Top Alcohol Funny Car championship for Doug Gordon by beating rival Shane Westerfield, who had led the national standings almost all season. He threw away a 5.44/268 on a red-light start but Whiteley would have been tough to handle regardless with yet another 5.4, a 5.47/268. The race and the season came to an end Sunday afternoon in the quarterfinals when Whiteley’s unbelievable 5.42/271 was held off by Gordon’s slightly slower 5.45/268 on a small holeshot.

It was a disappointing end to what’s been a particularly strong season, the YNot team’s best in years. Whiteley winds up 2022 with at least a semifinal finish in seven of her last eight starts, a victory, six final-round appearances, a 20-15 (.571) win-loss record, and a career record of 113-90 (.557) in NHRA national event competition.

TAFC – LAS VEGAS REGIONAL

Though she fell short of the ultimate goal – another event title – Annie Whiteley turned in yet another rock-solid performance at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a semifinal appearance at the final NHRA regional event of the year. Whiteley, who’s reached at least the semi’s in six of her past seven starts, came out on the wrong end of a tight semifinal match with Chris Marshall after beating him on a holeshot in the same round at the same facility last week at the Nevada Nationals.

The Whiteleys’ Mike Strasburg-tuned J&A Service/YNot Racing machine came off the trailer with a blistering 5.47 at more than 270 mph in the opening qualifying session to set the tone for another successful weekend, a trend long established as 2022 winds to a close. The whole top half of the Top Alcohol Funny Car field, which year after year is the toughest to make in any region in the country, was locked in the 5.40s, with Whiteley in the No. 3 slot, behind the matching 5.42s of Marshall and national championship contender Doug Gordon.

Pitted against No. 6 qualifier Kris Hool in the first round of eliminations, Whiteley, who swept both Vegas regionals in her rookie season of 2012, advanced easily when he red-lighted and smoked the tires just off the line in what might have been his last launch ever in a Funny Car. She got off the line cleanly, and with a steady 5.52/267 powered to an easy win to move into yet another semifinal.

There, Whiteley’s weekend came to a close when, despite the best reaction time of the entire round and despite an even quicker run than she put up in her first-round win (5.528 to 5.523), she still fell to Marshall, who made just one run out of the 5.40s all weekend. Marshall got back in the .40s with a 5.49/266 to run down her early lead and second straight 5.52 to win by a scant 14-thousandths of a second.

PSM – LAS VEGAS

No matter what happens, 2022 has been, unequivocally, the best year of Joey Gladstone’s drag racing career. Which is nice, because the points lead that began to evaporate a couple races ago is gone.

Gladstone, who won the first three races of his career over a span of just four events late this summer, has been eliminated in the quarterfinals of the past two races while the rider heavily favored to beat him for the championship, Matt Smith, won Dallas and made the final here.

Gladstone qualified sixth for the Nevada Nationals field and drew, for the third time in the past five events, national record holder Karen Stoffer in the first round. He put her away, 6.91/194 to 6.98/192, but not with a performance likely to carry him much further. “It was making too much wheel speed at the top of low,” he said. “We just don’t have enough data for these conditions – we’ve never run this track with this program. We didn’t want to get ahead of ourselves. I knew she’d go .00 on me, and she did [with a .008 reaction time], but I couldn’t just take it easy up there. I couldn’t lay up, but I couldn’t go red, either.” With a .016 light, he absolutely didn’t.

Then the Diamond W/Fatheadz Hayabusa team pulled off a massive between-rounds thrash or Gladstone wouldn’t even have made it to line for the quarterfinals. “There was no time for [team owner and co-crew chief] Cory [Reed] and I to deliberate on the tune-up,” he said. “It all comes down to priorities. You can’t fine-tune something until you have an engine in the bike.”

They made it but didn’t make the kind of run that’s catapulted them to the top of the Pro Stock Motorcycle world this season. Facing points leader Matt Smith’s wife, former national event winner Angie Smith, Gladstone came up with a 6.92 but fell short of her 6.91 by 12-thousandths of a second. Matt Smith beat pseudo-teammate Chip Ellis three pairs later and Jerry Savoie in the semifinals but was upset in the final by Hector Arana Jr., who has come out of nowhere to win two races in a row.

Down 104 points with one race to go, the NHRA finals in Pomona, Calif., Gladstone knows the championship is a long shot. “It probably took an hour and a half until I was over losing,” he said. “I’d much rather win the championship – who wouldn’t? – but if I finish second to someone who had a dominant second half like Matt’s had, I can’t feel too bad, can I? He’s a Smith – he knows how to play the game.”

TAFC – LAS VEGAS NATIONAL

In her first final-round appearance opposite Doug Gordon since their historic Dallas duel in 2017, Annie Whiteley fell just short in the NHRA Nevada Nationals final, 5.47/265 to 5.51/265. “This is one time I’m actually fine with a runner-up,” said Whiteley, who’s achieved massive success this year in MWDRS competition but not much in her infrequent appearances on the NHRA tour. “This is the first time we’ve gotten out of the second round at a national event all year.”

Husband Jim Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot Racing Camaro continues to struggle in the back half, but Annie’s car was strong all weekend, from an off-the-trailer 5.49 at 268 mph in the first qualifying session right through the final. She stormed to a 5.52/267 mph in the opening round against veteran Nick Januik, whose lone national event victory came early in his career right here at his hometown track, blatantly red-lighted away any shot at a second Vegas title.

In the middle rounds of eliminations, Annie mowed down a pair of longtime nemeses, past national event winners Brian Hough and Chris Marshall, to move into her first NHRA final since she fell to Hough at the 2019 SpringNationals in Houston. She and Hough left almost simultaneously, and she powered away from him with every shift for a convincing 5.48/268 to 5.57/264 win. Returning the favor from their first-round match here in 2015, she then trounced Marshall on a huge holeshot in the semi’s, 5.55/264 to 5.45/266, before dropping the tight final-round decision to Gordon, who kept himself alive for the 2022 championship with a crucial win.

“So many crappy things have happened to us at NHRA races this year,” Whiteley said, “it’s nice to have something go our way for once. It’s just been one gremlin after another – smoking the tires when the tune-up should’ve been fine, blower studs breaking and letting out all the boost for no reason, and the command module quitting first round at Dallas, when I was way ahead. Hopefully, that bad luck is gone for good now.”

PRO MOD – FERRIS

With a quarterfinal finish at the Xtreme Texas World Finals, Steven Whiteley wrapped up a successful season second in the final Mid-West Drag Racing Series Pro Mod standings, with an 8-8 win-loss record, two semifinal showings and a pair of No. 1-qualifying efforts (both in Tulsa). “It was a good ‘starter’ season,” he said. “We could’ve capitalized on a few more opportunities, but overall I’d say this was a good year. Now my priority is winning a Mid-West championship, and if next year is our time, we’re going to hurt some feelings.”

The top three cars all ran 3.65s, and Whiteley, who qualified with a 3.64 or 3.65 at the past four races, ended up second with a 3.655, just ahead of No. 3 Ron Muenks’ 3.659 and right behind points leader Dustin Nesloney’s 3.651. He drilled the Tree for a .000 reaction time on a first-round single, then just missed another perfect light against Brian Lewis in the quarterfinals, where a -.009 foul brought his season to a close.

“A brake line was leaking a little,” Whiteley said. “They stop me two or three feet from the beams to adjust the wheelie bar, and a little more and more fluid was leaking out the whole time I was sitting there holding the brake. The red-light … that really took me by surprise. After being trip-zip on the bye first round, I thought, ‘OK, I know where I stand.’ I backed off a little and thought I compensated for the darkness, but it came up red, so that’s on me.”

Whiteley qualified the J&A Service YNot Racing Camaro in the top half every time and the car was running better at Xtreme Raceway Park than it has all year. “We put a new bullet in it for this race, and downtrack the engine wasn’t even sweating,” he said. “Sometimes, at the end of the year you’re ready for it to be over, but I’m more excited than ever. When we left the track, I was stoked. This is just about the fastest car out here, and I’m ready to go right now.”

TAFC – FERRIS

Already a major event winner in Pro Mod and a world champion in Top Alcohol Dragster, Jim Whiteley has now reached the summit in a third top-tier drag racing category: Top Alcohol Funny Car, where wife Annie has been winning for years.

At the Xtreme Texas World Finals, the grand finale of the 2022 Mid-West Drag Racing Series, the Whiteleys finally got the matchup both have envisioned since the day Jim first climbed in a Funny Car: husband vs. wife with an event title on the line. The only thing better would have been a side-by-sider right to the lights like so many their other matchups this season.

Instead, Annie blew the tires off in low gear and Jim streaked ahead for the win, his first at the controls of a Funny Car. “Now, that was fun,” he said. “Winning feels just as good as it ever did. I just wish it would’ve been a close race.” It was anything but – his 3.68 at 209 mph easily outdistanced Annie’s harmless 7.62 at 58 mph.

“I guess that was just one run too many on that set of tires,” she said. “It was going to be the last run on them anyway, but it looks they were 35-run tires, not 36-.” Until the very end, every pass she made was a keeper, including a 3.63/213, 3.64/212, and 3.66/211 in qualifying, which added up to not just low e.t. but top speed of all three sessions for her first No. 1 since the rescheduled Memphis race completed in Tulsa.

Both Whiteleys covered the eighth-mile Xtreme Raceway Park course in 3.63 seconds in qualifying, Annie at a booming 213.47 mph and Jim at 211.17. He edged Steve Macklyn in the first round in the best race of the event, 3.70/207 to 3.71/203, after an almost dead-even start. She stayed in the .60s with a 3.669 on the first-round single she earned for qualifying No. 1, then beat newly crowned MWDRS champion Chris Marshall’s event-best 3.63 with an another 3.669 on his red-light start.

When Jim ran within two-thousandths of a second of Annie’s semifinal time on a 3.671 single, the table was set for a classic side-by-side final, the race they’ve been dreaming of. But after a perfect start, nearly identical .030 lights, that dream literally went up in smoke. “I didn’t really care who won,” Annie said. “I just wanted us both to run well, and I really thought we would. We had been all weekend, right?”

PSM – DALLAS

It could’ve been worse – a lot worse. Joey Gladstone red-lighted in the second round of the NHRA Fall Nationals, a potentially disastrous development made much less egregious when the only rider ahead of him in the standings, Matt Smith, drifted toward the centerline and had to lift in the following round, mitigating the damage.

Coasting across the finish with a speed (26.19) nearly the same as your E.T. (20.82) is no is no way to open qualifying, especially in a 20-bike field, but Gladstone made marked improvement from that 20-second throwaway to the 6.90s to the 6.80s, to, in last-shot qualifying, the promised land: the 6.70s.

Only three Pro Stock Motorcycle riders qualified between 6.73 and 6.80, and all three ran not just 6.79s but identical 6.793s that had to be separated on the basis of their speeds. At an even 200.00 mph, Gladstone was right in the middle, No. 4 behind Angie Smith’s 200.96 and ahead of Steve Johnson’s 199.80.

Gladstone, who’s won Sonoma, Topeka, and Reading already this season, drew theoretically the easiest first-round opponent on the ladder – Richard Gadson, who qualified 13th in his NHRA debut. Gadson actually had a slight early lead but eventually had to get out of it after his bike, like many on gray, blustery afternoon, strayed out of the groove toward the wall, allowing Gladstone to drive around him for an easy 6.85/197 win.

“I didn’t take him lightly,” assured Gladstone, who’s reached at least the semifinals in two-thirds of his starts this season. “This may be his first national event, but he’s a phenomenal racer. It takes time. He’s going to have a great career out here, trust me.”

For just the third time in 2022, Gladstone fell in the second round, this time to a self-inflicted wound, a red-light start. It was the perfect time to do it: even with a .000 reaction time, his 6.86/197 wouldn’t have held off resurgent Steve Johnson’s superior 6.77/195. “I apologize to my team and sponsors,” he said, “but I wasn’t going to do anything with that .77 anyway.”

TAFC – DALLAS

The Fall Nationals, home of some of the truly unforgettable weekends in both Jim and Annie Whiteley’s careers, was anything but in 2022. This year, Dallas, where Jim scored three times in Top Alcohol Dragster (2008-12-13) and Annie was part of the quickest side-by-side race in Top Alcohol Funny Car history (5.37-5.38 opposite Doug Gordon in the 2017 final), ended in first-round frustration for both drivers.

In just their fourth NHRA national event appearance of the season (following Norwalk, Brainerd, and Indy) both members of drag racing’s premier husband-and-wife team were gone after a single round of eliminations, Jim in a match anybody else would’ve lost too and Annie in a heartbreaker she had in the bag.

After stringing together solid back-to-back qualifying runs (5.54/264 and 5.57/261), Jim found himself up against one of the top two Top Alcohol Funny Car drivers of the past five years, 2020 world champion Doug Gordon, who was all but out of title contention a few weeks ago but now finds himself very much back in it. It didn’t last long. Jim got off the line with the known leaver but overpowered the track in low gear while Gordon, fresh off a win at the St. Louis regional, drove away to a 5.51/267 win he desperately needs to chase down Shane Westerfield for the 2022 championship.

Annie positively drilled first-round opponent Kris Hool on the Tree and couldn’t possibly have lost unless something mechanical went wrong. Something mechanical went wrong: the car shut itself off. She and Hool staged simultaneously – always a difficult prospect because both drivers think they’re staging first but in effect are actually staging last. Annie maintained her composure for a clutch .033 light that had her a car-length ahead of Hool, who flinched for a .157 but advanced anyway when Annie’s car inexplicably shut itself off at the top of low gear, spewing unburned fuel out the headers as she looked on helplessly while he drove around her and into the quarterfinals.

PRO MOD – TULSA

At the second-to-last race of the 2022 Mid-West Drag Racing Series Pro Mod season, Steven Whiteley delivered on the promise he’s shown all year, pacing the field with an outstanding 3.64 – the exact E.T. mom Annie Whiteley recorded to lead the Funny Car program.

“You get additional runs here because you just ran a whole race [the rescheduled Great Bend event] a day ago, so there’s a lot more opportunity,” Whiteley said. “But it’s not just that. The weather conditions all weekend were favorable to our team, and not just our car – all the YNot cars seem to run good at Tulsa.”

Whiteley, who fell just short of 210 mph on the 3.64, was joined in the .60s by eventual winner Dustin Nesloney, who won the rescheduled Great Bend event earlier in the weekend; Kentucky’s Tommy Cunningham; series founder and Tulsa Raceway Park co-owner Keith Haney; and the 220-mph Second Gen Camaro of Ed Thornton.

Whiteley wasn’t the only driver in the 3.60s, but he had the field covered early on race day, too, wheeling the J&A Service/YNot Racing ’69 Camaro to not just low E.T. of eliminations but the two lowest E.Ts.: 3.67 and 3.63. A 3.67/207 in the opening round was the quickest run of all 16 qualifiers and handily erased Brian Lewis’ respectable 3.76/199, and he established low E.T. of the entire event in a 3.63/208 demolition of Mark “Tydo” Werdehausen’s slowing 4.89/152 in the quarterfinals.

When the blower belt snapped in the semifinals, silencing his engine and costing him the race, Whiteley absorbed a disappointing 3.66/213 to 6.62/67 loss to Nesloney, who extended his already insurmountable points lead. “We were on a tear, but we keep killing blower belts,” he said. “The two-step is really hard on them. We were only getting five runs on a belt, then it was three runs, then two, and then this one broke on the first run. A burnout and a launch, and a brand-new lets go. It’s too bad – we really had the car to beat all weekend.”

The YNot Pro Mod team now stands second in the MWDRS standings, joining mom Annie, who’s second in Funny Car and wife Delaina, who’s second in Top Dragster behind Whiteley’s aunt, reigning series Anita Pulliam-Strasburg.

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