For the second year in a row, Jim and Annie Whiteley’s YNot Racing team swept the Las Vegas spring Regional, Jim in Top Alcohol Dragster and Annie in Top Alcohol Funny Car. Jim led the dragster contingent from wire to wire, setting low e.t. of all three qualifying sessions and two of three rounds of eliminations, and Annie came from the No. 2 spot to defeat Doug Gordon in the Top Alcohol Funny Car final with low e.t. of the event, 5.59.
Jim, who beat Chris Demke last season in a final that had to be rerun after something blew through the lights in Demke’s lane as they approached the finish line the first time, was a winner before he passed the Tree this time on Don St. Arnaud’s foul start. “I saw the red-light before my green came on,” Whiteley said. “It can mess you up sometimes, but I didn’t mind because we weren’t running as good as we did here last year.”
Arnaud, who had killed the Tree in the first two rounds, was .131-second early, but with a 5.343 (low e.t.), Whiteley would have been hard to get around regardless. He qualified on top with an almost identical run, 5.344, eliminated Megan McKernan in a much-closer-than-expected first-round match, 5.40 to 5.43, and took out Joey Severance in the semifinals, 5.35 to an early-shutoff 5.59. Severance had a realistic shot at unseating him after running slightly quicker in his first-round decision over Demke (5.401) than Whiteley had in his win over McKernan (5.408).
“We struggled a little all weekend,” Whiteley said. “The car made good, smooth runs every time, but the numbers weren’t the same as last year. We were trying to loosen up the clutch a little, and we probably went too far. We ran in the .20s here last year in similar conditions, so we definitely didn’t get it all, but it was enough to win.”
In the Top Alcohol Funny Car final, Annie Whiteley got a slight jump on Gordon with her best reaction time of the young season, .044, and outran his consistent 5.67 with the only run all weekend in the 5.50s, a 5.59. “I don’t know where that came from,” she said modestly. “That’s the best one I’ve had in a while.”
With the entire field separated by just six-hundredths of a second and a bump of 5.67, it was one of the toughest fields in regional/divisional event history. Jay Payne, who has the second-most wins in divisional history and won the 2013 opener in Phoenix, didn’t qualify.
Whiteley won the semifinals when Houston Regional winner Shane Westerfield red-lighted by three-thousandths of a second. He shut off while Annie drove her Roger Bateman-tuned car to a second straight 5.67. She also ran 5.67 in the first round to eliminate Steve Gasparrelli.
With both drivers coming off 5.67s his reputation as one of the best leavers in the country, Gordon had an excellent shot at his first divisional/regional win since 2010, but despite his solid .066 light and another 5.67, Annie had it all the way with a 5.59. “‘Crew chief] Roger [Bateman] made a couple of changes to make the car more aggressive, and I think he was a little afraid that it might be too much, but it wasn’t,” she said. “It was smooth the whole way down the track, and the shift light came on for a third time, right before the finish line, so I knew it had to be running good.”
Annie now has three wins in three career regional starts in Las Vegas after sweeping this race and the fall race there last year. “I have no idea why we’ve done so well at Vegas, but I’ve always liked it,” she said. “It’s the first track I ever raced at besides our home track, and it was my favorite track way before I ever started driving the Funny Car.”