Annie Whiteley, who has dominated Alcohol Funny Car racing like no other driver in the regional era, broke through for her first national event title at the Route 66 Nationals, delivering her best reaction time in the final, a clutch .036, and driving away from Fred Hagen Jr., 5.60 to 5.96.
“I’ve been in a couple of national event finals before, but this one was different,” said Whiteley, who has appeared in seven regional finals in the past year and a half and has won all seven. “The first time, last year at Brainerd, it really hit me as I was backing up from the burnout: ‘Oh my God, I’m in the final round of a national event. That’s Frank Manzo over there.’ I had a bad light, short-shifted, and he was way out in front of me all the way down the track. This time, I just did my own thing.”
Whiteley, who qualified the Texas J&A Service Mustang a 5th with a 5.60 and ran 5.60s in two of her three first three round-wins, ran another .60 in the final to take out Hagen, who had run low e.t. of all three preliminary rounds (5.53, 5.52, and 5.53). “We let them take themselves out,” said crew chief Roger Bateman. “I knew what they’d been running and knew what would probably make Annie’s car pick up, but it wasn’t worth the risk. It was tempting, but I’ve been there before and knew to just leave it alone.”
Whiteley, who also reached the semifinals at the Jegs Allstars race that was run in conjunction with this event, made her best run all weekend – a 5.56, just two-hundredths of a second from low e.t. at the time – in the first round against Kris Hool, who fouled. “I didn’t know that he red-lighted,” she said. “I never pay attention to what’s going on in the other lane, but I saw him out there and couldn’t believe I was so far behind him.” She then put away Cassie Simonton in the second round and national points leader Tony Bartone in the semi’s with back-to-back 5.60s.
Husband Jim Whiteley, who has led the Top Alcohol Dragster standings all year in defense of his 2012 national championship, was upset in the first round for the first time this season. After qualifying 2nd with a 5.28, Whiteley fought for traction opposite Matt Cummings in round one, staying in it until the last possible instant before finally shutting off to a 6.80.
With 519 points – more than any driver in either alcohol category – Jim still leads the Top Alcohol Dragster standings. Two regional wins and this first national event title have Annie up to second in Top Alcohol Funny Car.