Reigning national champion Jim Whiteley reached the final round of the Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd, Minn., strengthening his bid for a second straight Top Alcohol Dragster championship, and wife Annie Whiteley missed making a second straight Brainerd final when she fouled in the Top Alcohol Funny Car quarterfinals by the smallest possible amount – one-thousandth of a second.
Jim lost Top Alcohol Dragster by the same frustratingly small margin – a thousandth of a second – to first-time winner Gord Gingles, 5.313 to 5.314. “It shook the tires, and that was it,” said Whiteley, who beat Robin Samsel and Alan Bradshaw en route to the final. “He was going 224 mph at half-track and I saw the nose of his car. I was catching him toward the end, but not fast enough. We should have run about a 5.25 that time – that’s what we were shooting for. We changed the timing and the clutch, but the track turned out to be better than we thought it was going to be.”
Whiteley qualified No. 1 with a 5.283, reset his own low e.t. during eliminations with a 5.277, and also walked away with top speed of the meet, 272.83 mph. The loss was just the sixth in 26 career national event finals for the reigning national champ, who also finished second at Houston. He won the season-opening Winternationals, and while he’s second to Chris Demke in the current national standings, he’s actually in a better position because he’s been to fewer races. “This really helps us,” Whiteley said. “People are running out of races, and I still feel really strong about our chances at another championship.”
Annie qualified a strong fifth with a 5.60, the same e.t. she ran to win her most recent national event start, in Chicago, and dispatched Andy Bohl in the first round with a 5.64. Against 15-time national champ Frank Manzo in the quarterfinals, she moved too soon by just a thousandth of a second for an automatic loss. Manzo would have been unstoppable regardless, running a 5.55, low e.t. of the meet, on his way to his 101st career win.
“I guess I was a little too anxious that time, too amped up,” she said. “I wish I had staged a tiny bit shallower – I would have looked a lot better having a .000 light – but even that wouldn’t have been enough because he got to the finish line first anyway. After the run I told him, ‘One of these days, I’ll stop being intimidating by you.’ ”
The quarterfinal finish has Annie in fifth place in the national standings – one point behind Jay Payne and one position back from where she finished her rookie season in 2012. “The car ran good, but it could have run better,” she said. “We were behind in the clutch department all weekend. Every time [crew chief] Roger [Bateman] made a change, the car didn’t respond as much as he thought it would. The track kept getting better, and he kept adding clutch, but not enough.”