With one flawless run after another, national Top Alcohol Dragster champ Jim Whiteley earned the 21st and biggest win of his career at the prestigious U.S. Nationals to reclaim the national points lead and wife Annie Whiteley fell just a round short of doubling up with a runner-up in Top Alcohol Funny Car.
In a classic final against his biggest rival, incoming points leader Chris Demke, Whiteley got off the line first, .025 to .041, and stretched the lead for a 5.35 to 5.37 victory. “That was a lot of pressure,” he said. “Winning Indy is something I really wanted to get done before I stop racing in Alcohol Dragster, and points-wise, this is just huge.” Whiteley now leads by 19 points, 668 to 649.
Whiteley’s YNot Racing/J&A Service dragster topped the charts until the second-to-last last pair of the fourth and final qualifying session, when Demke edged his 5.34 with a 5.33. Whiteley took out home state racer Paul Fishburn in the first round of eliminations with a 5.33, set low e.t. and top speed of the meet with a 5.32 at 270.54 mph in a second-round decision over Houston winner Randy Meyer, and erased Aaron Olivarez in the semi’s with a 5.34. A final-round 5.35 was just enough to cover Demke’s close 5.37.
“I always get up to race him,” Whiteley said. “It was a great race – when we run each other, it usually is – and it was everything it should have been. The final round of the U.S. Nationals ought to be side-by-side with both cars running great, and it was.”
One pair ahead of them in the Top Alcohol Funny Car final, Annie Whiteley lost a close one to 16-time world champ Frank Manzo, 5.56 to 5.57. “I’d love to beat him just one time before he’s done, but this was a lot different than the last time I raced him, last year at Brainerd,” she said. “This time, I wasn’t thinking, ‘That’s Frank Manzo over there, and this is the final’ or staring at the back of his car the whole way down the track.”
Until the final, everybody was staring at the back of her car. Like her husband, Whiteley led qualifying until the very end, when she improved from her No. 1 5.58 to a 5.55, but Manzo, who was in the other lane for her run, recorded a 5.53 for the top spot. Whiteley plowed through eliminations, taking out a top 10 driver in every round: two-time national event winner Dan Pomponio in round one with a 5.61, former world champ Tony Bartone in round two with a 5.57, and 2010 U.S. Nationals winner Jay Payne, who red-lighted, in the semifinals with a 5.58.
Whiteley made her best run of the long weekend, a 5.57, in the final, but Manzo edged her out for a record 11th U.S. Nationals title with a slightly quicker 5.56. “It was still an unbelievable weekend, even though we didn’t win,” she said. “I was happier just to have been in the final than I was bummed about not winning it.”