With a second straight national championship already in the bag, Jim Whiteley wrapped up his Top Alcohol Dragster career at the AAA Finals at Pomona with his 12th final-round appearance of the season but was upset by veteran Johnny Ahten, who claimed his first NHRA win with a 5.42.
With three national event victories – Indy, Dallas, and Las Vegas – and four wins in a row overall, including last week’s Las Vegas regional, Whiteley had a 19-round winning streak snapped when shook the tires and broke a blower belt in the final after running 5.20s at more than 275 mph almost all weekend. “He’s a true champion,” Ahten said. “He’s set the bar really high for years now, and that was my last chance to finally beat him. I kept waiting for him to blow past me the whole time and couldn’t believe he didn’t.”
Whiteley, who won the championship, his second in a row, by 116 points, qualified No. 1 with a 5.21 and also had the next-best run of qualifying, 5.22. His YNot/J&A Service Dragster dominated the early rounds of eliminations just as convincingly with a 5.24 over Bill Litton in round one, a 5.27 opposite fourth-ranked Ray Martin in the quarterfinals, and another 5.22 against Garrett Bateman in the semifinals in a rematch of last week’s Vegas final.
For the year, Whiteley won more than half his events and reached 12 finals in 15 starts for 787 points and a 41-7 overall win-loss record – 27-6 at national events and 14-1 in regional competition. He was the only driver to win more than one national event in 2013. In his career, he won 77 percent of the time he pulled to the line, averaging better than a runner-up over eight long years.
With a semifinal finish at Pomona, wife Annie finished fourth in the nation in Top Alcohol Funny Car for the second straight year, scoring one more point than she did in her rookie season, 583 to 582. She was a single point behind Dallas winner Shane Westerfield and one point ahead of Gainesville and Charlotte winner Dan Pomponio.
In a performance that ranks right up there with Chicago, where she broke through for her first national event victory this summer, and Indy, where she reached the final round of the biggest race of the year and barely lost to eventual world champ Frank Manzo, she advanced to the semifinals with one great run after another.
“It’s a good, consistent car, and that’s all you can ask for,” said Annie, who qualified No. 2 – ahead of Manzo and right behind John Lombardo – with a 5.53, and ran 5.53 or better in every round of eliminations. Anything less wouldn’t have been enough at this race, which was anchored by the fastest bump in Top Alcohol Funny Car history (5.63).
Former national event winner Brian Hough, who qualified second-to-last with a 5.62, stepped up to a 5.56 in the opening round that fell just short of Whiteley’s 5.53. Another 5.56 in round two by Sean Bellemeur, his career-best, made for another close one opposite Whiteley’s 5.51. She left slightly ahead of Manzo in the semi’s, .043 to .044, and could have pulled off the upset with another 5.51 but lost an even closer race than the first two, 5.52 to 5.53. Manzo’s margin of victory was just a quarter of a car-length, 15-thousandths of a second. “That’s probably the best car out here,” he said of Whiteley’s YNot/J&A Service Ford Mustang. “She’s my pick to win the championship next year.”