With one killer run after another at the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals, Annie Whiteley left behind a year of frustration for her second major Top Alcohol Funny Car title.
“We’ve been through so much for so long,” an emotional Whiteley said after beating Doug Gordon in her first late-round appearance since Houston last April. “I can’t believe how this all turned out and how all the changes and all the hard work by this whole team paid off. When it all came together, it came together quick.”
Racing at her favorite track, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Whiteley set low e.t. and top speed in three of four rounds and overall top speed of the meet (263.67 mph). Only two cars were quicker than her brand-new J&A Service /YNot Racing Camaro all weekend – No. 1 qualifier Mike Doushgounian’s ex-Manzo Monte Carlo (5.56) and No. 2 John Lombardo’s NAPA entry (5.57) – and both were gone after one round.
Whiteley qualified No. 3 with a 5.60 and laid down one 5.6 after another – most in the low .60s at well over 260 mph – for her first national event win since Chicago in June 2013. In the final against Gordon, who had been matching her run for run and had set low e.t. of the only round she didn’t (round two), he red-lighted and she closed the deal with a second consecutive 5.61.
“I didn’t worry about what the crew was doing or get involved in any of that this time,” Whiteley said. “They know what they’re doing. I just tried to put everything out of my mind and stay calm like I used to.”
Whiteley managed a consistent 5.62 Saturday afternoon in the first round to eliminate 10-time national event winner Steve Gasparrelli and a 5.67 when the shift light failed Sunday in the second round to take out defending event champ Nick Januik, who slipped across the centerline. In the semi’s, in by far the closest race of the weekend, her best run of eliminations, a timely 5.614, was just enough to edge former Division 7 champion Terry Ruckman by one-thousandth of a second.
“I couldn’t believe it when they told me how close it was,” Whiteley said. “I never saw him. The way these cars are now, you really can’t see the other guy unless he’s way ahead of you.”
For the first time since he clinched the second of back-to-back NHRA championships in 2013, husband Jim Whiteley hopped in his old Top Alcohol Dragster, now owned by longtime YNot crew chief Norm Grimes, and picked right back up in the 5.30s. Joey Severance, driving a J&A Service team car, made it a J&A sweep of the alcohol categories with his fifth Top Alcohol Dragster win in a row at Las Vegas.
Whiteley now has five career victories at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, including a sweep of both the spring and fall regionals in her 2012 rookie season and again 2013. “I have no idea why we’ve always done so well at Las Vegas,” she said. “Maybe it’s because I don’t go gambling. I save all my luck for the track.”