The West Regional at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – a track and an event Annie Whiteley has dominated since her rookie season in 2012 – ended in disappointment for Whiteley’s Colorado-based J&A Service/YNot team. Originally slated for Apr. 8-10 but completely washed out, the rain date was contested in the middle of the week between the Toyota Nationals at Las Vegas and the originally scheduled season-ending regional the following weekend.
Whiteley had been one of just three drivers to qualify with a run in the 5.50s back in April, a 5.59 at 263.05 mph that left her behind only No. 1 qualifier John Lombardo (5.54) and former world champ Tony Barone (5.58). The bump was a 5.67, making this one of the quickest fields in Top Alcohol Funny Car history, and three drivers – Jay Payne, Greg Hunter, and Bill Bernard – DNQed despite running in the 5.60s.
Eliminations figured to be tough – all eight qualifiers are multiple national event winners, as were two of the alternates – and they absolutely were. Whiteley was paired against her recent nemesis, many-time division champ Steve Gasparrelli, who benefited greatly from the rain delay and ran a 5.56 in pre-race testing.
On race day, Gasparrelli’s engine went away around half-track, and he faded to a 6.10 at just 158 mph. After a solid .062 reaction time, Whiteley marched to a straight-as-a-string 5.55 at 267.64 mph – top speed of the round – to win easily. She was on an even stronger run in the semifinals until her engine let go a few hundred feet short of the finish line, slowing her to a 5.60-flat at just 232 mph and letting Terry Ruckman, who swept both national events in Las Vegas this year, to slip around her for a close win.
Whiteley and the YNot team won’t have to wait long for a shot at redemption, however – the regularly scheduled season-ending regional event at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway begins in two days.