In the picturesque resort country of Brainerd, Minn., where she runner-upped last year and reached the first national final of her career in 2012, Annie Whiteley came up just short of another final-round appearance.
With a bye to the final round of the Lucas Oil Nationals on the line, Whiteley came out on the wrong end of a tight quarterfinal match against touring pro Kris Hool, 5.50 to 5.53. “The car ran great – exactly what we thought it would,” she said. “We didn’t know he was going to run a .50-flat. That’s kind of how things have been going all year.” The winner of that round earned a bye into the final, and, as has been the case far too often this year, the luckless YNot team came up a few hundredths of a second short at just the wrong time.
Whiteley qualified a solid fifth with a 5.566 at 269.13 mph in the first qualifying session, then followed with broken runs in the remaining two sessions and another in the first round. She lost traction early in that one but, for once, got a break – opponent Chris Foster, fresh off back-to-back regional wins on the same weekend in Indianapolis, broke a rear end and could only coast helplessly toward the far end.
Granted a rare reprieve, Whiteley tromped on back on the throttle for the easy win. Only from her perspective, it didn’t seem easy at all. “I kept wondering when he was going to come back around me,” she said. “I automatically shifted when the car shook, but that didn’t get rid of the shake, so I lifted. When I got back on it, I was already in 2nd gear. It took a loooooong time for that shift light to come on for high gear – almost to the 1,000-foot mark. Right when I was starting to think that I missed it, it came on.”
Whiteley hit high gear and scooped up the win with just a 6.48 e.t. but a speed that indicated what was to come in the following round and, hopefully, for the rest of the year. Despite lifting early and losing momentum in the most important part of the run, she charged across the finish line at more than 258 mph. On the losing 5.53 run in the quarterfinals, she obliterated the track record with top speed by a mile, running a track-record 273.33-mph speed on a weekend when no one else ever got out of the 260s.