She still hasn’t joined Frank Manzo, Pat Austin, Bob Newberry, and the all-time greats of Top Alcohol Funny Car as a U.S. Nationals champion, but with another solid performance at the sport’s most prestigious event, Annie Whiteley continued to add to her Indy legacy.
Whiteley, who has not reached the semifinals at Indy just once in her career, reached to the final four again with one low 5.40 after another in qualifying and one 5.50 after another in eliminations. Whiteley, who qualified No. 2 with a career-best 5.420 at nearly 275 mph, wiped out Ohio’s Tony Bogolo and Alaska’s Ray Martin in the preliminary rounds before bowing out in the semifinals against national points leader and eventual winner John Lombardo, 5.49 to 5.54.
“I don’t know why we always seem to run so good at Indy, but I’m getting tired of doing good but not quite good enough,” said Whiteley, who has three runner-ups in five career appearances at the Big Go, in 2013, 2015, and 2016. “Runner-up sucks, and losing in the semifinals isn’t much better.” Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot team, led by Bonneville Salt Flats record holder Mike Strasburg, fell just short of victory this year with another successful but ultimately frustrating late-round finish.
She blistered the Lucas Oil Raceway quarter-mile in qualifying with easily the best series of runs in team history if not in the history of the entire class – 5.445/273.11, 5.432/272.78, and 5.420/274.55. When eliminations commenced Sunday under much less favorable conditions, it was more of the same – back-to-back 5.50-flats that obliterated Bogolo’s competitive 5.66 in the first round and Martin’s similar 5.64 in the second.
Even with the semifinal loss to Lombardo, who went on to top title contender Doug Gordon in the final, Whiteley has forged one of the finest Top Alcohol Funny Car win-loss marks ever at the U.S. Nationals: 13-6 (.684). “That’s great,” she said. “But before I’m done I’ve got to win this thing at least once.”