Annie Whiteley opened the 2018 season just as she did in 2017 – with a dominant win in the swamps of bayou country at the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event at No Problem Raceway in Belle Rose, La. With one good run after another she was never headed, but that barrage in the preliminary rounds did her no good when it was time for the only round that mattered – the final.

Due to mechanical issues, travel problems, and the vagaries of early season scheduling, just two of the many teams slated to be in the lanes for the first qualifying session actually were: Whiteley’s YNot team and the Hool Bros.’ SK Tools crew from Wyoming. That meant no first round, no semifinals – just one run for the title.

“There’s always going to be nerves when you’re in a final,” said Whiteley, whose YNot Racing team, led by crew chief Mike Strasburg, had pounded out consecutive runs ranging between a track-record 5.44 at 271 mph and a 5.51 at 270. When the call went out for teams to report to the lanes for the final round, there was no buildup, nothing to draw from.

“It wasn’t like a normal final, where you’ve won all these other rounds to get there,” Whiteley said. “Every other final I’ve been in, at least I could say, ‘Well, I won the first round. I won the semi’s.’ This time, we both just rolled up there and whatever was going to happen was going to happen.” What happened was Whiteley left with a solid .075 reaction time and had it all the way with a steady 5.51 at 270.50 mph. Hool red-lighted, shut off, and coasted to a 10.89 at less than 100 mph. “That was one of the hardest runs I’ve ever made,” Whiteley said. “It’s just you and him. The whole weekend came down to that one run.”