Defending Gatornationals champion Annie Whiteley just missed her first repeat win in national competition, losing one of the quickest races in Top Alcohol Funny Car history in this year’s final against Sean Bellemeur, the only driver ahead of her in the NHRA national standings, 5.46 to 5.48. “I’m getting a little tired of runner-up,” said Whiteley, who has four national event titles in 15 career finals. “One more round-win makes a big difference.”
Whiteley’s YNot team qualified No. 1, as it has at all three races so far this season, with an outstanding 5.404 at 273.16 mph, missing top speed of the meet by just 0.16 mph. Bellemeur was just a few thousandths of a second behind her in the No. 2 spot, and both plowed through eliminations, overwhelming the competition in two of the preliminary rounds and getting a break in the other.
For Whiteley, the break came in the semifinals, when both she and D.J. Cox lost traction almost immediately. Whiteley recovered first, tromping back on the throttle for a 6.33 at 260 mph to hold off his 7-flat at 194. “You add up the runs at Belle Rose, here last weekend at the regional event, and in testing in Orlando, and that was just the second time the car has smoked the tires in 20-25 runs all year,” she said. Her first- and second-round passes were flawless – a 5.406/273.11 in Saturday’s first round that came within .002-second and 0.05-mph of her qualifying numbers, and a 5.437/270.70 in hotter conditions Sunday in the second round that stood as the quickest and fastest of that round by a mile.
After the near-miss in the semi’s, YNot crew chief Mike Strasburg backed the car down for the final – maybe a hair too much, in his estimation. “It probably could have taken a little more, but you really don’t know that before you go up there, do you?” he asked. “Sean’s one of the best drivers out there and that’s one of the best teams, and you don’t want to just give it away.”