At the Texas Motorplex, where last year she became the first Top Alcohol Funny Car driver in history to hit 275 mph, Annie Whiteley landed in another final round, this time at the track’s Central Regional event. Leading the standings following a victory at the only previous regional, the season-opener in Belle Rose, La., Whiteley advanced to the final round again only to fall to upstart Kirk Williams when she lost traction not far off the line.

The perennial Top 5 driver qualified No. 1 for the fourth time in four starts this year with a 5.52 at 267.16 mph and ran nearly as quick in a first-round win over Bryan Brown despite dropping a valve as she went into high gear and losing 10 mph. “It was weird,” she said. “It dropped the number 7 valve right at the 2-3 gear change. I thought I hit the rev-limiter – that’s exactly what it sounded like. We didn’t realize at the time how much damage was done; we just swapped in another motor for the semi’s. Later we saw that the top of the valve was jammed sideways in the combustion chamber.”

On Whiteley’s semifinal burnout, the car slid to the left and she had to take corrective action to avoid disaster before the run – a bye – even began. “I stood on it in the burnout and all of a sudden I wondered if I was about to hit the Tree,” she said. “It was almost like everything was happening in slow motion – ‘There’s the Tree, don’t hit it’ – and you’re on a bye run. All I had to do to win was get down the track, so I got off the throttle, backed up, and just tried to make a normal run.” It turned out to be anything but – she barely made it off the line. “Apparently, the new motor made a lot more power than the one that was in there for the first round. It was a bye run so I couldn’t lose – I thought – and it was really hopped up.”

Everything was calmed back down for the final, but it didn’t make any difference – Whiteley’s car never made it out of low gear. She went up in smoke and coasted across the finish line at 95 while the underrated Williams drove away to a 5.57 for his 19th career divisional/regional title.