In her first appearance ever at Virginia Motorsports Park in the heart of Civil War country, Annie Whiteley annihilated the track record in pre-race testing and got only faster once the event officially got under way. She led all qualifiers for the fifth time in a row (she’s yet to qualify anywhere but No. 1 this season) and was sailing through the preliminary rounds until it all fell apart against 2012 event runner-up DJ Cox in the semifinals.

When eliminations began, Whiteley had the entire field covered by more than a tenth of a second with an unbelievable 5.40-flat at 273.39 that crushed both ends of the track record. She drew a much tougher than usual No. 8 qualifier in the first round, two-time national event winner Kris Hool, but advanced easily with a 5.41 at another track-record speed, 274.11 mph. Then came the semifinals, where she met Cox, with whom she’s exchanged round-wins from the first time they staged up against each other.

“I’d win one, then he’d win one, then I would, and then he would,” Whiteley said. Never has Cox’s turn to win been more painful than in Virginia, where her outstanding 5.41 lost on a holeshot to his 5.48. Cox, who had blown everyone away in the first round with one of the quickest runs in Top Alcohol Funny Car history (5.38), got off the mark first with a .042 reaction and barely held off her 5.41 with the 5.48. The difference at the stripe: 11-thousandths of a second.

“I was just about in tears after that one,” Whiteley said. “You don’t even want to face your crew after something like that. I was so mad at myself I didn’t even know what to do. The car was running great – it has all year. You care so much and want so bad to cut a good light, and sometimes it screws you up. I think sometimes you just try too hard.”