Annie Whiteley took her rightful place in the quickest, fastest Top Alcohol Funny Car field of all-time, but at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, site of so much success in years past, she was gone early. Driving the repurposed John Lombardo/Rick Jackson Camaro she’d strapped into for the first time a week earlier at the Vegas national, Whiteley ran a 5.52/267 and an even better 5.51/268 that surprisingly didn’t land her in the fast half of the field.

It took a run in the 5.40s to do that and an unbelievable 5.53 to make the record bump. Newly crowned world champ Sean Bellemeur, who entered the event on a five-race win streak, locking up the first perfect 10-win season since Frank Manzo’s glory days, failed to qualify, and perennial contender Doug Gordon nearly did. Whiteley’s 5.51 was good only for the No. 6 spot, which set up a first-round match with Lombardo, who’d run a 5.47 for No. 3.

“[Crew chief] Mike [Strasburg] was saying at Dallas that the car wasn’t running that great, wasn’t doing what it was supposed to,” Whiteley said. “He could tell that something in the ignition wasn’t right because he was putting in timing maps all weekend that have never worked before but that the computer told him to run. Turns out the spark plug wires weren’t right, so we weren’t making the power every other part of the tune-up told him we should be making. Every run, he’d say, ‘It should have run better than that,’ and he never says stuff like that.”

Strasburg and crew threw a new set of wires on it for eliminations and voilà – instant power. Only now, with the rest of the tune-up hopped up to compensate, the car made too much power, and Whiteley blew the tires off right at the swap, allowing Lombardo to survive with a run barely over 200 mph. His engine blew in a flash of flame, slowing him to a 5.73/202, but he still made it across the finish line well ahead of Whiteley’s coasting 12.67 at 85 mph. “That showed Mike that the power had been there all along,” Whiteley said. “We just couldn’t run what we should have been running because the wires were bad. This was one time we almost didn’t even mind losing a round because now we know the car will be right for Pomona.”