Rained out before a wheel ever turned at what she thought was her season opener – the Central Regional in Belle Rose, La., where it rained so much there was never any reason to bother unloading the car – Annie Whiteley instead began her 2019 campaign with a thud at the Gainesville Regional, where, for just the second time in her entire career, she didn’t qualify.

At the wheel of a brand-new Yenko blue Camaro, the last Top Alcohol Funny Car legendary fabricator Brad Hadman will ever build, Whiteley never made it to 2nd gear in three qualifying attempts. “I’ll be honest,” she said. “We were all a little worried about this new car. After the second qualifying session, I started thinking, ‘This thing is going to give us fits…’ ”

With an aggregate best of 7.71 at 162 mph, Whiteley wound up dead last in the final lineup, 11th of 11 potential qualifiers. “It would make it just far enough that you’d think you were good,” she said, “and then it would take the tire off right before the gear change. We switched transmissions, but obviously it didn’t like that ratio, either.” When qualifying was over and she found herself in the unacceptable and completely unfamiliar role of non-qualifier instead of being No. 1, as she was five times in a row to open the 2018 season, Whiteley and crew made one last test run Sunday afternoon to prepare for next week’s Gatornationals. The result: a more-than-competitive 5.53 at 271 mph.

“We finished last season with [John] Lombardo’s old car after I went into the net at Dallas, but that was Lombardo’s car – not my car,” Whiteley said. “I never did feel right in there. This new car … I just liked the way I fit in it right away. The guys measured every little thing and had everything placed just the way I like it before I ever got in the car. I never even sat in it till just before the first test run, but everything was right, right away. If it runs anything like it did in testing, we should be fine this year.”