After sitting around staring at each other for days, Annie Whiteley and the J&A Service/YNot team sprang into action when the call to the lanes for the first qualifying session, finally, mercifully, went out and ended up winning the race with a dominant performance. Half of the quickest side-by-side race in Top Alcohol Funny Car history at this track a year and a half ago – 5.37-5.38 opposite Doug Gordon in the 2017 Fallnationals final – Whiteley qualified No. 1 with a 5.52 at 269.40 mph, top speed of the meet by more than 5 mph to that point.
“We all knew going in that the weather was going to be a problem this weekend,” said Whiteley, who had to jet back to Colorado in the interim to help keep J&A Service running smoothly. “They kept moving the schedule around because the weather kept changing. Originally, we were going to qualify on Friday and race on Saturday, but, naturally, everything changed, so our first qualifying run was Thursday night at 7:00, which meant that we had to be there on Wednesday to test. Then we sat and sat and sat and it would rain just enough to keep us from running. [Top Alcohol Dragster team owner] Randy [Meyer] was kind of running everything, and he’d stop at every pit when the weather let up run and ask, ‘You guys ready?’ and we’d wait till everybody was ready to run and then go up to the lanes. We all just wanted to get this done.”
When former Division 2 champion Mark Billington was unable to show for the first round of eliminations three days later for the rare Monday race day start, Whiteley singled to a 5.54/268 that almost certainly would have advanced whether the veteran Billington or anybody else had been lined up in the next lane. Qualifying No. 1 in a six-car field meant that when three cars were still around for the semifinals, she’d the one with the bye into the final. Again, she pounded out a run that nobody could’ve handled anyway, a 5.49/268 (low e.t. of the meet) that afforded the team lane choice for the final against one of the more prolific drivers in alcohol racing history – Jay Payne, who’s racked up nearly 100 national and divisional/regional wins in a career that dates back to the 1960s.
For the event title, Whiteley left on Payne and screamed down the track with the second-quickest and second-fastest run of the entire weekend, behind only her semifinal numbers. Payne, after reeling off back-to-back-to-back times of 5.54, 5.54, and 5.55, pushed too hard and smoked the hoops to a nine-second time and settled for runner-up. With a 5.497 at 269.13 mph that trailed only her own 5.495 from the semifinals and 269.40-mph qualifying charge for low E.T. and top speed of the meet, Whiteley picked up her first win of the season and the 14th divisional/regional victory of her eight-year career.