Former Four-Wide Nationals champion Annie Whiteley just missed a second career victory at Charlotte when her car went ballistic right off the line in the final against Tyler Scott, who’d never been close a national event victory until now. Whiteley, who won the Four-Wides in 2017, went down to an opponent’s all-over-the track 5.70-flat in the final for the second time in a row, again after running flawlessly through the preliminary rounds of eliminations.
Whiteley’s car actually had run great not just all day but all weekend. “It was going perfectly straight, but I probably didn’t make it 60 feet,” said the nine-year veteran, who was in the 21st final of her Top Alcohol Funny Car career. “It’s not like it went into tire shake in the middle of low gear or anything – it just blew the tires off. I came off the throttle as soon as it started to go paint-shaker on me, but there’s no way the car should have done anything like that. I mean, we barely changed anything, and what we did change should have made it less aggressive, not more aggressive. [Crew chief] Mike [Strasburg] richened up the barrel valve three flats. I never expected anything like that to happen, and Mike and the guys damn sure didn’t.”
“The track cooled down a little between the semi’s and the final,” Strasburg said. “It should’ve been fine. The only thing that changed before the final round was the track getting eight degrees cooler, which should’ve only made things better. It should’ve gone right down through there with another 5.40-something.”
By then, Whiteley had every reason to believe she was in line for her seventh career national event title. She’d already made it through what should’ve been the hard part, having slayed the dragon himself – reigning world champ Sean Bellemeur, who won the Gatornationals with a national-record 5.35 – in the semifinals. In the other semi, Scott just had to take the Tree to advance on a single.
“Beating Sean was like winning the whole race, but we still had to win one more round,” said Whiteley, who moved from fifth to third in the national standings with her latest final-round appearance. She and Bellemeur had already blown everybody away with a side-by-side 5.44-to-5.45 classic in qualifying, and she was knocking off her best reaction times of the season round after round. “I decided to just do what I know how to do and not go doing anything crazy. I think sometimes you just try too hard, and I’m not doing that anymore. Getting yourself all psyched up so you cut a light – it just doesn’t work.”