Coming off low e.t. and top speed of the meet in Route 66 Nationals qualifying (5.48/270.20-mph) and a semifinal showing in the prestigious Jegs All Stars race, six-time national event champion Annie Whiteley got a bad draw for first round: five-time national event winner Andy Bohl was No. 16. Bohl, making his first start in a Camaro purchased from 2018 championship team owner Tony Bartone, anchored easily the toughest Top Alcohol Funny Car of 2019 – all 17 cars have run at least in the 5.50s.

Racing under the lights Saturday night in the first pair of the first round, Whiteley’s J&A Service/YNot Racing Yenko Camaro and Bohl’s Howards Cams entry shot off the line as one. Whiteley sprinted to a two-car-length lead while Bohl, beset with traction problems in low gear as he had been all weekend, dropped back. Whiteley charged to a winning 5.51 at 269 mph while Bohl’s car made an abrupt left turn at the 2-3 shift, plowing into the wall at a disturbingly direct angle and, when the left rear tire went down, sliding upside down in a shower of sparks into the opposite-lane barrier before ramming head-on into the wall back in his own lane and erupting in flames. He leapt out the escape hatch and clambered over the wall to safety while Whiteley, oblivious to the fiery crash behind her, coasted uneventfully to a stop, wondering what was taking the NHRA Safety Safari so long.

“It seemed like I was sitting there for forever, and when they finally pushed me off the track, [crew chief] Mike [Strasburg] ripped the hatch open and asked if I was OK,” Whiteley said. “I didn’t know what he was talking about, and it was a good 10 minutes before he got around to telling me what we ran and it all started making sense. Watching the, the first thing I thought was, ‘That’s exactly what Jim’s crash at Pomona in 2007 looked like’ – sideways into the left wall, then into the right wall, then back into the left.’ ”

It started raining before NHRA officials could clear the wreckage, and the remainder of the round was postponed. When racing resumed Sunday morning, Whiteley was victimized by Kris Hool’s lethal .024 reaction time and dropped a tough second-round match to the Wyoming driver, 5.52/264 to 5.49 271 (top speed of the meet). “We’re really fighting something in the clutch right now,” she said. “It’s not responding like it normally does – the travel to get it to engage is way more than it should be. What could ever cause it to change that much I have no idea, but instead of moving the pedal an inch to get the car to roll, it was like three inches.”