Plagued by traction problems all weekend, Annie Whiteley turned in a respectable but ultimately unsatisfying quarterfinal finish at the NHRA Heartland Nationals in Kansas’ capital city of Topeka. The eight-year Top Alcohol Funny Car veteran, who just missed winning this race two years ago, qualified a season-low sixth, still in the fast half of the Top Alcohol Funny Car field, and fell in the second round to Nick Januik.
“We’re struggling right now to find a good tune-up for hot conditions,” said Whiteley, who, for once, barely dipped into the 5.50s all weekend. “It’s the first time all year we’ve run in the heat, and I guess we haven’t quite figured that out yet. We just haven’t made enough runs yet in these conditions with this much power.”
Things started out well enough with a 5.62 at just short of 265 mph in the first of Friday’s two qualifying sessions, but that was followed by aborted runs of 9.36 and 7.97 that left her 6th on the final grid, paired with known leaver Kirk Williams Saturday night in the opening round of eliminations. Williams managed to get off the starting line first, but not by much – just five-thousandths of a second – and it’s a good thing Whiteley was on time because Williams stepped up dramatically and was right on the YNot/J&A Service Camaro’s heels in performance.
Third in the national standings coming into the race, Whiteley laid down her best run of the weekend at just the right time, a 5.59 at 266 mph that snuffed out Williams’ right-there 5.66 at 257. “That was a good race,” she said. “I never saw him the whole way, and I guess he never saw me, either. For him, those runs are the worst – you never see the other car but when you get down there the win light doesn’t come on.”
Sunday was over early when Whiteley fell to Januik, the former Las Vegas winner who had beaten her just twice before, in the second round. Running at 9 in the morning in vastly different conditions than crew chief Mike Strasburg had faced all weekend, she had to lift in 2nd gear before the car got completely out of control. “I hit the bump in that left lane, and it just bounced me over by the centerline,” said Whiteley, who had no choice but to shut off and coast to a 6.30 at 168 mph while Januik disappeared into the distance with a 5.52/264, his best run of the event. “That bump is right where the shift light comes on. Every run in that lane, the shift light would flicker and never come all the way. We had to back it down too much this weekend – if we didn’t, it’d blow the tires off.”