Every year at the first hint of spring, Annie Whiteley and the J&A Service/YNot team abandon the natural beauty of Grand Junction, Colo., for the swampy Louisiana bayou, and every year they win. After perhaps her strongest performance ever in tiny Belle Rose, La., the diminutive, soft-spoken driver, now 12-0 lifetime in eliminations at No Problem Raceway, has amassed four victories in four career stops at the aptly named track.
Whiteley smashed both ends of No Problem’s Top Alcohol Funny Car record in 2017 in her first appearance there, dropped Kris Hool in a pressure-packed winner-take-all final in 2018, established low e.t. and top speed en route to victory in 2019, and made it another wire-to-wire sweep this year with the pole, low e.t., and top speed. “I have no idea why we always do so well here,” she said. “It’s crazy. I mean, it’s definitely not the easiest track to get down.”
The Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Central Region season opener couldn’t have started any better for the YNot team when crew chief Mike Strasburg dialed up an off-the-trailer 5.52 to give Whiteley the provisional qualifying lead over a field of past national event champions. “The track was better than ever this year, but it’s still a little bumpy,” she said. “It almost gives you false readings – you have to be careful.” Strasburg was anything but in the Saturday afternoon session, when Whiteley steamed to low e.t. of the meet, a 5.49 that earned the team a bye run in the first round of eliminations, which came in extra-handy this weekend as near-sea-level density-altitude readings and a tricky track conspired to confound top tuners.
Tiptoeing through the early portion of the quarter mile and legging it straight and true through the lights on her first-round solo, Whiteley recorded another 5.52 at more than 268 mph that stood up for low e.t. and top speed of the round. Semifinal opponent Kris Hool, who’d been all over the track in a 5.98 first-round win over surprise Winternationals winner Aryan Rochon, ran an even more all-over-the-track 7.21 against Whiteley in the semi’s, allowing her to advance with just a 5.88. Shake forced her to lift early and Hool almost crossed into her lane on two wheels at the top of low gear; she slammed back down on the gas to win, blissfully unaware that Hool had ever flirted with the center line.
That .88 cost Whiteley lane choice for the final against returning veteran Bob McCosh, who, with legendary Fred Mandoline, Top Alcohol Funny Car’s third-ever world champion , calling the tuning shots, hadn’t made a bad run all weekend. McCosh and Mandoline forced Whiteley into the right lane, which those with lane choice had avoided all day, but Team YNot remained unfazed. “They’ve fixed some of the bumps so the left lane is a little smoother than it used to be,” she said, “but the past two years the right was actually the better lane. We knew we could get down it in the final.”
Both drivers were ready to stage and race – no games – and Whiteley, for once, went in last. After nearly identical 60-foot times, she opened a noticeable lead at half-track and was going 15 mph faster by then and pulling comfortably away from McCosh (211 mph to his 195), but McCosh wasn’t letting his first NHRA Top Alcohol Funny Car event title get away that easily. He hung with it as long as he could, and not just in low gear – in high gear, too, at way beyond 230 mph. Whiteley never saw him, though, sailing down the so-called “bad” lane with a 5.55/268, safely ahead of McCosh’s valiant 6.02/203 and into the record books with her fourth straight Belle Rose win.