Back in her childhood hometown of Tulsa, Okla., where she now has a career win-loss record of 10-2, Annie Whiteley, one day removed from a final-round showing at the rain-delayed, Martin, Mich., event, entered eliminations for the Throwdown in T-Town qualified just fifth – good for most drivers but not for her. “Tulsa’s just a track we’ve always liked,” she said. “We’ve always done pretty well there.”
That’s putting it mildly: the YNot/J&A Service team a had lost but a single round at Tulsa Raceway Park, the 2014 NHRA regional final, after winning in 2012 and 2013, the first two years of Whiteley’s career. (Husband Jim made it a clean sweep both times, double-doubling with her in his last two years in and Alcohol Dragster, both of which culminated in national championships.)
With some of the biggest names in Top Alcohol Funny Car in attendance, including the drivers who’ve combined to win the past five NHRA championships – Jonnie Lindberg (2015-16), Shane Westerfield (2017), and Sean Bellemeur (2018-19) – Bryan Brown didn’t seem like the worst first-round draw anybody ever got. But Brown, son of veteran Texas driver Burl Brown, is who Whiteley faced, and he went on to claim his first major victory.
Whiteley was more than on time with a .047 reaction time but didn’t make it to the 60-foot line before all hell broke loose. A troubled 1.06 60-foot time spiraled into an aborted 6.07 at 81 mph, while Brown advanced with low e.t. and top speed of the round, a 3.65 at 209 mph, and ran right with the top contenders all night.
The bump was an unbelievable 3.72, and everybody ran at least a 3.74 except Top Fuel pro Scott Palmer, who returned to Top Alcohol Funny Car for the first time in 18 years just for the hell of it and managed an early-shutoff best of 3.94. “These Midwest Drag Racing Series races are great,” Whiteley said. “You race at night, you might not run first round till 10 o’clock and run the final at 2 o’clock in the morning. But there’s people everywhere. The whole world’s shut down and they have to turn people away because they’re already at capacity.”