You can’t cut a light when the clutch pedal doesn’t feel right and you definitely can’t win when your blower belt decides it’s had enough halfway through high gear. Thwarted by both, Annie Whiteley pulled out of the Summit Nationals with a disappointing quarterfinal finish despite never making a bad run all weekend.
The J&A Service/YNot Racing driver sped to a 5.60 at 267 mph Friday afternoon in the first of what turned out to be just two Top Alcohol Funny Car qualifying sessions, and followed with a 5.57 at 266, settling into the No. 5 position on the 15-car grid. In the first round, home-state veteran Tony Bogolo offered little resistance, running a polite 5.73/251 that she easily overpowered with a 5.57/267. Whiteley advanced, and on the surface all was good, but .115 reaction times weren’t going to carry her to victory.
“The car kept lurching when I’d go to roll in,” she said. “You’re bearing down as hard as you can on the clutch and the brake, and every time you’d rev it up, it was like, ‘Whoa,’ and you’d have to shove down harder on the clutch and pull harder on the brake, and how can you cut a light like that?”
Sunday afternoon in the rain-delayed quarterfinals, Whiteley was well on her way to another 5.50-something against eventual winner DJ Cox’s, 5.57/264 until the blower belt broke, slowing her to a 5.73 at just 213 mph and costing her any chance at winning. “I don’t want to jinx us, but that’s the first blower belt we’ve broke in probably six years,” she said.
But the problem right now isn’t blower belts – it’s the uneasy relationship between the clutch pedal and Whiteley’s left foot. “I need enough air gap so the car doesn’t go anywhere when I try to roll in,” she said. “Jim told me, ‘Annie, you should be able to roll that car into the beams with two fingers on the brake handle.’ It’s just so frustrating sometimes. Doug Gordon’s team was nice enough to give us a base setup with everything you need to get started with a Molinari clutch, and I really hope that works because we’ve got to get this figured out.”