Annie Whiteley, who began 2021 the way she begins every season – by dominating the Belle Rose Regional – trounced Bryan Brown, whose only career win also came in Belle Rose, in the first round of the Mid-West Drag Racing Series’ Great Bend Nationals. At historic SRCA Drag Strip in Grand Bend, Kan., home of drag racing’s first national event, the 1955 NHRA Nationals, she came up a round short of yet another final-round appearance, falling in the semi’s to incoming points leader Sean Bellemeur.
Racing on the Kansas prairie for the first time in her 10-year career, Whiteley qualified the J&A Service/YNot Racing Camaro with a 3.71 – the exact same E.T. husband Jim recorded in his classic split-window Corvette for the top spot in Pro Mod, and, coincidentally, two-hundredths of a second from the 3.73 twin sister Anita ran to qualify No. 1 in Top Dragster. In Alcohol Funny Car, Annie’s 3.71 was good only for the No. 4 spot, behind Sean Bellemeur (No. 1, 3.64) eventual runner-up Chris Marshall (No. 2, 3.65), and Colorado’s Bill Bernard (No. 3, 3.69).
Separated by one qualifying spot and just eight-thousandths of a second – 3.713 to 3.721 – No. 4 Whiteley vs. No. 5 Brown should’ve been the closest matchup of the first round. It wasn’t. Whiteley won it in a landslide with the second-quickest, second-fastest run of the entire frame, a 3.68 at 206 mph that easily handled Brown’s distant 3.85 at 196.
Another 3.68 in the semifinals would have propelled Whiteley into another final – Bellemeur, the defending series champion, managed just a 3.84, coasting across the finish line at 189 mph. Unfortunately for Whiteley and crew chief Mike Strasburg, their powerful machine had already dropped back, rolling through with a 7.18 at 66 mph on the eighth-mile Grand Bend course. Next up for the YNot team is the most prestigious event in drag racing, the NHRA U.S. Nationals, where Whiteley has made three finals and six semifinals in eight career starts.