Annie Whiteley wound up probably the most difficult year of her career right where it all began a decade ago, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, trending in a positive direction for maybe the first time since the first race of this long season. When qualifying was complete, she didn’t just have low e.t. of the meet, she had low e.t., the second-lowest e.t., and the fourth-lowest e.t. – two 5.50s and a 5.51.
Running as close to the .40s as possible without actually running one, Whiteley claimed the top spot with a time of exactly five and a half seconds – 5.500 at 266.27 mph. The speed ended up second behind only the 266.48-mph charge of eventual winner Sean Bellemeur and the Bartone Bros. team led by Steve Boggs.
“Doug Gordon’s team really helped us with the clutch,” Whiteley said, “and I mean really helped us. It’s pretty unbelievable for somebody like them, a team that won the championship last year and just about won it again this year, to do something like that for somebody else, but that’s exactly what they did.”
In the first round against Alaska’s Ray Martin, like her one of the very, very few ever to win their first Top Alcohol Funny Car start, Whiteley drilled him on the Tree. She was out first by more than half a tenth, .080 to .131, and, despite coasting across the finish line at barely 210 mph, emerged victorious. “The blower belt broke,” she explained after narrowly advancing with a 5.71/211 over Martin’s fast-closing 5.75/252.
Sunday afternoon in the first pair of the semi’s, Whiteley’s luck ran out. Gordon put away No. 2 qualifier Terry Ruckman, 5.56/265 to 5.68/252, in the other pair, and she outran both of them – but, unfortunately for her, not the only one that mattered. She and Bellemeur, who locked up the national championship here last weekend, pre-staged simultaneously and staged almost at the same time, but the now three-time champ pulled steadily ahead of her for a 5.51/265 to 5.54/264 victory.
Whiteley’s final scorecard for the 2021 season: a win (Belle Rose), a runner-up (Martin on the Mid-West Drag Racing Series tour), three semifinal finishes (this weekend in Las Vegas and the Ferris and Tulsa MWDRS events), 11th place in the NHRA standings, fourth in the MWDRS, and a positively un-Whiteleylike overall win-loss record of 10-14.