Instead of opening yet another season utterly dominating the NHRA Belle Rose Central Regional, where she’s never been beaten (five wins in a row – 2017-21), Top Alcohol Funny Car star Annie Whiteley kicked off 2022 with a final-round finish at the Mid-West Drag Racing Series’ Xtreme Texas Nationals.

Coming off a down year beset with traction problems, inconsistency, and, as ever, bad luck, Whiteley wheeled her Yenko-blue J&A Service/YNot Camaro to the No. 2 qualifying spot at the revamped Ferris, Texas facility. With a 3.60-flat at nearly 215 mph on the eighth-mile Xtreme Raceway Park course, she had everybody covered except incoming favorite Sean Bellemeur, the reigning NHRA and MWDRS series champion. Bellemeur was No. 1 with a 3.578/216.08, followed closely by Whiteley, 2021 series runner-up Chris Marshall (3.647/211.57), the up-and-coming family team of Steve Macklyn (3.759/205.48), second-generation driver Bryan Brown (3.815/203.25), and Florida transplant Mark Billington (4.331/193.80).

When eliminations commenced, Whiteley had even Bellemeur under her thumb, laying down low e.t. of the entire opening round, a 3.613 at 214.59 mph, to oust Brown, who put up a competitive 3.701 at 207.18 mph in the loss, just missing the 3.60s. Without running quite that quick (3.702/208.72), Marshall advanced into the semifinals over Macklyn, and Bellemeur was the next-quickest (and fastest) of the round with a 3.626/213.78 single when Billington was unable to appear.

In the semi’s, Bellemeur got another single and Whiteley moved into her first final of the new season with a wire-to-wire decision over Marshall’s Oregon-based team. She had the quicker reaction time, .061 to .072, and pulled away from there for a 3.594/215, her quickest, fastest run all weekend, to take out his 3.649/209.59. Another solid reaction time in the under-the-lights final, a clutch .040, did Whiteley little good when she ran into trouble downtrack and slowed to a 5.29 at 93 mph while Bellemeur disappeared into the distance with a winning 3.560/216.66.