The Fall Nationals, home of some of the truly unforgettable weekends in both Jim and Annie Whiteley’s careers, was anything but in 2022. This year, Dallas, where Jim scored three times in Top Alcohol Dragster (2008-12-13) and Annie was part of the quickest side-by-side race in Top Alcohol Funny Car history (5.37-5.38 opposite Doug Gordon in the 2017 final), ended in first-round frustration for both drivers.
In just their fourth NHRA national event appearance of the season (following Norwalk, Brainerd, and Indy) both members of drag racing’s premier husband-and-wife team were gone after a single round of eliminations, Jim in a match anybody else would’ve lost too and Annie in a heartbreaker she had in the bag.
After stringing together solid back-to-back qualifying runs (5.54/264 and 5.57/261), Jim found himself up against one of the top two Top Alcohol Funny Car drivers of the past five years, 2020 world champion Doug Gordon, who was all but out of title contention a few weeks ago but now finds himself very much back in it. It didn’t last long. Jim got off the line with the known leaver but overpowered the track in low gear while Gordon, fresh off a win at the St. Louis regional, drove away to a 5.51/267 win he desperately needs to chase down Shane Westerfield for the 2022 championship.
Annie positively drilled first-round opponent Kris Hool on the Tree and couldn’t possibly have lost unless something mechanical went wrong. Something mechanical went wrong: the car shut itself off. She and Hool staged simultaneously – always a difficult prospect because both drivers think they’re staging first but in effect are actually staging last. Annie maintained her composure for a clutch .033 light that had her a car-length ahead of Hool, who flinched for a .157 but advanced anyway when Annie’s car inexplicably shut itself off at the top of low gear, spewing unburned fuel out the headers as she looked on helplessly while he drove around her and into the quarterfinals.