Annie Whiteley opened the 2023 season not at Louisiana’s No Problem Raceway, where she’s run roughshod over outmatched Top Alcohol Funny Car rivals for half a decade now, but rather in the Valley of the Sun. At Wild Horse Pass Raceway in suburban Phoenix, her weekend didn’t end in victory as it had five years in a row on the Louisiana bayou, but it didn’t turn out badly, either: lots of low 5.50s at nearly 270 mph and a solid semifinal finish.

At Wild Horse, the latest track about to be strong-armed out of existence by the ever-encroaching community surrounding it, Whiteley just missed another final-round appearance, falling to Ray Martin in the semifinals by the invisible margin of seven-thousandths of a second.

The J&A Service team’s weekend got off to a promising start when Whiteley matched reigning world champ Doug Gordon stride for stride to half-track in the opening qualifying session before shutting off to a 5.78 at 188 mph. She actually was faster than he was at half-track – 211 mph to 210 – and he recorded a fine 5.48, so she was absolutely “on one” until she had to lift.

Fifth in a six-car field heading into last-shot qualifying early Saturday afternoon opposite newcomer Hunter Jones, Whiteley delivered an excellent 5.54 at 263.26 mph to catapult all the way up to the No. 2 spot. Jones ended up No. 5 with a career-best 5.57 and nearly matched that in the first round of eliminations with a similar 5.58 at 261 mph, but she had him all the way with her best run of the weekend, a superior 5.50-flat at 265 mph – the quickest and fastest non-Gordon run of the event.

Whiteley’s brand-new YNot Racing Camaro nearly matched that performance again in the semifinals, but she fell to Alaska’s Martin in the most aggravating possible manner: on a holeshot. Hardly late with a .081 reaction time, she flew across the finish line with a 5.51 that left her just short of Martin’s 5.56.

Naturally, no other run he made all weekend would’ve been enough to beat her, and, needless to say, any other light he had all weekend wouldn’t have been enough, either. Even a .031 reaction time would have left him just short in the lights, but Martin had the good fortune to pull off a telepathic .023 light right when he needed it to nudge her out at the stripe by a scant three feet and advance to the final, where he upset Gordon for his first win in years.