In his final start at one of his all-time favorite racetracks, Bandimere Speedway, two-time Top Alcohol Dragster world champion Jim Whiteley bowed out early in his first (and last) appearance there in a Funny Car. Whiteley, who dominated Top Alcohol Dragster on the mountain in each of his championship seasons, 2012 and 2013 (and for four straight years before that, 2008-11), qualified high but finished low.

It may not have been a full eight-car field (these days, it almost never is), but the six-car lineup was a tough one, with three Top 10 drivers from 2022, including the top two – Shane Westerfield, who led the national point standings all season and seemed destined to win a second national championship, and Doug Gordon, who ultimately did. Two drivers still looking for their first major Top Alcohol Funny Car victory – Doug Schneider and Christine Foster, the distaff member of a husband-and-wife team with husband Chris Foster – also made the show.

As the No. 2 qualifier with a 5.81 at 253.18 mph, Whiteley seemed sure to face one of them in the first round. Spoiler alert: he didn’t. Instead, he got stuck with the worst possible draw – Gordon, the reigning world champ who’s led the 2023 NHRA standings almost wire-to-wire all season but stumbled to a best of just 7.56 at 137 mph in two aborted qualifying attempts here.

Whiteley left first and would have joined No. 1 qualifier Brian Hough as one of just two drivers to run in the 5.70s with a competitive 5.79/252, two-hundredths of a second better than his best qualifying run. Unfortunately for him, Gordon beat him to the 5.70s with a 5.70-flat at 257 mph, just a few miles per hour short of the incoming track speed record held by Jim’s wife, Annie, who, with a run of 260.01 mph, will go down in history as the only Top Alcohol Funny Car driver ever to crack 260 at Denver.