Jim Whiteley took out one of the top two Top Alcohol Funny Car drivers of the past half-decade at the Nevada Nationals … but, by mere hundredths of a second, not both of them. Paired against 2020-22-23 world champion Doug Gordon in the semifinals, he left first and ran quicker but fell just short of toppling 2018-19-21 champ Sean Bellemeur in the final.
“Almost got ’em both,” said Whiteley, who was side by side with Gordon in the Texas FallNationals final two weeks ago until a shaft in the driveline snapped near the half-track mark. This time, he was right in lockstep with Gordon for the length of the quarter-mile and emerged victorious, 5.45 to 5.45. Gordon was right there with a .040 light, but Whiteley came up with one of his best reaction times yet in a Funny Car, a telepathic .012, to win by three-hundredths of a second. It wasn’t even a holeshot – he ran quicker, too, 5.453 to 5.457.
The former Top Alcohol Dragster champion qualified just eighth with a 5.54 but roared to life in eliminations, whipping Ulf Leanders, who scored here six years ago, in the first round with an outstanding 5.47. In the second round, Whiteley faced wife Annie, who qualified No. 1 for the second race in a row, in the first of three straight rounds in which both he and his opponent were well down into the 5.40s.
Annie, who usually does great against her husband on the Tree, and Jim, who usually does great against everybody, laid down nearly identical runs – an event-best 5.45 for her and an event-best 5.44 for him. Following the 5.45-5.45 semifinal classic against Gordon, Jim set up for the final against Bellemeur, whose team, led by crew chief Steve Boggs, singled in the other semifinal after a member of opponent Bob McCosh’s crew was injured in a freak between-rounds pit accident and he didn’t show.
Bellemeur carried the front end, smoked the tires, and bounced all over the lane on his semifinal freebie but was back in championship form in the final with a 5.44 that nipped Whiteley’s right-there 5.45. “I thought that was another teen or at least a .020,” said Whiteley, who reacted with an otherwise excellent .034. “It was close but I could tell he got me. That’s two runner-ups in a row now. I used to do all right in finals [23-7 in Top Alcohol Dragster and 2-0 in Pro Mod], but we’re running better all the time and this car should run even better next year. There’s probably five more numbers [hundredths of a second] in it right now.”