At the season-ending NHRA Finals, for the first time all year, Jim Whiteley ran an NHRA national event without making it to at least the semifinals. He was stopped in a one-sided quarterfinal match against three-time Top Alcohol Funny Car world champ Sean Bellemeur, who closed out 2023 with his third straight victory.
In a way, Whiteley was fortunate just to be in the second round after careening through the shutdown area with no brakes following a first-round win over the last driver he’d ever want to race (but races absolutely all the time), wife Annie. “It’s not like I can’t get a car stopped with one parachute,” he said. “I’d like to think I could do it with no parachutes, but you can’t get it to a complete stop if you don’t have any brakes at all, and I had no brakes at all.”
Jim, who, just for fun, also ran his B/AA Cobalt in Comp Eliminator (and cut a near-perfect .002 light first round), ran just a thousandth of a second quicker than Annie in qualifying with a 5.447 for the No. 6 spot. Her seventh-best 5.448 is by far the quickest run ever to fall into the slow half of a TA/FC field, as a record eight drivers delved into the 5.40s.
In the last pair of the first round, Jim and Annie, like virtually every previous driver in the 12-car field, slowed from their qualifying times, but Jim managed to hold off her fast-closing 5.46 at 268 mph with a 5.49/258. That’s when the fun started.
While Annie’s Yenko blue “Shattered Glass” Camaro slowed to a safe, uneventful stop, Jim’s matching white machine rocketed ahead toward potential disaster. One of two chutes blossomed, but with no brakes he was destined to land in the sand trap. The packed sand slowed the car significantly, but not enough to keep him from nosing into the safety net. “A heim broke on the linkage to the master cylinder,” he explained, “and at that point there’s not much you can do.”
With minimal damage and all day to get the car back in shape for the under-the-lights quarterfinal round, Whiteley was more than ready for Bellemeur, but that race didn’t last long when he ran into trouble right off the line. Bellemeur, who had barely beaten him two weeks ago in the Las Vegas final, was long gone this time with a tremendous 5.39, duplicating his Low E.T. of the Meet qualifying time. “The blower belt broke,” Whiteley said. “I was never going to catch him anyway, so that just got two losses out of the way in one round.”