Author: Todd Veney (Page 1 of 37)

TAFC – DALLAS

A semifinalist, at least, at every race this year, Annie Whiteley plowed forward at the Central Regional at Dallas with yet another final-four performance. At the original supertrack, the world-famous Texas Motorplex, she just missed low E.T. in qualifying and just missed her second final-round appearance of the season, which, had she gotten that far, would have, without question, resulted in a second straight win.

There was no final-round opponent, and, thus, no chance of a runner-up finish – Whiteley was either going to lose in the semifinals or win the event. Unfortunately for her, she lost in the semifinals to Kyle Smith, whose reaction time just missed costing him the race.

Three-thousandths of a second quicker than his near-perfect .002, and Smith would’ve red-lighted, handing Whiteley a final-round berth and, ultimately, a final-round win because Bryan Brown, who needed only to stage in the other semi to secure a berth in the title round, was sidelined by a broken crank. “It was doubly bad,” said Whiteley, who blew the tires off immediately and coasted silently across the finish line at 96 mph while Smith shot ahead with a beatable 5.57.

“We all knew Bryan wasn’t going to be there for the final,” Whiteley said. “He’d already come by and told us. People offered to help him put something together so he could run, but he just said, ‘We’re done,’ so the semifinal was basically the final.”

Whiteley had driven the “Shattered Glass” Camaro to the No. 2 spot in qualifying, behind only Bob McCosh (5.52 to 5.53), and had strapped a huge holeshot on returning veteran Mark Billington in the first round, .014 to .102, for a lopsided 5.55/264 win. He lost traction immediately and coasted through the traps with an E.T. and speed both in the 20s.

“This two-step really helps,” Whiteley said of her telepathic .014 light. “The funny part is, I don’t know why. I never wanted it. They put it on the car right after they were made legal, and I wanted no part of it. I postponed it and postponed it and postponed it. I just didn’t like it – to me, it takes away from the integrity of the class – but Jim said, ‘Just try it. I know you see the light and leave better than what your reaction times say. If it doesn’t work, we’ll take it off, so let’s see if it helps.’ It does, but if I can react like this now, why couldn’t I cut decent lights the old way?”

In the semifinal/final, Whiteley was right on time with a solid .064 light, but reaction times proved immaterial when she went up in smoke at the hit. “It spun the tires instantly [60-foot time: 1.16], which probably hurt my reaction time too, and when it blows the tires off that early, there’s nothing you can do. The car kicked sideways a little, and I saw Smith out the window and thought, ‘Damn, he’s really hauling ass, isn’t he? This is over.’ “

TAFC – TULSA

Annie Whiteley’s first victory of 2024 was just her latest triumph at Tulsa Raceway Park, where she’s been winning since she started racing Funny Cars back in 2012. Her final-round victim this time: husband Jim Whiteley, who just missed a perfect light with a -.002 red-light that handed the Mid-West Drag Racing Series’ Throwdown in T-Town title to his all-time favorite opponent.

“I was late going down on the pedal, which usually means you’re going to be late, and I had my worst light all weekend,” she said. It was, but even it was pretty good, a .060. “I was excited to win, but it sucked because I don’t like to see Jim lose – especially like that.”

Annie, who’d qualified second, fourth, and third in her previous 2024 starts – all on the quarter-mile in NHRA competition – reigned supreme at Tulsa, where she locked down her first No. 1 of the year with an outstanding 3.62 at nearly 212 mph, top speed by more than three and a half miles per hour. Driving a matching J&A Service/YNot Racing Camaro dressed in white, Jim tied friend Steve Macklyn right down to the thousandth of a second for No. 2 spot with identical 3.632 E.T.s but got the higher position on the basis of his faster speed, 208.30 mph to Macklyn’s 207.59.

In the first round, Annie ripped off a 3.63/211, nearly matching her Low E.T./Top Speed marks from qualifying, to erase veteran Lance Van Hauen, then breezed through the semifinals to meet Jim in the final. He had a much tougher road, topping Bryan Brown in the opening round, 3.64/206 to 3.87/200, and surviving a memorable matchup with Macklyn in the semifinals. Both cut near-perfect .00 lights and both ran 3.66s, but Jim was a tick better on both ends of the track – .003 to .006 and 3.664 to 3.669.

“You get down to the final at these Mid-West races and you’d better bring everything you’ve got,” Annie said. “The track can be kind of iffy for testing on Thursday, it gets pretty good on Friday, and by Saturday it’s a lot better. I don’t know what they do or how they do it, but they just keep working on it all weekend and by the finals, it’s perfect.”

Annie ran a 3.63 and Jim a 3.65, but their E.T.s meant nothing when he went red by 1/500th of a second. “I don’t know why, but I always seem to do my best against him,” said Annie, who had a perfect .000 light in qualifying. To cap a memorable weekend, grandson Breccan won the Jr. Dragster title and shared a toast with dad Steven – a Dr. Pepper for him and a beer for Dad.

TAFC – LAS VEGAS

Quietly putting together a solid season with one late-round finish after another, Annie Whiteley kept the ball rolling at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, always one of her favorite tracks. Fourth in the standings and third in final qualifying coming into eliminations, she moved first with a .052 light and charged ahead of bucks-down upstart Charles McLaws and second-generation driver Will Martin in the first round, advancing easily with a 5.49/267 over McLaws’ 5.62/257 and Martin’s 5.60/260.

With three or four cars on the track at the same time, it isn’t necessary to “win” – to reach the finish line before every other car – in the preliminary rounds. You just have to finish in the top two, but Whiteley had the best reaction time and the best E.T., leaving first and easily outdistancing the others despite her unfamiliarity with (and barely disguised disdain for) her new two-step.

“With this thing, I still have to tell myself not to go up on the throttle when I’m pre-staged,” she said. “I did it the old way so many times, muscle memory still tells me to start revving it up to 7,000, and I really have to go out of my way stop myself from doing it again.”

Whiteley’s new setup proved to be her undoing in the semifinals, where she lost to eventual winner Sean Bellemeur and Hunter Jones in a race not nearly as close as the E.T.s alone would indicate. Bellemeur ran a 5.50, Jones a .51, and Whiteley a .52, but Bellemeur and Jones hit the Tree while she, clearly distracted, did not. (McLaws finished a distant fourth with a 5.72.)

“I was late going down on the throttle that time,” Whiteley explained. “At this point – I’m still learning – I have to get in there [stage] first. If you get in first, you have more time to get set. I used to just barely have to let go of the brake and the car would roll in [to the staged beam], but with this two-step, I have to move the clutch pedal to get the car to roll. I have to think … and up there, thinking is the absolute last thing you want to do.”

TAFC – POMONA

At the prestigious Winternationals at In-N-Out Burger Pomona Raceway, one of the few tracks at which she hasn’t already won at least once, Annie Whiteley came through with one of her best reaction times ever to trounce one of biggest names in the business, feared leaver Shane Westerfield.

With a near-perfect .007 light, Whiteley drilled Westerfield on the Tree and drove away with low E.T. of the meet to that point. Westerfield, driving for the RJM superteam owned by Kathy Jackson, wife of the late Rick Jackson, was more than on time with a respectable .059 reaction time, but Whiteley was noticeably ahead and opened the lead from there with an outstanding 5.49 at 265.80 mph to cover Westerfield’s otherwise fine 5.54/264 by more than a car length.

“They handed me the ticket and I saw that .007 and thought, ‘That can’t be mine. It must be Shane’s, ” Whiteley said. “He’s the one who’s always cutting .00 lights – not me. But he said, ‘That’s not mine, Annie. That’s all you.’ I couldn’t believe it.”

Whiteley’s “Shattered Glass” Camaro came off the trailer with a decent 5.56 at 263.46 mph (just shy of top speed of the meet to that point) that left her No. 2 on the provisional grid behind only the surprising Hunter Jones, who would go on to enjoy the finest outing of his young Top Alcohol Funny Car career. After an aborted 7.52 on what turned out to be their only other attempt, the J&A Service/YNot Racing team entered eliminations fourth on the grid, set to face Westerfield, the 2017 national champion who virtually never qualifies in the slow half of the field.

In the lanes, readying for a crucial semifinal match with Jones, Whiteley dove for cover when the skies opened, pummeling cars and drivers with golf-ball-sized hail, and an hour later the race was postponed. When it resumed three weeks later at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in conjunction with Four-Wide Nationals qualifying, Whiteley was upset, 5.59/262 to a shutoff 7.97/117, by the upstart Jones, who then lost a close final to Brian Hough.

PSM – GAINESVILLE

Reed Motorsports’ first outing of 2024 turned out to be a lot more like the team’s frustrating 2023 campaign than it did their soaring dream season of 2022. Rider Joey Gladstone squeaked into the back half of the Gatornationals Pro Stock Motorcycle field and was gone after a single round.

Hamstrung by a disastrous foray into the sand trap after a test run just before Gainesville, the team was worn out before qualifying even got under way. “We were up until 5 a.m. getting the sand out of everything,” Reed said. They missed the first qualifying session and never made it to the finish line in the second. Saturday in Q3 Gladstone managed a 7.09 at 186 mph – a third of a second and 15 mph short of what the team is capable of but good enough to make the final lineup. Barely.

On the bump when eliminations began, Gladstone faced the toughest possible opponent, reigning world champion Gaige Herrera, lead rider for the all-conquering Vance & Hines juggernaut that dominated 2023. He got off the line on time and picked up a tenth and a half with a decent 6.94/194 but had absolutely no chance when Herrera, already the quickest rider by a mile, picked up more than a tenth with the second-quickest run of all time, a track-record 6.63.

“We’ve gotten everything out of this that we can,” Reed said. “We’re just about done. I’m good with what we’ve accomplished. Joey’s good. He’s set records, won championships. What he wanted was to win an NHRA Pro Stock race, and we did – three times.”

The team’s 2022 season was one for the ages, the epitome of everything both racers ever wanted to achieve – six finals, three victories, and one career best after another. But lately? “We’re tired of it,” Reed said. “The amount of time we’ve spent on this to not run well … I mean, it’s been nine years of this crap. Joey’s not some punching bag, some filler. We might run Charlotte, might run Richmond. Maybe a couple more. Maybe none. If we run anywhere, it’ll be the ones close to home. We both have things going on, new goals. We don’t want to ditch the bike program now – we have too much knowledge – but this is pointless. There’s more opportunity out there in other classes.”

TAFC – PHOENIX

Annie Whiteley launched her 13th season of Funny Car racing with a fine semifinal finish at the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series’ Western Region opener. “Not bad,” she assessed. “Things got a little stressful at times, changing the ignition to something we’ve never run before, but, all in all, I’d say it turned out all right.”

Frustrated by an erratic MSD command module that single-handedly cost the J&A Service/YNot Racing team three races last year, crew chief Mike Strasburg made the switch to a FuelTech setup for 2024. “From inside the car, the motor sounds different now,” Whiteley said. “The idle is deeper, a little throatier. We get up there for the first test run and I look out the window at Jeff [Strasburg], like, ‘This thing sounds like a mud truck – you sure it’s OK?’ “

After a couple of test runs – one too soft and one a little too hard – the team got down to business Friday when qualifying officially got under way. Strasburg split the difference and the car charged to the 1,000-foot mark, where, as planned, Whiteley clicked it off, coasting to a 5.71. On her second and final attempt, the “Shattered Glass” Camaro produced a fine 5.47 at 263.82 mph, good for No. 2 behind rookie Maddi Gordon, who went low with a 5.43 in her first start since taking over for her dad, outgoing world champ Doug Gordon.

Saturday afternoon in round one, Whiteley summarily dispatched the decent 5.60/262 of second-generation driver Will Martin, son of former nitro Funny Car racer John A. Martin, with a much quicker and faster 5.46/265. In the semi’s, she lost to eventual winner Brian Hough, 5.47/265 to a right-there 5.48/267, narrowly missing what would have been an all-female final round opposite Ms. Gordon.

Still, it was a decent start to the season and confirmation that the potentially perilous switch to an altogether different ignition system will pay dividends down the road. “That old command module cost us too many runs,” Whiteley said. “We didn’t even qualify at [the West Regional finale at] Vegas last year because of it. Nine cars, and what’s the one team that doesn’t qualify? Us. We kept sending it to them and they kept sending it back, saying, ‘It’s fine – run it.’ “

It won’t be the only major change to Whiteley’s machine for the season ahead. “We’re going to try that thing Hough uses [the newly legalized two-step],” Whiteley said. “I’ve been fighting this clutch-pedal extension and struggling to cut a light for 12 years now. If I don’t roll in deep, I can’t get a light. I can tell you one thing, though – this car is still going to have a clutch pedal, no matter what. I’ll quit before I run a car without one.”

TAFC – POMONA 2023

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.”

PSM – POMONA 2023

Cory Reed and Joey Gladstone never made a run at the NHRA World Finals, where last year the team reached the final to lock up a second-place finish in the final Pro Stock Motorcycle standings. That was never the plan this time anyway – the team was at Pomona strictly to further rider Blaine Hale’s career, and they did.

“I don’t know why or what the deal is, but when I help somebody else reach a goal, the feeling of accomplishment is the same as if I’d done it myself,” Reed said. “Not riding would be harder if Joey or I really wanted to drive this weekend, but right now he has enough going on that doesn’t even care, and at this point neither do I. Blaine’s really coachable, and we just want to help him.”

With the 2023 championship long decided and Reed Motorsports’ focus squarely on 2024, the team concentrated on giving Hale, a former national event winner who made his team debut last month in Dallas, the best bike possible. Hale qualified 16th and drew the utterly unbeatable Gaige Herrera in an impossible first-round matchup in which the impossible nearly happened.

Herrera, who won the 2023 championship in a landslide with an incredible 50-4 win-loss record, qualifying No. 1 at 13 of 14 events and winning 11 of 12 finals, lurched off the line and was, for once, vulnerable. He stumbled to one of his worst runs of the season, a 10.89 at 77 mph that left him hundreds of feet behind Hale at the finish line, but Hale invalidated a sure win with a -.256 red-light.

“It’s too bad,” Reed said. “With his leathers on, Blaine’s probably 200 pounds, but it’s not like he’s lost out there. He’s not out of control or anything. Every time he gets off the bike, he’s like, ‘this happened here,’ or “the bike did this here.’ He knows what’s going on.”

As for his team rider, Gladstone, Reed said, “We’re both looking forward to next year. Joey’s my best friend in the world. Even last year, he was like, ‘Are you  sure you’re OK with me doing so good when you can’t even walk around yet?’ I told him, ‘When you’re riding the bike, I feel like it’s me on there.’ I get that much enjoyment out of it. We’ve got big plans for next year. Joey’s a winner. He’s not out here just to be out here, to be sixth or seventh or tenth in points. He’s here to win races and championships.”

TAFC – LAS VEGAS REGIONAL 2023

It’s hard not to qualify for an eight-car show when only nine cars show up, and it’s really hard when you were No. 1 at the last two national events, including one just days earlier at the same track. But that’s the fate that befell Annie Whiteley’s luckless team at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, site of some of the truly great days of her 12-year Top Alcohol Funny Car career.

It wasn’t the tune-up – the car just ran mid-5.40s three times in a row here last week at the Nevada Nationals. And it was nothing mechanical, nothing that could be easily diagnosed through a routine parts inspection. It was the ignition, that invisible, delicate system whose complexities can be understood only through a piece-by-piece replacement of every component from the magneto to the coil to the spark plugs to every last connection.

“We never really did figure it out,” said Whiteley, who blew the tires off at the hit Friday afternoon in the first qualifying session. Three hours later in Q2, it was all systems go … until it wasn’t. Charging downtrack on an otherwise fine run until about half-track, the power suddenly cut out and she coasted to a harmless 5.87 at just 195 mph that kept her in the field (barely, in the No. 8 spot) until the next driver down the left lane three minutes behind her, Ray Martin, recorded a 5.73 and knocked her out of the field.

Martin blew the engine on that run and never returned, which gave Whiteley and crew chief Mike Strasburg one last chance. An aborted 6.31 at 164 mph left the “Shattered Glass”/YNot Racing/J&A Service entry on the outside looking in, but when Martin was unable to return for eliminations, Whiteley got a much-needed reprieve. It wasn’t a clear path to victory because she’d be paired with the No. 1 qualifier in the first round, but it at least it was one more chance to track down the mysterious electrical gremlin before Pomona.

It didn’t matter. Hamstrung by the same ignition problems that plagued the team all weekend, Whiteley was out of it early against Marshall, who, with a 5.47, would have been hard to get around anyway. “What the hell?” she said. “Sometimes, it just doesn’t go your way.”

PSM – LAS VEGAS 2023

Joey Gladstone was never going to win the Nevada Nationals. He wasn’t there to win.

As a replacement rider for veteran Angie Smith, who crashed Sept. 30 at St. Louis, Gladstone was in Las Vegas solely to block for her husband, reigning world champion Matt Smith, who still has a microscopic chance to overtake unbeatable Gaige Herrera for the 2023 Pro Stock Motorcycle championship.

So when Gladstone had to roll out of the throttle and watch his opponent pull around him and drive away to victory, it was nothing he wasn’t prepared for. “Does it suck knowing you have to lose if you race a teammate?” he asked. “It would if you didn’t know what you were signing up for, but I knew. When someone like Matt Smith calls and asks you to drive a V-Twin for him, you say yes. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, you say yes.”

With far more torque and far less rpm than the Reed Motorsports Suzuki he rode to second place in the 2022 NHRA standings, Gladstone had an altogether different experience than what he’s become accustomed to. “Riding this Buell is taming an angry bull,” he said. “You’re really busy for that first eighth-mile, shifting five times in four and half seconds, and then you’re in high gear forever. It’s a rowdy beast, like a Pro Stocker with an extra shift.”

Gladstone was absolutely “on one” in Friday’s first qualifying session but had to click it and coast to a 7.19 at just 152 mph, and it more of the same later that afternoon when he put up an identical 7.18/151. After skipping the early Saturday session, he intentionally lifted early and then got back on it for an incongruous, ridiculous E.T. and speed of 9.05 at 194 mph.

“It’s impossible to know exactly where you’re supposed to shut off and where you should get back on it to get good data but not qualify too high,” Gladstone said. “One thing I do know: qualifying that bad on purpose pisses off everybody else. Who’s to say what I could have run all out? I probably could’ve been the No. 2 or 3 qualifier.”

Instead, the shutoff 7.18 from back in Q1 placed him 14th on the grid and set up a first-round match that couldn’t have worked out any better: perennial threat Hector Arana Jr, who qualified No. 3 with a 6.84. Arana cut a .010 light and nearly duplicated his qualifying time with a 6.85 but Gladstone left right with him and, like No. 14 qualifiers never, ever do, outran him with a 6.84.

In the quarterfinals, Gladstone faced Matt Smith Racing team rider Jianna Evaristo, who had never beat him, which, for him, meant just one thing: the end of the line. He produced another .011 light and was well ahead at half-track and still perilously close to beating her at the 1,000-foot mark when politely lifted and fell back with a 7.24 at just 146 mph while she scooted ahead for a winning 6.95/192.

“It’s all good,” Gladstone said. “Qualifying where I did kept Hector away from Matt, and losing to Jianna might help her make the Top 5. I did what I was here to do.”

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