Category: News (Page 1 of 32)

race-by-race wrapups

PSM – MAPLE GROVE

Righting a ship that seemed adrift just two weeks ago at the U.S. Nationals, Joey Gladstone rode Cory Reed’s Diamond W/Fatheadz Hayabusa to victory in the first race of the six-race Countdown to the Championship, the Pep Boys Nationals. Qualified smack in the middle of the pack – No. 8 – he roared to life in eliminations, beating incoming points leader Matt Smith in the quarterfinals in perhaps the biggest single round of his entire career.

“This is awesome,” Gladstone said, clearly in disbelief after his third win in four races – his first three wins ever. “It’s still hard to believe it’s really happening.”

“Pure happiness,” exclaimed Reed, now almost fully recovered from his devastating accident last September in Charlotte. “Having so many people root for us … it’s a dream come true.”

Gladstone, who entered the Countdown in second place, an even 20 points behind Smith, opened with a decent 6.81/198 in Friday night qualifying, slowed to a mediocre 6.83/197 early Saturday afternoon, then powered to a 6.79/199 in last-shot qualifying to move back into the fast half of the field – barely. Waiting for him was Hector Arana Jr., a 15-time national event winner whose career has been marred by red-light starts and who took himself out with another one in the first round.

Smith, the five-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champion who passed Gladstone for the points lead with his Indy win and qualified No. 1 here, loomed in a titanic second-round showdown. For a crucial win that surely will be looked back on as the turning point if Gladstone eventually wins the title, he got Smith at the line and outran him in an instant classic, 6.815 to 6.818.

“I thought I saw the win-light,” he said, “but then I was like, ‘Wait a minute. Did I really see it?’ I wasn’t sure until they were pointing at me as I rolled around the corner. I’d never beaten Matt on his V-Twin. He’s a great competitor, one of my idols, and getting him out of here early was huge.”

In the semifinals, Gladstone came from behind for a 6.86/196 to 6.92/195 win over upstart Marc Ingwersen, who’d taken out Angelle Sampey on a huge holeshot, then faced Angie Smith, who had the full might of Matt Smith Racing behind her, in the final. That one was over immediately when she went red, but he had her all the way with a clutch .012 reaction time and a better run, 6.83/196 to 6.86/198.

“To win, you really have to learn how to tune these things on Sundays,” said Gladstone, now the top-ranked rider in Pro Stock Motorcycle. “Eliminations is not the same thing as qualifying, and, as we learned at Indy, what works at one track doesn’t work at the next one.”

TAFC – MARTIN

Both J&A Service/YNot Racing Funny Cars – Jim Whiteley’s spotless white one and wife Annie’s familiar blue machine – were taken out by the same car at the U.S. 131 Nationals, the flamed Camaro of 2021 Mid-West Drag Racing Series runner-up Chris Marshall. Everything was wide-open in the absence of reigning champion Sean Bellemeur, and Marshall made the most of it, starting with a wheels-up, nearly aborted 3.58 that was on the ragged edge of control from beginning to end.

Jim qualified No. 4 and nearly pulled off an outrageous upset with a massive holeshot in the first round, falling just short of Marshall in the lights by the invisible margin of two-thousandths of a second. Annie put away Steve Macklyn’s Mustang in the other first-round matchup and in the final round just missed doing what Jim almost did in the opening round: beat Marshall on a holeshot.

But instead of a perfect .000 light, Annie, who has really come into her own on the Tree this year, red-lighted by a couple thousandths of a second with a frustrating -.002 reaction time. With the race lost, she shut off early and coasted across the eighth-mile finish line at 88 mph with what would’ve been a great E.T. on a quarter-mile (5.52), while the Oregon-based driver, who reverted to an old setup for this race after a disappointing U.S. Nationals, sped to a 3.62 at a booming 212.06 mph. For Annie, who qualified No. 1 here last year, it was her second runner-up in a row at the revamped Martin, Mich., facility.  

The 2022 Mid-West Drag Racing Series season wraps up with another double event in Tulsa (not unlike the rained-out Memphis event that was finished in conjunction with the regularly scheduled Tulsa event this spring). It all unfolds Oct. 7-8 at Osage Casino & Hotel Tulsa Raceway Park, where the cancelled Great Bend Nationals will be contested as part of the traditional Throwdown in T-Town MWDRS season finale.

PRO MOD – MARTIN

Back behind the wheel of one of the fastest Pro Mods on the eighth-mile instead of tuning it for Steven Whiteley as he has all year, talented driver/tuner Brandon Snider qualified near the top of the grid and drove to a semifinal finish at the U.S. 131 Nationals. At Martin, one of the crown jewels on the Mid-West Drag Racing Series’ eight-race tour, Snider showed the form that made him one of the more feared drivers on the NHRA tour, where he won multiple events and came within a round of the 2020 championship.

As the MWDRS season resumed following a three-month break since the Summer Speed Spectacular at World Wide Technology Raceway just outside St. Louis, Snider wheeled the J&A Service/YNot Racing team’s immaculate ’69 Camaro to an outstanding 3.65 at 205 mph for the No. 4 spot in the all-3-second 16-car lineup. Series newcomer and eventual winner Preston Tanner paced the field with a run just a couple hundredths of a second quicker than Snider’s 3.65, a 3.62/204.

In the first round, in all-Camaro showdown with Mike Recchia, Snider was out first with a .024 reaction time and came out on top in a great race, 3.68/206 to 3.73/203. When the sun set for the quarterfinals, he picked up to a 3.66/205 to erase the close 3.72/201 of second-generation racer Jackie Sloan Jr. and set up a semifinal showdown with Tanner.

Tanner, who would go on to score in his MWDRS debut, got off the mark first with a telepathic reaction time and held off Snider’s quicker 3.61/208 for a 3.64/203 holeshot win. Dustin Nesloney topped Ed Thornton in the other semifinal and narrowly red-lighted in the final to hand the event title to a grateful Tanner, who couldn’t help but notice the red-light glowing in the dark and clicked it early to avoid a disastrous centerline infraction when his car darted for the other lane.

TAFC – INDY

The U.S. Nationals, site of one of Jim Whiteley’s greatest victories ever (Top Alcohol Dragster in 2013) and three final-round appearances in four years for wife Annie (Top Alcohol Funny Car in 2012, 2013, and 2015) turned out to be an exercise in frustration this year. Husband and wife ran head-to-head in the first qualifying session, left almost simultaneously, and posted virtually identical E.T.s – 5.625 and 5.627, respectively – but from there it all went downhill.

“The car’s just not running right,” said Jim, who fell in the opening round to eventual winner Sean Bellemeur’s 5.48/266 (low E.T. of the meet to that point). “It won’t run on the other end. We thought we had it all figured out at Brainerd, but, obviously, we don’t.”

Annie got quicker as qualifying progressed but also found herself on the sidelines before round two. After the matching 5.62s on altogether dissimilar runs – Jim coasted across the finish line at just 245.90 mph and Annie charged through the traps going 20 mph faster (265.48) – her blue J&A Service/YNot racing Camaro improved to a 5.61/264 and then to a much quicker 5.54/265 Saturday afternoon. Over the same span, Jim’s matching white machine improved only marginally, to a 5.60-flat at 261 mph that left him in the slow half of the field, 14th overall.

Though they were only six-hundredths of a second apart, Annie qualified eight spots higher than Jim in the final order, a solid No. 6. Two pair behind him in a first-round rematch of the 2015 final against Andy Bohl, she blasted off the line first but was dead in the water 100 feet out while Bohl pedaled to a beatable 5.82. “After we saw what Jim’s car did, we made adjustments to mine,” she said. “I don’t know what happened, but whatever we did, it didn’t like it.”

One positive was that with a .058 reaction time, Annie had the edge at the Tree with one of many .050s and better this season, indicating that any past problems are now a thing of the past. “We poured a new seat, and I’m comfortable in the car,” she said. “I feel good now. That’s all I needed.”

PSM – INDY

After winning the first race of his career at Sonoma and backing up it with a second straight victory and fourth consecutive final at Topeka, Indy couldn’t possibly have gone any better for phenom Joey Gladstone Indy, and it didn’t. He qualified in the middle of the pack and got beat first round.

The U.S. Nationals was a struggle from the beginning for Gladstone and team owner Cory Reed, who had established low E.T. of all three qualifying sessions and all four rounds of eliminations in a storybook weekend at Topeka. At Indy, Gladstone, running in the final pair of Friday night qualifying as the incoming Pro Stock Motorcycle points leader, stumbled to an off-pace 7.01 before the team’s Diamond W/Fatheadz Hayabusa somewhat returned to form in the ensuring sessions.

Gladstone entered eliminations No. 8 with an aggregate best of 6.87 at 195 mph, the lowest he’s qualified since Richmond, his home track, where he was ninth – the only time all year he hasn’t made the fast half of the field. “We just need to get back to what we know,” said Gladstone after the team traced the problem to a faulty ignition coil. “We’ve struggled with things beyond our control, but I think we found it. I’m not in as good of a position as I was in at Sonoma or Topeka. We just need to overcome adversity.”

Opposite national record holder Karen Stoffer, a forgettable weekend came to a premature conclusion when the bike didn’t pick up as expected and Gladstone lost in the first round for the first time since Richmond, just six races but seemingly a lifetime ago. They were separated in the qualifying order by just one spot (8-9) and two-thousandths of a second (6.873-6.875), and when Gladstone let the clutch fly the instant the ambers flashed for a near-perfect .004 reaction time, things were looking up – for a second.

But for just the fifth rider in Pro Stock Motorcycle’s 40-year history to ever back up a first career win with a second win at the very next race, there would be no third straight. Stoffer’s bike slowed to a 6.91/194, but Gladstone’s did so even more to a 6.94/193 for as disappointing a loss as he’s suffered all year. “This weekend was hard on us,” he said. “We got behind and paid the price for it. But we’ll be back stronger – that’s a promise.”

TAFC – BRAINERD

Jim and Annie Whiteley, perpetually in lockstep in their personal and professional lives, have become, in a particularly exasperating development for both, just as inseparable on the quarter-mile.

In his short tenure as a Top Alcohol Funny Car driver, Jim somehow has faced off against wife Annie more than he has all other drivers combined. On a 10-car eliminator ladder, No. 4 runs No. 7 first round, and when Annie ended Lucas Oil Nationals qualifying 4th with a 5.52/266, guess where Jim’s 5.56/261 put him? Right: 7th.

“If it was a final round, that’d be fine – one of us would win the race,” Jim said of their latest head-to-head clash. “This? No thanks. But what are we going to do about it?” They’ve already faced each other at Mid-West Drag Racing Series events and in Lucas Oil regional competition, so in Jim’s first official TAFC round at an NHRA national event, why not here too?

One pair before Doug Gordon’s violent top-end crash opposite eventual winner Shane Westerfield in a titanic showdown between the first- and second-ranked drivers in the national standings, Jim and Annie left within thousandths of a second of each other, with Annie out first, .059 to .063. It was over soon after when her car blew the tires off while his motored to a smooth 5.57.

“I’ve still only made only 16 or 17 runs in a Funny Car – definitely under 20,” Jim said, “and I’m getting more comfortable every time. I love driving it, always have. You just have to stay after this thing right to the end instead of locking your left arm in low gear like you do in a Pro Mod.

“I think it needed a little more timing in the back half – that’s why we were down several mph at the top end,” said Jim, who won back-to-back Top Alcohol Dragster titles here in 2011 and 2012. “We thought we had it figured out before the second round, and that probably should have been the best run I’ve ever made – 5.51 or .52.”

To compound his frustration, opponent Bob McCosh blew the engine on his single, so Jim almost certainly would’ve made his first Funny Car semifinal appearance in NHRA competition, if not his first final. “It’s OK,” he said. “It’s fixed now. That’s not happening again.”

PSM – TOPEKA

It’s not a matter of potential anymore, of what might happen one day. It’s happening. Joey Gladstone is the number one rider in Pro Stock Motorcycle – ahead of Matt Smith, Eddie Krawiec, Angelle Sampey, ahead of everybody.

After back-to-back runner-up finishes put Gladstone on the precipice of that milestone first victory, his Cory Reed Motorsports team has delivered back-to-back wins, including a positively dominant performance at Heartland Park Topeka. It truly was the most commanding win possible: low E.T. of every qualifying session, low E.T. of all four rounds of eliminations. His fifth-best run of the weekend would’ve been low E.T. of the meet.

“I hope this wave never crashes,” Gladstone said. “I’ve been waiting for something like this my whole life, and I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts.” It’s lasted for four races so far – runner-ups in Norwalk and Denver and now back-to-back wins in Sonoma and Topeka. “It’s been a gradual thing, really. We’ve been under the radar; it’s just becoming apparent to other people now.”

Launched by a killer 1.04 60-foot time, Gladstone began the weekend with a 6.831 at 195.08 mph, good for the No. 1 qualifying spot by half a tenth and his first track record. Three bonus points for being quickest of the session moved him to within a single point of the number 1 spot in the standings, and after he was quicker than everybody again Saturday afternoon in Q2 (6.84/196), he had his first-ever points lead.

Opposite overmatched David Barron in the first round, Gladstone left first by a tenth and a half and streaked to 6.83/197 on his Diamond W-backed Suzuki Hayabusa, just missing another track record in a runaway win. On the second-round bye he earned for being the No. 1 qualifier in a 14-bike field, he had the entire field covered with a 6.85/196. Angie Smith provided little opposition in the semi’s with an off-pace 7.08/195, and Gladstone easily advanced to his fourth consecutive final with a 6.87/196.

Waiting for him was his mentor and friend, four-time world champ Eddie Krawiec, the same driver he beat for the breakthrough win in Sonoma three weeks ago. Krawiec was right on time with a .022 light but Gladstone had him all the way with a clutch .009 and a seventh straight run in the 6.80s, 6.87/195.

“I always wondered if it would feel like this,” Gladstone said. “It’s like I’m dreaming. Now, I know the bike will perform in good conditions, bad conditions, hot, cold – anything. It was perfect every lap. This has been a long time coming, and there’s a different kind of pressure on us now – the pressure to get that first win is gone. Now, our expectations are a lot higher.”

PSM – SONOMA

At long last, overdue rider Joey Gladstone and team owner Cory Reed realized their ultimate dream at Sonoma, the fastest track on the circuit: victory at an NHRA national event. For Reed, who switched from motocross seven years ago, and Gladstone, who’s been drag racing all his life, it was the culmination of years of struggle and countless hours of backbreaking work. “It’s about time,” joked Reed, the 2016 Rookie of the Year, whose team had finished second at the past two races, Norwalk and Denver.

“I still can’t believe this is real,” said Gladstone, whose recent hot streak catapulted him to second in the Pro Stock Motorcycle standings, just two points out of the lead. “I’ve dedicated my life to this sport. Winning a race like this has been my goal since I was a little kid getting made fun of for being so small. The day I saw Angelle [Sampey], I knew what I wanted to do.”

Delivering on the promise shown in three previous final-round appearances this season (including the Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte), Gladstone made the quickest run of his career (6.75) Saturday afternoon in last-shot qualifying for the No. 3 spot, then ran at least that quick in all four rounds Sunday. After a brief scare in the first round when his bike refused to do a burnout opposite overmatched Jianna Evaristo, Gladstone reset his all-time-best with a blistering 6.74, then dumped Katie Sullivan in round two with an even quicker 6.73 at his fastest speed ever, 202.18 mph.

When his Diamond W Suzuki Hayabusa brushed aside Bristol winner Jerry Savoie in the semifinals, 6.75 to 6.84, only one thing stood between Gladstone and his first major title: longtime nemesis Eddie Krawiec. “I’m gonna bring everything I have in this final,” he said as he climbed off the bike in the semi’s, trying not think about how close he was – again. “I was ready to go 20 minutes before they called us up there for the final,” he admitted later. “I was like, ‘Come on, let’s do this. Let’s get it over with. Don’t overthink it. Cut a light, but not too close – don’t throw it away on a red-light. Give yourself a chance.’ “

With a .026 reaction time, he did, gaining the only edge he’d need because both he and Krawiec made the exact same run, matching 6.75s. “I heard him over there the whole time and knew I was ahead, but I never let myself think it,” said Gladstone, who won on a holeshot, 6.759 to 6.758. “Not after what happened at Charlotte [last fall, when the kill switch became disconnected in high gear as he looked on in horror.]”

“It seemed like it took 30 seconds for the finish line to get there,” he said. “I almost didn’t want to look for the win-light. Going to all these finals and losing, you wonder in the back of your mind if it’s really meant to be. We may not have won them, but just from being in those other finals, I knew we could do it. I’m never going to forget this, and it’s just the start.”

PSM – DENVER

To keep Joey Gladstone from his long overdue first NHRA title, it took the fastest run in Mile-High Nationals Pro Stock Motorcycle history. Denied victory in four previous finals and appearing in his second in a row, he was out first and laid down a fifth straight run in the 7-teens but still got run down by Matt Smith’s record-setting 190.22-mph blast, 7.09 to 7.16.

“When I let it go and saw the light was green, I knew it was a good light,” Gladstone said. “I thought, ‘OK, you did your job.’ Somewhere around the 300-foot mark, I started thinking, ‘Hey, maybe…’ Then I heard him at the eighth-mile and finally saw him at about 1,000 feet. After that he just drove away from me.”

From the quarterfinals on, Smith, who broke both ends of the Bandimere Speedway track record in qualifying (7.090 seconds at 189.79 mph), reset the track speed mark every time he crossed the finish line. “You can’t be too mad about losing when a guy’s running like that,” said Gladstone, who dipped into the 7-teens in last-shot qualifying and remained there throughout eliminations, outrunning everybody but Smith.

Gladstone pounded pal Ryan Oehler, who red-lighted, in the first round with yet another .00 light, a .008, in an almost uncontested 7.17/186 to 7.34/182 match. He climbed off the bike and proclaimed to a national television audience, “Eddie, you’re done,” before second-round opponent Eddie Krawiec raced Kelly Clontz, and, sure enough, took the measure of his longtime nemesis in the next round, 7.15/185 to Krawiec’s 7.18/186.

“Everybody knows what you have to do to be fast on the mountain,” Gladstone explained. “Add three or four teeth to the rear sprocket and put two floaters next to each other so the clutch doesn’t pull the motor down too much and bog off the line. No matter what you do, you’re making 27 percent less horsepower when you get here.”

In the semifinals, Gladstone prevented a rare husband/wife final, upending No. 2 qualifier Angie Smith, who’d been in the 7-teens all weekend, by 16-thousandths of a second, 7.19/185 to 7.21/186. A heavy underdog in the final, a race he figured he had a “one in four” shot at winning, he afforded himself every opportunity to win with a superior reaction time, but there was no stopping Smith, who cracked 190 mph for the third run in a row with an all-time Denver record of 190.22 mph.

“I had him for a while,” said Gladstone, who now trails fading points leader Steve Johnson by just 46 points – about two rounds.  “But nobody was gonna beat that guy today.”

TAFC – NORWALK

It doesn’t usually take Annie Whiteley too many races to bag that first NHRA win of the season. For five years now, it’s taken exactly one: Belle Rose.

But now we’re halfway through the year, and Whiteley’s vaunted J&A Service/YNot team has been largely absent from the NHRA scene, relegated to appearances on the Mid-West Drag Racing Series tour, where, over the past few years, she’s really made a name for herself. “It’s not like I didn’t want to be out here,” Whiteley said of her second NHRA start of 2022. “It’s been my back. People would call, asking if we’d be at Belle Rose because we always start out [winning] at that race, but this year, I couldn’t because my back wouldn’t let me. Now it is.”

Other than a single NHRA outing at the Dallas Regional, where she got just one qualifying attempt and went out first round, Whiteley hadn’t driven 1320 feet since late last season in Las Vegas. “It’s nice to be back on the quarter-mile,” she said at Norwalk, one of her favorite tracks on either tour. “I love the Mid-West deal, but I prefer the quarter-mile. And I like this track. Always have.”

Whiteley made quality runs on two of three qualifying attempts – all but the first, when it seemed no one could get down the barren right lane. She pounded out back-to-back 5.50s in the remaining sessions to secure a spot in the fast half of the field and another in the first round to send driver Tyler Scott and team owner Larry Dobbs back to the Great White North. Both were right on time with .051 reaction times, but Whiteley pulled further and further ahead of the Canadian driver with every shift of her B&J trans for a 5.57/266 to 5.75/249 win.

That same run with the same reaction time in the quarterfinals would have been enough to turn back DJ Cox, but by then conditions had changed. Both cars slowed – just about everybody in that round did – but Whiteley lost three-hundredths of a second and Cox just two in a tight 5.58/261 to 5.60/266 match. “It was almost like the car was shaking the tires,” she said, “but it really wasn’t. I don’t know you’d call it – ‘rough?’ It wasn’t full-on tire-shake, but it was something – something just enough to make me lose.”

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